One of the purposes of these reviews is to provide ideas for Christmas (or Hanukkah) presents. In mind of that, here are two books which I can strongly recommend in that regard, and the reasons why:
Always a Reckoning by Jimmy Carter (Times Books, 1995)
This is a book of poetry by former President Jimmy Carter.
I had the good fortune to speak with a professional poet when I was a teenager, as part of an advanced learning conference. There were other students from throughout the state at the conference as well, and one kid raised his hand during the question-and-answer portion.
“You mentioned a few different forms during your talk,” the student said. “But not free verse. That’s the form I like. What do you think of free verse?”
“Free verse, and even blank verse, are great. I use them sometimes. But no beginner should use them, because you have to know what the rules are before you decide to break them.”
I’ve found him to be correct. While I’m not a fan of most poetry, I’ve greatly enjoyed some free verse (no rhyme scheme, no meter [being the pacing of syllable stressing within words]) and blank verse (no rhyme scheme, but meter). Those moments of enjoyment have invariably come from poets who were already experts in their craft.
Jimmy Carter is no expert, and it shows as he presents these free verse poems which are, to be fair, better than the poems of Leonard Nimoy… but that’s damning with faint praise.
Nevertheless, it makes a great Christmas gift for lifelong Democrats on your list. It’s inoffensive, it’s different, it demonstrates that you think highly of the recipient’s education (poetry is a “highbrow” gift) and it’s a nod to a person who most Democrats and many independents think very highly of because of his work with charities.
And before you pass it along, you can read a few of the poems and satisfy your curiosity without being tempted to hold on to the book for yourself.
The Theory of Cat Gravity by Robin Wood, illustrations by Diana Harlan Stein (Livingtree Books, 2000)
If you’ve got any cat lover on your Christmas list, get them this book. It’s small enough for the most casual reader to breeze through in a few days (less than a half hour for a regular reader), the illustrations are adorable, the book is funny, it’s cheap (about $6) and most of the money goes directly to the creators.
The basics of the theory are that cats generate gravity by absorbing sunlight. They then deposit that gravity into various places. The author goes on to explain that this is why it is virtually impossible for a person to rise if they have a cat curled up on their lap.
It doesn’t stop there. Cats’ tendency to lay on beds is explained (in proper pseudoscientific terms) to result in people having difficulty rising out of beds once they lay down, the tendency for clutter to amass underneath said beds (things are being attracted to the gravity well on the mattress) and more.
It’s cute, it’s clever, it’s something they’ll have likely never seen before. It can be the complete gift for a casual acquaintance and they’ll enjoy it, or the book can be slipped in as a stocking stuffer or wrapped with a card among other gifts for a family member.
Very strongly recommended for any cat person on your holiday list.