Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Non-Fiction Books (Part One)

Everything old is new again. A Very Vintage Christmas (Globe Pequot Press, $24.95) embodies the nostalgia and sentimentality associated with the holiday season. Vintage ornaments, lights, decorations, cards and wrapping all conjure up happy memories of Christmases past and serve as tangible mementos of holidays shared with family and friends. In fact, finding these objects, decorating with them and sharing them with others brings an instant feeling of comfort and joy. Coupled with beautiful photographs, tips on collecting, and secret shopping haunts, A Very Vintage Christmas offers a look at holiday decor in America and gives suggestions on how to make vintage finds work for today’s audience. While each chapter of A Very Vintage Christmas is unique, there is a common thread that runs through them all: the love of beautiful holiday decorations, and the interest in their history, value, and preservation. Quite merry.

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana. Much of New Orleans still sat under water the first time Gary Rivlin glimpsed the city after Hurricane Katrina as a staff reporter for The New York Times. Four out of every five houses had been flooded. The deluge had drowned almost every power substation and rendered unusable most of the city’s water and sewer system. Six weeks after the storm, the city laid off half its workforce—precisely when so many people were turning to its government for help. How could the city possibly come back? A decade later, Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting effects not just on the area’s geography and infrastructure—but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.

In 1535, William Tyndale, the first man to produce an English version of the Bible in print, was captured and imprisoned in Belgium. A year later he was strangled and then burned at the stake. His co-translator was also burned. In that same year the translator of the first Dutch Bible was arrested and beheaded. These were not the first, nor were they the last instances of extreme violence against Bible translators. The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning (Bloomsbury, $28) tells the remarkable, and bloody, story of those who dared translate the word of God. Harry Freedman describes brilliantly the passions and strong emotions that arise when deeply held religious convictions are threatened or undermined. Can I hear an amen?

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (Little, Brown and Company, $25) is a most deliciously scandalously guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood. Therese O’Neill opens the doors to everything we secretly wanted to know about the Victorian era, but didn’t think to ask. Knickers with no crotches? Check. Arsenic as a facial scrub? Check. The infrequency of bathing and the stench of the Victorian human body?  It’s silly, sinful and superb! And the photos!

Herbs are hot! And in Making Love Potions (Storey Publishing, $16.95), Stephanie L. Tourles shows you how to bring that heat into your bedroom. She playfully presents 64 easy recipes for natural body oils, balms, tonics, bath blends and sweet treats to share with your special someone.  With beautiful illustrations and engaging explanations of the power that herbs, flowers, and natural oils have over our physical bodies, this is the perfect gift for lovers everywhere.

Buzz! Listen closely. The international bee crisis is threatening our global food supply, but we have a secret fix. The user-friendly 100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive (Storey Publishing, $16.95) shows what you can do to help protect our pollinators. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation offers browsable profiles of 100 common flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees that attract bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. The recommendations are simple: Sow seeds for some plants—such as basil, rhododendron and blueberries—and simply don’t mow down abundant native species, including aster, goldenrod, and milkweed. This guide will empower homeowners, landscapers, apartment dwellers—anyone with a scrap of yard or a window box—to protect our pollinators.

For a new generation of homeowners and renters, the dual Domino books are the decor bible: a constant source of guidance, inspiration, and excitement. The Domino Decorating Books Box Set: The Book of Decorating and Your Guide to a Stylish Home Domino: The Book of Decorating (Simon & Schuster, $70) crack the code to creating a beautiful home, bringing together inspiring rooms, how-to advice and insiders’ secrets from today’s premier tastemakers in an indispensable style manual. The editors take readers room by room, tapping the best ideas from domino magazine and culling insights from their own experiences. With an eye to making design accessible and exciting, this book demystifies the decorating process and provides the tools for making spaces that are personal, functional and fabulous. Expert decorating tips, lush photography, and shrewd shopping strategies converge in straightforward guides. Maybe that sofa should be a bit closer to the window?

The Bible doesn’t call homosexuality a sin, and it doesn’t advocate for the one-man-one-woman model of the family that has been dubbed “biblical.” The Bible’s famous “beat their swords into plowshares” is matched by the militaristic, “beat your plowshares into swords.” The often-cited New Testament quotation “God so loved the world” is a mistranslation, as are the titles “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” The Ten Commandments don’t prohibit killing or coveting. What does the Bible say about violence? About the Rapture? About keeping kosher? About marriage and divorce? In The Bible Doesn’t Say That (Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99), acclaimed translator and biblical scholar Dr. Joel M. Hoffman walks the reader through dozens of mistranslations, misconceptions and other misunderstandings about the Bible. In 40 short, straightforward chapters, he covers morality, life-style, theology, and biblical imagery explores what the Bible meant before it was misinterpreted over the past 2,000 years.

Is your handwriting simply scribble? In the digital age of instant communication, handwriting is less necessary than ever before, and indeed fewer and fewer schoolchildren are being taught how to write in cursive. Anne Trubek argues that the decline and even elimination of handwriting from daily life does not signal a decline in civilization, but rather the next stage in the evolution of communication. In The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting (Bloombury, $26), Trubek uncovers the long and significant impact handwriting has had on culture and humanity-from the first recorded handwriting on the clay tablets of the Sumerians some four thousand years ago and the invention of the alphabet as we know it, to the rising value of handwritten manuscripts today. Establishing a novel link between our deep past and emerging future, Trubek offers a colorful lens through which to view our shared social experience.

Give us a little Razzle Dazzle. Please. Michael Riedel’s book is a love letter to Broadway, both a splendid history of this American institution and a wonderful account of how art gets made. Filled with Broadway’s history and its myths—heroes and villains, ups and downs, dirt and dish—raise the curtain. Please. Razzle Dazzle:  The Battle for Broadway (Simon & Schuster, $17) builds suspense as Riedel chronicles productions from idea to stage to reviews to Tony Awards. A captivating gift to theater lovers. This narrative account of the people and the money and the power that turned New York’s gritty back alleys and sex-shops into the glitzy, dazzling Great White Way is perfect for Broadway buffs.

Did you know that Frank Sinatra was nearly considered for the original production of Fiddler on the Roof? Or that Jerome Robbins never choreographed the famous “Dance at the Gym” in West Side Story? Or that Lin-Manuel Miranda called out an audience member on Twitter for texting during a performance of Hamilton (the perpetrator was Madonna)? In Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes (Oxford University Press, $19.95), Broadway aficionado-in-chief Ken Bloom takes us on a spirited spin through some of the most intriguing factoids in show business, offering up an unconventional history of the theatre in all its idiosyncratic glory. From the cantankerous retorts of George Abbott to the literally show-stopping antics of Katharine Hepburn, you’ll learn about the adventures and star turns of some of the Broadway’s biggest personalities.

Agates: Treasures of the Earth (Firefly Books, $19.95) is a comprehensive, easy-to-use identification guide for rock lovers. The book describes names of agates (mineralogical, geological, local, trade, trivial); properties of agates (color, wall-banded, level-banded, cracked, thunder eggs); sources of agates (eruptions, lava, sediment, limestone beds, fissures);
lapidary (sawing, grinding, sanding, polishing); imitations and forgeries of agates  . . . and much more. Amateur gemologists and agate collectors alike will find this informative and beautifully illustrated book to be an indispensable resource.

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