2013 The Domestic Front Gift Guide: The Bibliophile Edition – Gift Books for Everyone on your List


Things have been quiet (read: busy) but it’s time to start counting down the days to Christmas. First up, a gift guide.

You’ve probably done most of your shopping already (or not. This is a no-judgement zone). But if you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for something else to round out your list. Despite my Kindle love (and I am, in fact a convert – one of these days I’ll write about my Kindle love and the library), there’s nothing like a book as a gift. Easy to wrap, lasts forever, doesn’t take up much room, and can be purchased at a cozy bookstore, which is almost never overrun with holiday craziness (or online. I admit to that, too. And if you haven’t joined Amazon Prime (2 day shipping!) now is the time to sign up for a free trial.) Here then, is my list of great gift books for 2013. (Links are affiliate links).

For your cousin who just got married and is learning to seriously cook with the fancy knives and brand new KitchenAid Mixer she has recently acquired:

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Why:  This book is a modern classic for a reason.  Judy Rodgers, who passed away this year, has written a cookbook that is not only a collection of (excellent) recipes, but is also a book that’s interesting enough to read cover to cover and a true primer on technique.  This book will make her a better cook – worthy of all those fancy pots.

For your husband, who follows the stock market for fun and actually reads corporations’ annual reports as if they were magazines:

Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders

Why: To quote my husband (who happens to read annual reports for fun): “You’re getting the collected wisdom of America’s greatest investor in real time.” (He also wanted me to point out that you can print these for free off the Berkshire Hathaway website.)

For your college roommate, who has been going through a tough time and could use a laugh and some empathy:

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

Why: Anyone who reads her genius blog knows that Allie Brosh is a wonder – she manages to be both poignant and hysterically funny at the same time.  The book is a collection of some of her best cartoons and some new material, but it’s all fresh and hilarious and so, so true.

For your gay BFF, who follows pop culture like it’s going out of style and will never leave New York because of Broadway:

Humans of New York

Why:  Anyone with a Facebook feed knows that the zeitgist has arrived, and it was photographed by Brandon Stanton

For your mother who loves to cook and who loves to travel, but tends to cook the same things and visit the same places over and over:

Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Why:  This is the best cookbook I’ve bought this year, maybe in many years.  The recipes are fresh and exciting – evoking the city that inspired them with beautiful photographs.  It’s a great book for the armchair traveler, but it’s also a great book for the cook – the flavor combinations are often surprising and always delicious.

For your curly-haired rosy-cheeked toddler, who learned animal noises before he learned any actual words and thinks every dog he meets is a friend:


Why:  with cute pictures of real dogs, a lilting, fun rhyme, and some basic pop up characteristics, this book is sure to be a hit. It also teaches opposites (big dog, little dog, neat dog, sloppy), and some preliminary counting.  In our house, it’s a great favorite, accompanied by cries of “Doggie!’ and “aGEN”.

For your precocious six year old daughter, who is balancing right on the cusp of kidhood, and is just now finding secrets to keep (and the ability to write them down):

Just for Me: My Ramona Quimby Journal

Why: Ramona is both timeless (I myself had a Ramona Quimby diary) and relatable, and you will get bonus hours of enjoyment reading your kid’s creative spellings.

For your book club buddy, who reads as much as you do, and has already read all of the obvious suspects:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel

Why: Gaiman gets overlooked by the lit fiction set who are all busy reading Donna Tartt and Jhumpa Lahiri, but this is a gem of a book. Part horror story, part fairy tale, part psychological insight – you’ll want to read it and then have someone to discuss it with. Plus, it’s short, so you have plenty of time to read it before next month’s meeting – even with all the holiday madness.

For anyone at all: 

One Summer: America, 1927

Why:  Who doesn’t love Bill Bryson?  Funny and smart, he’s an excellent tour guide and dispenser of trivia.  This book covers baseball, gangsters, airplanes, the stock market – all with Bryson’s trademark wit.

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List

The Nuni has just joined the summer reading program at the library, and she is SUPER excited.  This is the first summer she can really read, and she is taking all sorts of delight in sitting down with a huge stack of books and racing through them (she is naturally picking the easiest of her easy readers), all the while exclaiming in a loud voice, “I LOVE READING.”   This whole process of course leads to the ultimate goal- she can write the titles down on her list, take it to the library and get a sticker.

It’s a preliminary step in what I hope will be a lifetime love of reading.  And summer seems like the perfect time to embark on a reading program for adults as well.  My perfect summer involves long hours by the beach or the pool or on an adirondack chair out on the porch with my nose in a good book.  Not just any book makes for good summer reading.  Summer reading should be gripping, enjoyable, light.  This is not the season for tackling Bleak House, or brushing up your knowledge of Russian agricultural theory.  The below list includes some  of my favorite fun books that are perfect for summer reading.

(Note:  Links are affiliate links.  Feel free to get these from the library.  Or support the site with click throughs.)

Continue reading Summer Reading List

Chapter Book Series for Young Girls

Chapter Books

The Nuni, lucky child that she is, gets read to every night before bed.  We started with board books, then moved on to picture books. Right around the time she was three, I decided that if I had to continue reading Fancy Nancy every night, I might actually die of boredom. At around the same time, the Nuni was commuting with me to preschool for over two hours a day, and had grown tired of Broadway musicals. I turned to chapter books – a great love of mine in both childhood and adulthood. We listened to audiobooks in the car, and read a chapter (or half a chapter) at bedtime. Picture books are wonderful, but chapter books are where the love of literature is really born. These are some of our favorite series to listen to and read together. Since the Nuni is a girly girly girl, she likes hearing stories about girls, and all of these feature strong, independent and interesting girls to draw in my fearless daughter.  (NOTE:  Links are Affiliate links which means I may get about 4 cents from Amazon if you click on them.  You know the drill)

Continue reading Chapter Book Series for Young Girls

February Reading Recommendations

The Domestic Front Books to Read Now

I’ve been writing The Domestic Front for nearly four (FOUR!) years, and while it reflects my love of food and family, I feel like there’s a whole side to me I’ve been neglecting in these pages. I love to read. It’s as essential to me as breathing. If I am trapped in a space like a doctor’s office with nothing to read I will start reading the small print on the ibuprofen bottle in my purse. But I usually prefer books. People are often shocked when I tell them that I read over fifty books last year (and none of them were Fifty Shades of Grey. I started it, but the writing was so atrocious I really couldn’t finish it. Also, it did not push any of my buttons.) I read every night before bed, and usually a little when I get up. I listen to audiobooks in the car (which isn’t exactly reading, but it still counts). I read after my kids are in bed and before they wake up in the morning.

All the readers I know are constantly looking for book recommendations. So if you’re a reader, or you’d like to become one, the following are a few books I’ve read and enjoyed recently. (You can also follow me on Goodreads, a great social reading site that’s also a good way to keep track of what you’ve read and want to read. You are not, however, allowed to laugh at me. We can’t always be reading War and Peace.)

(Note, links are affiliate links. That means I might get, like, a nickel if you click on them. I’ll buy a tootsie roll and think of you.)

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson

The story of a teenage boy nerd, told by another teenage boy nerd.   The narrator perfectly captures the teen boy voice without condescending, and tells the story of his friend Eric, who never, ever has to sleep.  The novel twists and turns with sci-fi elements – it reads like a comic book without the graphics.  It’s funny, fast-paced,  suspenseful and poignant, and unlike anything else I’ve read recently.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

This book goes back and forth between an aging British actress (think Maggie Smith – that’s what I did) dealing with her dying mother, and her mother as a young woman during World War II in London.  Part historical fiction, part family drama, part mystery – this one kept me riveted.  I listened to it on audiobook, and found myself driving around the block to finish chapters.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

This is a modernization of Jane Eyre, which might just be my favorite Gothic novel (it beats Wuthering Heights by a long shot).  Mr. Sinclair doesn’t quite match the smouldering intensity of Mr. Rochester, but the lush descriptions of Scotland and its scenery are pretty wonderful.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I’m not really a sports person, but this novel – about a virtuoso shortstop at a third rate college and the people in his life – made me a believer.  Ken is always telling me that the power of baseball is the story, and in this book, the story is pretty powerful.  This one has parallels to Moby Dick (though it isn’t as close a match as Gemma Hardy is to Jane Eyre) .  It’s also a book about finding your place in the world and embracing your talents – whatever they may be.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I’m not always a fan of fantasy, thinking that it often falls into the cliches invented by Tolkien. This book, however, set in a smartly-imagined medieval world where dragons co-exist with humans in a diplomatic truce, proved the exception to the rule. The title character, a half dragon who is forced to hide her past because of the prejudices of the world around her, is nevertheless eminently human, and vulnerable. Worth reading.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The premise of this book – Kansas matron chaperones a teenage Louise Brooks (silent film star) through a summer in jazz age New York, has a personal epiphany, and is forcefully dragged into modernity – is charming, and if the book ended there, it would have been a charming and entertaining read. What brought this book to the next level is that we see what Cora (the aforementioned Kansas matron) does with her epiphany, and her maternity, and how it changes her life. If you always wonder “what then?” after a book finishes, this is the book for you.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I, along with every freshman enrolled in English 129 at Yale, which was roughly a third of us, was forced to read the Iliad by freshman year. It was long. There were a lot of spear fights, and pierced nipples. This is a much more entertaining perspective on the story. Miller doesn’t lose the poetic edge, but her story is that of Achilles, the famed warrior, as told through the eyes of his closest friend, Patroclos. It’s a familiar story, made fresh.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

I adored My Life in France which many people are familiar with through the movie Julie and Julia. This comprehensive biography goes far beyond the period described in that movie. I particularly loved the story of Julia’s childhood in Pasadena (we attended the same elementary school!) but was also fascinated by her time in China and Sri Lanka during World War II, her career in television, and her growing influence in the food world. An interesting life, told by an able biographer.