Early in December, Boekhandel van Rossum was written up in The New York Times! Seven authors picked their favorite bookstores around the world. Russell Shorto, historian and best-selling author of Amsterdam – A History of the World’s Most Liberal City – picked us!
Christmas has come but its twelve days of celebration are not behind us. Take this time to read aloud to your family and friends. Jeanette Winterson has provided just the right balance of quirky short stories and recipes for wonderful food, with instructions on how to luxuriate in the creation of perfect comfort food. Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feast for 12 Days is a beautiful, dark blue, linen-covered book which will make you appreciate the importance of taking time for yourself and those you love during this holiday season. Happy New Year!
While you are reading with your children, remember that a vigorous imagination is the key to children who will want to explore the world around them. I have two favourites: Imagine by the wonderful British illustrator Norman Messenger is a glorious old-fashioned book which all readers will cherish. The book is filled with picture puzzles which will inspire you to critical thinking. There are pages of gorgeous landscapes which conceal 18 giants, or can be turned upside down to show another picture, old-fashioned illustrations which permit the reader to move flaps which will let them create new faces, and best of all a page where you can search together for the pictures in the clouds. Messenger’s newest work is an amazing alphabet book which portrays the shapes of letters in ingenious pictures.
The Whisper tells the story of a little girl who loves to read. But when she takes a book home from school, the letters fly out and she is left looking with disappointment at merely pictures. But what pictures Pamela Zagarenski has created! A voice suggests she try to make up the stories herself – and then the genie is out of the bottle. It is up to the reader to imagine a story about each vibrant illustration. My niece in Denver had her young students compose music for each amazing spread and some of my young clients have sent me their stories about the wordless pictures. Stimulate their imaginations!
And if you need tips about what books to read to your children, have a look at The Story Cure: An A – Z of Books to Keep Kids Happy, Healthy and Wise, authored by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. Arranged by theme and by alphabet, it is designed to help you look up the right book for a particular “ailment.” From Adventure to Bereavement to Embarassment to Wanting to be a Superhero, the perfect read for the moment is featured in this cornucopia of stories.
While I was in South Africa recently, I picked up a new novel by Richard Mason, born in South Africa and brought up in Britain, who writes delicious novels about both early 20thth century Holland (History of a Pleasure Seeker) as well as about his birthplace. His latest, Who Killed Piet Barol?, is the tale of the former tutor who has fled Amsterdam and now in 1914 becomes the ultimate con-man, styling himself the Vicomte de Barol in Cape Town. While the world is drifting toward World War I, Piet’s charisma and risk-taking lead him to a sacred, fabled tree in the Xhosa forest of Gwadana. But what will be the price of the lies Piet has told? A fun read with some good research on Xhosa customs and British politics of the day.
As usual, the best for the last. Although Tahmima Anam has written two earlier Bengali novels, I was not familiar with her work. Bones of Grace, her third and more personal book on living between two worlds, is the story of Zubaida, a Bengali Harvard paleontologist studying the ambulocetus – a distant ancestor of the whale, who came from the sea, walked on land and returned to the sea in an extended story of evolution. This intermediate species is fascinating in its own right, but also a metaphor for the in-betweenness of life for those people torn between two cultures and two loves. The pain and joy of the love story in this tale tug at one’s heartstrings in an intelligent and brilliant book.