Great Gift Books and Remembering a Colorful Friend by Doug Moe
The English author – and occasional Wisconsin resident – Neil Gaiman once noted that books make the best gifts because they have whole worlds inside them – and cost less than trying to buy the whole world.
I had a chance to chat recently with store manager Jayne Rowsam about numerous titles at Mystery to Me that will make excellent gifts this holiday season.
There is no way a former ink-stained wrench like me wouldn’t appreciate Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the Golden Age of Mechanical Writing, a beautiful coffee table book by Anthony Casillo, with photographs by Bruce Curtis and a foreword by the actor Tom Hanks.
We have an old Remington manual typewriter in the store, and it can be a conversation piece. One stands out. A little girl, shopping with her mother, saw the typewriter and said:
“What is that?”
It’s a time machine.
People who love manual typewriters really love them. When I was writing my book on the Chicago columnist Mike Royko, his widow told me he had software installed in his computer that mimicked the sound of typewriter keys being struck.
The late playwright Sam Shepard, in the recent documentary California Typewriter, said, “I just never got along with the computer screen. It’s somehow removed from the tactile experience. When you go to ride a horse, you have to saddle it. When you use a typewriter, you have to feed it paper. There’s a percussion about it. You can see the ink flying onto the surface of the paper.”
A typewriter is the murder weapon in The Tenth Clew, a Dashiell Hammett story featuring the ace detective The Continental Op. Hammett fans will delight in knowing all the Op stories have at last been brought together in one volume, the newly released The Big Book of the Continental Op. Hammett drew on his real-life experience working for the Pinkerton agency in writing the Op tales.
Revolution: Uprisings that Shaped the 20th Century by Philip Parker, arrived this fall on the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution that toppled the tsarist autocracy in Russia. It details insurgencies against dictators and imperialist governments and includes removable facsimile documents of historical significance.
Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works, is, as Jayne told me, “just gorgeous” – a beautifully illustrated guide to more than 75 classic books and manuscripts and the impact they had, along with biographical notes on their creators.
Another artfully designed and illustrated book for the holidays is The Gilded Age: 1876-1912: Overture to the American Century, by the historian Alan Axelrod. It was a fascinating time – Mark Twain is credited with coining the phrase “gilded age” – and Axelrod draw parallels between it and present day.
Andrew Belonsky’s The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History, includes 200 color illustrations and photographs of the classic American abode.
National Geographic Night Vision: Magical Photographs of Life After Dark, by Susan Tyler Hitchcock, contains 250 images of everything from night markets in Laos to Paris’s Eiffel Tower.
The natural world and our place in it figures in the poet Wendell Berry’s new book of prose, The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings, as well as The Naturalist’s Notebook, by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich, which encourages paying attention when you’re outdoors and includes an observation guide and journal to help you get started.
My friend and colleague Jayne is also very high on a new edition of Homer’s The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson, the first translation by a woman and one that is drawing rapturous reviews.
And speaking of women, a final gift suggestion, 200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World, in which the authors photograph and profile women around the globe, famous and unknown, asking all a series of questions regarding identity, happiness and what matters most.
I can only imagine how Joan Hess would have answered the five questions asked of the subjects in 200 Women. No doubt with both humor and candor – and maybe a bit of an edge.
Joan, who died November 23 at her home in Austin, Texas, visited Mystery to Me this past summer, and I think I can confidently say it was one of our most memorable author events of 2017.
The story behind the book Joan was promoting, The Painted Queen, was itself intriguing. It was the 20th in a series of historical mysteries written by Elizabeth Peters, featuring the amateur Egyptologist Amelia Peabody.
Peters’ real name was Barbara Mertz, and Mertz died in 2013, having written perhaps one-third of the manuscript. Barbara’s daughter, Beth Mertz, prevailed on Joan Hess – an accomplished mystery author and longtime friend of Barbara’s – to complete the novel.
Joan had initially hesitated. Writing in another’s voice would be a challenge. Finally she agreed.
“They bribed me with vodka and carrot cake,” Joan told me, when we chatted by phone prior to her Madison visit.
That visit was an unreserved success. Beth Mertz came, too, and their discussion about Barbara – mother to one, great friend to the other – and The Painted Queen was moving, informative and amusing. Joan had been ill and was in a wheelchair, but she rallied and charmed everyone. It may have helped that Joanne brought carrot cake, and my wife, Jeanan, brought vodka.
Beth Mertz told me that evening that her great hope was that The Painted Queen might be a New York Times bestseller. Although a successful author, Joan Hess had never cracked the list.
On August 13, The Painted Queen, with coauthors Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess, debuted at number 7 among hardcover fiction bestsellers.
I called Joan in Austin to congratulate her. How did it feel? “You can say I either giggled or chortled,” she said.
Truth is, she was thrilled.
A few days after Joan died, Beth Mertz wrote Joanne a note at Mystery to Me, warmly recalling the event this past summer and noting that she and Joan’s daughter are planning “a wild cocktail party” at the Malice Domestic fan convention next year.
“We two daughters,” Beth wrote, “are mostly worried that we can’t live up to the level of sublime ridiculousness our moms would expect in their honor.”
More wonderful gift ideas can be found in the Midwest Bookseller's Association Holiday Catalog!
We have been doing our best to keep the featured books in stock, yet they continue to fly off the shelves.
If we don't have what you're looking for, let us know. There is still time to place a special order.
And free shipping through December. Oh My.
December New Releases -- just a brief sampling...
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
The Body in the Casket - A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page
Beau Death by Peter Lovesy
No Time to Spare by Ursula K. LeGuin
Nightblind by Ragnar Jonnason
Bryant and May - Wild Chamber by Christopher Fowler
A Lady in Shadows by Lené Kaaberbol
Oh and there are sooo many more wonderful books in the store -- all genres!
Saturday, December 9
Holiday Glow on Monroe -- click here to learn about what's happening on Monroe Street --- including a visit from Santa!
And, at 2 pm we'll Prost the Season with Matt Janzen, author of The State Of Craft Beer. This will make one heck of a holiday gift. Matt will be here to personalize the book for that special beer lover in your life. Cheers! psssst....did you know that everything about this book was made in Wisconsin? Even the ink! No kidding.
Thursday, December 14
Women Artists Present....
Join local artist Lori Chilefone and local poets Andrea Potos, Katrin Talbot, and Catherine Jagoe as they read from the venerable and delightful 2018 Women Artists Datebook (Sryacuse Cultural Workers) as well as from some of their own poetry collections.
Friday, December 15
Come hear from the Madison Writers' Studio students -- tonight you'll hear from students in the novel writing class. Awesome talent in Madison!!
Saturday, December 16
Allen Eskens discusses his newest mystery, Deep Dark Descending
Monday, December 18
Joanne will be on WORT talking about our favorite books of 2017
Sunday, December 24
Open 11 am to 4 pm
Monday, December 25
Tuesday, December 26
Open 10 am to 7 pm
Sunday, December 31
Open 11 am to 3 pm
Monday, January 1
Stay tuned for information about January Events -- we're a bit behind on getting the website up to date (sorry....).
....You might want to save Friday, January 19 for Nick Petrie!
and one last thing...check out Libro.fm
Buy Local. Listen Local.