While cleaning out the Xpress library (several A&E editors-worth of accumulated novels, guides, histories, memoirs and how-to books accumulated over the years) I came across this fun little selection of literary confection: A Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Paris Hilton Will Never Be Kappa Kappa Gamma (Broadway, 2006) by Maryln (yes, that’s how she spells it) Schwartz. The slim book, about the size of the writing pad you’d keep by your telephone, is unapologetically pink. The cover is pink. Each page is pink. The photos are rendered in pink ink.
Originally published in 1991, Primer was reissued last year with an updated intro. There’s a chapter on choosing your silver pattern (“Some people are born with silver spoons—Southern belles are born with silver patterns,” writes Schwartz). There are photos of big-haired society queens (the pageant kind, not the drag kind) wearing ball gowns and crowns (the author notes, “mere tiaras will never do”), and more info than you ever wanted on how to be a Junior Leaguer. The pictures are all garishly late 1980s, with teased bangs and accounts of Southerners attenmting to order iced tea north of the Mason Dixon line. It’s all a bit much—and yet it would make the perfect gift for a mom, sister or friend with an off-beat sense of humor, an appreciation of things Southern, and a penchant for drama.
That got me thinking, sometimes the best book gifts aren’t the newest volumes on the shelf, but the tried and true, the quirky classics, and those that slipped under the radar the first time around, but deserve a second look. Here are my top picks:
• Better Homes and Husbands (St. Martin’s Press, 2004) by Valerie Ann Leff—Until Leff moved away this past summer, I claimed this was my favorite book by a local author. Still, Asheville can be proud to have been the home to Leff while she created this collection of short stories woven into a novel. The stories tell of the lives of various Park Ave. (New York City) residents over several decades. For awhile, there was buzz about one of a major T.V. station optioning the book as a potential rival to “Desperate Housewives.” I’m still hoping.
• Moosewood Restaurant New Classics (Clarkson Potter, 2001) by the Moosewood Collective—This is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, given to me by my dad years ago and since a favorite of mine to give as a gift. Culled from the recipes of Ithaca, N.Y.‘s famed Moosewood Restaurant, the book’s many dishes are all healthy, tasty, vegetarian-friendly treats.
• Baggage (Headline Book Publishing, 2002) by Emily Barr—I love Barr’s earlier book, Backpack, so I’m on the lookout for a used copy if this chick-lit novel-turned-mystery. It’s about a woman whose best friend commits suicide in high school. A decade later, the woman comes across her supposedly dead friend living in the Australian outback with a family. Spooky stuff!
• The Best American Travel Writing 2001 (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), edited and with an introduction by Paul Theroux—A perfect collection of travel essays for armchair and would-be globe trekkers, edited by Theroux, one of the world’s preeminent travel writers. Contributors include Russell Banks and Ian Frazier.
• In the South of France: A Sketch Book (Workman Publishing Company, 1990), by Sarah Midda—Created by a London-based designer, this hardcover watercolor book is so stylish, dreamy, and endlessly captivating that I suspect it will become a collector’s item.
• Shelter (Shelter Publications; Second Edition edition, 2000) by Lloyd Kahn and Bob Easton—Topping my wish list is this inspiring reissue of a 1973 how-to book. The original, chock full of diagrams, notes and happy hippies building yurt-like structures and arty-if-impractical homes was not much help when it came to advice (building codes outside of California would prohibit most of the structures) but for a great coffee table book or creative fodder, this book can’t be beat.
These are a few books I’d love to give and/or receive—what books are on your wish list this year?
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter