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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Books for holiday gifts

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Dec 8, 2015 9:35 AM
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What to look for on Smart Talk Tuesday, December 8, 2015:

It's early December so it must be time for Smart Talk's annual show focusing on books as gifts for the holidays or books you would like to read during the holiday season.

Books have always been a thoughtful and treasured gift.  Almost everyone enjoys and can appreciate a book as a present -- whether it is fiction, a novel, non-fiction, poetry, or a how-to book.  Maybe one of the classics.  We'll also have a few book suggestions for children or teenagers.

On Tuesday's Smart Talk, we'll discuss the books that would make great gifts.  They may or may not be new or on the bestseller lists, but our panel will recommend and describe several titles to think about.

Joining us will be Catherine Lawrence, co-owner of the Mid Town Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg and a writer herself and Todd Dickinson, co-owner of Aaron's Books in Lititz

We'd like to hear your suggestions as well.  What books do you think your friends or loved-ones would enjoy or what books are on your wish list this year?

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Catherine Lawrence and Todd Dickinson

Book Recommendations from Cathy, Chris, & Sarah

at Harrisburg's Midtown Scholar Bookstore-Café

 * For Poetry Lovers *

 Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems by Robin Coste Lewis - Winner of the National Book Award

"A stunning poetry debut: this meditation on the black female figure throughout time introduces us to a brave and penetrating new voice."

 Excerpt:

water jar

 bowl

 ointment spoon

in the form of swimming

black girl

 mirror

with handle

in the form of a carved standing

black girl

The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong by David Orr.

"A cultural "biography" of Robert Frost's beloved poem, arguably the most popular piece of literature written by an American. ... The poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review...offers a lively look at the poem's cultural influence, its artistic complexity, and its historical journey from the margins of the First World War all the way to its canonical place today as a true masterpiece of American literature."

 * Nonfiction *

Stories In The Stars (a nicely bound, illustrated book on constellations) by Susanna Hislop

Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (musician Elvis Costello's autobiography)

Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir by Terry Gilliam (He's the animator and only non-British member of Monty Python.)

Dr Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medecine  (story of Dr Mutter, from the Mutter museum in Philly. It's a little dark, but a fascinating biography - just out in paperback) by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Published in late 2014, this completely took off this year and is now a national best-seller. A new twist on the normal "clutter clean up" books.

Lincoln's Final Hours: Terror, Conspiracy and the Assassination of America's Greatest President by Kathryn Canavan - just published this fall

* Fiction *

The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro

The Japanese Lover: A Novel  by Isabel Allende

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

* For Children *

This Is My Home, This Is My School

Just published this fall, a charming children's book by Harrisburg's national award-winning children's author and illustrator Jonathan Bean that has homeschoolers cheering as it presents a bright and colorful look at how homeschooling is accomplished. You'll see the same family from his popular children's picture book Building Our House and get an even more in-depth look at the home that was built.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

This year's Newbery Medal winner. A great twist is that it is a novel in verse instead of your regular read. 

More details: "'With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering,' announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander."

The Secret Garden Coloring Book

Basically one of the coloring books that started the whole adult coloring trend which is now thought to relieve stress and promote calm. Absolutely beautiful, delicate ink drawings to color. A staff favorite!

* Just for Fun *

Coloring Books - For All Ages!

Lost Ocean (it's a follow up to the bestselling Secret Garden coloring book)

The Official Game of Thrones Coloring Book (A Song of Ice and Fire)

The Official Outlander Coloring  Book

And a few other titles that our staff recommends for creative folks who need some inspiration:

Learn To Draw Calligraphy Animals

The Steal Like An Artist Journal: A Notebook for Creative Kleptomaniacs 

(this author, Austin Kleon, wrote a couple of books with creative ideas, but this is an actual activity book. "Page after page of ideas, prompts, quotes, and exercises are like a daily course in creativity. There are lists to fill in--Ten Things I Want to Learn, Ten Things I Probably Think About More Than the Average Person.")

Todd Dickinson, Aaron's Books reommendations

The Muralist

B.A. Shapiro

Bestselling novelist B. A. Shapiro (The Art Forger) explores the forgotten story of the Works Progress Administration and the Abstract Expressionist movement through her two compelling characters, one a talented young artist in New York City in 1940 who goes missing, and the other an art curator in modern New York who discovers new clues to an old mystery.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Nathanial Philbrick

True story, basis of Melville's novel Moby-Dick and the new Ron Howard movie. Philbrick is a great storyteller and has clearly done extensive research on the wreck of this ship by a sperm whale.

Concussion

Jeanne Marie Laskas

In 2002, a young forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh, a new immigrant from war-torn Nigeria, discovered deeply disturbing damage to the brain of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center "Iron Mike" Webster. His conclusions led to new understanding of the damage caused by repeated blows to the head in football - after overcoming significant pushback from the National Football League.

Thing Explainer

Randall Munroe

Former NASA scientist and popular blogger Randall Munro (xkcd.com) explains complicated concepts through simple line drawings and everyday language. Tectonic plates are "the big flat rocks we live on" and washers and dryers are "boxes that make clothes smell better".

The Marvels

Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick is the Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was adapted into Martin Scorsese s Oscar-winning movie Hugo. Here, he tells a story through intricate pictures of a boy who is shipwrecked, rescued, and goes on to found a brilliant family of actors that flourishes in London. Then his second (possibly related) story, told in traditional word narrative, is of a runaway in modern London who becomes captivated by a historic home, with its portraits and ghostly presences.

Merry Christmas, Squirrels!

Nancy Rose

Author and photographer Nancy Rose creates homemade miniature scenes in her backyard, then photographs squirrels as they interact in this pretend world. Her first book was The Secret Life of Squirrels.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; Illustrated Edition

J.K. Rowling; Jim Kay = illustrations

Longtime Harry Potter fans will love this new edition, with more than 100 beautiful illustrations in an oversize hardback book. Families just discovering Harry Potter will need one as well.

 

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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-12-08 09:56

    an anonymous listener emails:

    I am listening to a book series called “The Expanse”. It is science fiction and it is going to be an upcoming TV series; in my opinion it is very good.

    I like science fiction that has some hope for humanity but some truth about humanity too.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-12-08 09:56

    Manuel from Carlisle emails:

    I am getting the following two books for my sons for Christmas. They inspire young men, and capture the hearts and minds. The Explorer’s Guild and The Alchemist. Can you recommend any other books along these lines for a tweenage girl?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-12-08 09:57

    Michael emails:

    I just finished reading "Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company", It is action pack and will get any Star Wars fan ready for the upcoming release of the new movie. I couldn't put it down and I finished it in 2 or 3 days. I would like to hear your guests views on the "Game of thrones" book series as I want to start them soon. I have been watching the HBO series but not sure how the series and books differ.

  • Lisa img 2015-12-08 10:01

    Regarding "gendering" of books, it is probably not as significant for girls as it is for boys. Girls are quite used to reading books with male lead characters and are not deterred as much by it. Subject matter matching is more important -- don't buy a girl a book about sports if she is not interested in sports. Boys, on the other hand, generally prefer to stick to books with male lead characters because there is more peer pressure to not read a "girly" book.

    Recommendation for tween girls:
    "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly. Set in 1899, this is a terrific book about a girl overcoming stereotype of what she should like to do as a girl (sewing and piano playing) vs. what she loves to do (science and nature). Sneaks in a lot of great science and history. First in what appears to be a series. Second book is also now available. Written at about a 5th grade level.

    Mystery series featuring precocious 12-yr-old Flavia de Luce written by Alan Bradley. First book is "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie". Flavia solves mysteries through careful observation and science. Although the mystery she solves is often a murder, the books aren't gorey and have not included foul language or sex scenes so often included in other YA books that might make parents have concerns.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2015-12-08 10:05

    Jeff from York emails:

    Earlier your guest said in passing Moby Dick is one of the "3 or 4 greatest American Novels". Could they enumerate some more of the greatest American novels? Similarly, what are a few of the "books everyone should read" ?

  • Nancy img 2015-12-08 10:25

    I normally am drawn to fiction, but this year plan to give two nonfiction books to family members: "The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion" by Wendy Williams offers a fascinating perspective on how horses evolved. Did you know their ancestors started out here in North America, but became extinct during the Ice Age? The only reason we still have them to ride and love is because they'd already migrated to Asia and Europe, and came back millions of years later as domesticated animals with the Spanish. Williams has a knack for taking complex scientific information and translating it into terms we can understand and enjoy. I'm also giving "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow with CD copies of the new play "Hamilton" that was based on it. For fiction, Elena Ferrante's "My Brilliant Friend" would make an excellent gift. This is the first of four books in the Neopolitan Novel series. It traces the friendship of two young Italian girls who grow up in poverty. Great reading with subtlety and depth. Also invites the reader on a journey -- three more books to read:-)

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-12-08 10:31

    Nancy recommends...
    I normally am drawn to fiction, but this year plan to give two nonfiction books to family members: "The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion" by Wendy Williams offers a fascinating perspective on how horses evolved. Did you know their ancestors started out here in North America, but became extinct during the Ice Age? The only reason we still have them to ride and love is because they'd already migrated to Asia and Europe, and came back millions of years later as
    domesticated animals with the Spanish. Williams has a knack for taking
    complex scientific information and translating it into terms we can understand and enjoy. I'm also giving "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow with CD copies of the new play "Hamilton" that was based on it.
    For fiction, Elena Ferrante's "My Brilliant Friend" would make an excellent gift. This is the first of four books in the Neopolitan Novel series. It traces the friendship of two young Italian girls who grow up in poverty. Great reading with subtlety and depth. Also invites the reader on a journey -- three more books to read:-)

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