West Virginia Book Festival

Year-end accolades for Heidi Durrow

Heidi Durrow, one of the presenters at this year’s West Virginia Book Festival, has seen her novel “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” show up on a couple of best-books-of-the-year lists.

The Washington Post included Durrow’s book on their list of the best novels of 2010 earlier this month, and the Oregonian newspaper put it on their “Top 10 Northwest Books” last weekend.

“The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” has garnered many national accolades, not the least of which was from our own Susan Maguire.

Harry Potter and Joe Posnanski

When the latest Harry Potter movie came out last month, a couple of us here at WVBF: TB thought about writing something about why kids — and people in general, I suppose — should read the books before they see the movies (and don’t get me wrong, I like the movies.)

We didn’t write that post, partly because we had other stuff to do, partly because it’s sometimes hard to do that without sounding preachy. Fortunately, someone has done it for us.

For those who don’t know him, Joe Posnanski is the best sports columnist, and one of the best columnists of any kind, in America. Earlier this month, he wrote something about his daughter and Harry Potter and the new Harry Potter World theme park at Universal Studios in Orlando. It’s great, as is just about everything that Joe Pos writes, and it sums up perfectly the fear that, as he puts it, the “worry that Harry Potter World will replace the Harry Potter world of her imagination.” It’s worth your time.

Odds and ends

A few West Virginia book notes from the past hectic couple of weeks:

| As mentioned here earlier, “Lord of Misrule” by Jaimy Gordon, winner of this year’s National Book Award for fiction, is set in West Virginia and based on the author’s experiences at the Charles Town race track. Cody Corliss reviewed the novel in the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

| Local children’s author and West Virginia Book Festival presenter Sarah Sullivan recommended some books for young readers, also in the Gazette-Mail.

| Amy Phelps, a columnist for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, offered her choices for best books of the year.

| Darren Jones, who writes about books for the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, writes about Oprah Winfrey’s latest book pick. If you don’t know what it is, it might surprise you.

Gift books, Dec. 24: Magazines for every taste

It’s Christmas Eve. Not enough time to go out and get a book as a gift? A magazine subscription may be your answer.

As we rush from place to place, we look for something quick to read – like a magazine.  Consider a subscription as a stocking stuffer.  There are magazines out there for almost any interest. Here is a small sample of new and classics.

Does someone in your family live for “Mythbusters”?  Save old bits to turn into something?  Then Make: Techonology on Your Time is the magazine for them.  Build a mini amplifer/ a better toilet plunger/ laser mosquito blasters.  It’s all in here.  And the readers of Make have an active online community as well.

Bookmarks: For Everyone Who Hasn’t Read Everything is the perfect gift for the person for the reader in your life.  Bookmarks reviews a wide variety of books and interviews authors regularly, so there is something for all readers.

BBC Knowledge is an eclectic mix of science, art and so much more.  Perfect for the anglophile in your life.

National Geographic Traveler is for the armchair traveler and world explorers too.   As always the National Geographic photo teams are set to dazzle readers.

Are they an armchair traveller and foodie? Saveur might be a delicious choice.

For lovers of the state, consider subscriptions to Goldenseal or Wonderful West Virginia.

Readers of mysteries and science fiction can always be pleased with a regular selections from  Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine or Analog.

Nature lovers might enjoy Audubon, which explores much more than the birds John James Audubon made famous.

As people are looking to do more for themselves and looking to live “greener” lives, Mother Earth News is increasingly popular

Still not sure what they might like?  Stop by your local library to help select other titles that you might want to give as gifts.

Gift books, Dec. 23: A few last-minute suggestions

I asked my friend and former Charleston Gazette colleague Bob Schwarz if he had any suggestions for gift books. As usual, he was full of ideas:

Deborah Madison‘s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”: The recipes are work, but they’re worth it. She understands how to pump up vegetarian cooking so the meals taste as good as meat meals. I use more recipes from this cookbook than any other cookbook I own. The dessert recipes are fabulous too.

“Yertle the Turtle,” by Dr. Seuss, my favorite children’s book, which teaches children, among other lessons, not to feel they’re more important than everyone else.

“No Star Nights,” by Anna Egan Smucker, my favorite children’s book by a West Virginia author. Smucker tells about growing up in a steel town.

“‘Twas The Day Before Christmas,” by Brenda Seabrooke, illustrated by Delana Bettoli.

This is one sweet, colorful picture book and one of my favorites. From the School Library Journal review:

On December 24, 1822, Papa Clement Moore is charged with a special task by his six-year-old daughter–to write a Christmas surprise for the family. As he ventures out into the snow for a long sleigh ride to the market, the man ponders the story he will tell and how he will write it to bring the joy and wonder of [his] childhood Christmases to his children. The slow measured text leads up to Moore’s classic poem and gently conveys the author’s imagined process while imparting some history of the holiday. Bettoli’s folk-art-style illustrations evoke the period with warmth and charm, and the bright colors and stiff poses are nicely placed with lots of white space and tiny borders to give a vintage feel to the narrative. The gentle story is strangely compelling and involving, especially since readers know just what the special surprise will be. The full text of the poem is included.

Gift books, Dec. 21: The W.Va. Encyclopedia

No one interested in West Virginia’s history should be without a copy of the West Virginia Encyclopedia. Published a few years ago by the West Virginia Humanities Council, the 944-page behemoth has 2,200 entries on everything you ever wanted to know about the Mountain State, from abolitionism to John Zontini. (What, you don’t know who John Zontini is? Clearly, you need this book.)

And yes, the encyclopedia is now online. But don’t you know someone who would rather have it sitting on his or her shelf?

There is probably someone on your Christmas list who is sarcastic, ironic, loves satire and may be between the ages of 13-21.  This is a book for that person, or the person who still embraces that attitude.

It is sad to note, but some day, your kids grow up, and the Christmas traditions of the family change with them.  My husband and I have reared two boys to manhood, and along the way, nurtured the sense of the ironic in them that brought us together years ago (when dinosaurs still walked the earth.)

So, at this stage in our lives, when visits to Santa and trips to feed the West Side nativity sheep are happy memories, Christopher Moore has stepped in to fill the void.

Specifically, The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore.

Author Christopher Moore, who was born in Toledo and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, writes comedic (some say satirical) fantasy.  His cast of characters is likely to include aliens captaining whale-like submarines through the world’s oceans, a band of Safeway stock boys turned amateur vampire hunters, a lonely yuppie insurance salesman who seeks assistance from ancient Trickster gods to get the girl of his dreams, or a recently widowed new father who seems to have been recruited for the job of the grim reaper (and needs a babysitter!)

The Stupidest Angel is one of those tales that is thick with enough twists to amuse all of us as we travel “over the river and through the woods,” or at least along the local interstates to visit family. It starts with a very public fight between a divorced husband and wife, it continues when the wife accidentally kills her ex (did I mention he was dressed as Santa at the time?) and a feckless angel, who stands in front of a graveyard, to bring Santa back to life to fulfill the Christmas wish of a child.

Instead, we end up with a graveyard full of zombies who have arrived, uninvited, at the Pine Cove community Christmas dinner, where a town full of those amusing characters (some of whom have appeared in Moore’s other novels) are facing their own personal holiday demons in addition to their former neighbors turned zombies.  There is nothing as terrifying as a zombie that knows all your personal secrets.

And there is a fruitbat, named Roberto, who talks.

For us, the audiobook narrated by Tony Roberts, is a vital part of the holiday season.

If you enjoy West Virginia history and real stories about real people, ask Santa for a copy of  Above the Smoke: A Family Album of Pocahontas County Fire Towers. This engaging album describes a time when the first line of defense against forest fires was dedicated human vigilance. A time when men (and at least one woman) were employed to climb swaying 50 foot towers and walk narrow catwalks looking for smoke in the heavily forested region of Pocahontas County.

The job was essential but not easy. Observers lived alone in the towers for long stretches during the dry season, some times for as long as a month. Equipped with two way radios, they could request the delivery of necessary items from their employer, the U.S. Forest Service. Hearty family members could visit and even spend the night but there was little sleeping room. In good weather, tourist and visitors helped break the monotony by climbing the towers for the view.

The interviews recorded in the album show readers life as it was in Pocahontas County between 1915 until around 1980. They read like well written short stories. The album includes 16 pages of photographs of the people, the towers and the towns.

For the mystery lover and the feminist on your list:

“Finding Nouf,” the first novel of Zoe Ferraris, a former Huntington resident, is a riviting detective novel set in Saudi Arabia. The characters include a well drawn nontraditional detective and his rebellious female cohort. And as a bonus, the complex mystery details the current life and customs in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world.