Owner, The Mozzarella Co.
I would give Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples, both by Ruth Reichl. I had Tender at the Bone on my bedside table for more than a year. I’m not sure what prompted me at last to read it, but I enjoyed Reichl’s autobiographical tales of growing up so much that I immediately purchased the sequel, Comfort Me with Apples, so I could continue her witty tale.
Both books are full of interesting tidbits that will enthrall anyone interested in food. Her descriptions of her family are priceless, her detailed recounts of restaurant meals are mouth-watering, her tales of European and Asian trips teem with exotic sights and flavors, and her hilarious stories of times spent with her famous friends in the food business—Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck—leave you wishing for another sequel.
These two easy-to-read and entertaining books are the perfect gift for any “foodie” on your list. They’re great for cooks as well, because interspersed between Reichl’s stories are simple and fabulous recipes, from Danny Kaye’s lemon pasta to Chinois-curried oysters with cucumber sauce and salmon roe to apricot pie.
Dallas County Criminal District Attorney
Two books stand out as favorites on my current reading list. The most recent is Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, and the second, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, is by Stephen E. Ambrose. Both books deal with courage and heart and how both man and beast use their God-given talent to accomplish seemingly impossible feats.
Seabiscuit, one of the most famous thoroughbred racehorses of all time, continued to triumph time and time again to the delight of millions of Americans during the post-Depression years. This magnificent animal became a symbol of hope and perseverance and was the embodiment of true grit and grace in adversity.
Undaunted Courage is the beautifully written account of the Lewis & Clark expedition commissioned by Thomas Jefferson. The book is an enthralling read of the expansion of the American West. Ambrose captivates his audience with the impossible obstacles facing these men in their journey westward, with great character development and wonderfully descriptive passages. It, too, is a remarkable story of the triumph of the will, of resolve and resilience, of character, heart, and courage.
Director of the Dallas Visual Arts Center
For me, good contemporary art is about thinking. Two recent books challenged me with how they made me think: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
A Gesture Life recounts the haunting life of an elegant, elderly Japanese-American man who seems to experience life as an outsider, never having a full, rich relationship with family or friends. It brought the painful immigrant experience to life. What is a gesture life? Is it a token, a wisp of a thing, only an abbreviation? And then I thought about a gesture drawing, which captures the essence of a thing, its movement and elegance in graceful, simplified form. This challenging novel presents a life that is both the token and the essence.
Strangely, there were similar issues in Girl with a Pearl Earring, a clever recreation of the life behind one of Jan Vermeer’s paintings. Imagine using a 17th-century painting as a springboard to invent a story, a blend of fact and fiction. It was a magical experience, watching a young, unschooled peasant girl find a way to use her searching mind to explore her curiosities and develop her own hidden talents. She, too, was an outsider as a servant in a mannered house, slowly worming her way into the artist’s life and work.
Director of the Dallas Video Festival and Assistant Professor of Film and Video at UTA
Two novels not to be missed revel in the details of British humor and pop culture. High Fidelity, written by Englishman Nick Hornby, illuminates the making of music tapes and the fetishism of “music fandom.” The book’s reviewers called it a story about the overwhelming power of pop culture, not just the way it can illuminate every element of our existence, but also the way it can cloud our judgment.
Another U.K.-born author, Helen Fielding, pens British pop in Bridget Jones’s Diary. She enumerates the details of the consumption of food, cigarettes, and drinks by a single female living in London. The author herself was surprised at the novel’s reception in the United States. Even if you saw the movie, read the book. I looked forward to the movie but was disappointed that the edginess was replaced by cuteness.
I was also dreading the film version of High Fidelity because I couldn’t see how something so rooted in Britishism could translate to Chicago. I was, of course, wrong. Obsession with music works just as well in Chi-town.
DISD General Superintendent
I am currently reading The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw. It’s a wonderful read because it’s filled with lessons to be learned about courage and determination. The book is an amazing account of the inner strength humans have to survive and to make great contributions to society.
I recommend this book because Christmas is a great time to read about believing in yourself and having respect for others—all wonderful character traits to cultivate and share.
Co-host, “Kidd Kraddick in the Morning”
If I were giving books as gifts this Christmas, I would probably give The Four Agreements and The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz.
For one thing, giving these would make me appear spiritually enlightened, which I think would really impress my friends. Though I do think some of Ruiz’s philosophies are a little “out there,” the books have really helped me in my everyday life.
I think I handle criticism a little bit better than before, and I’ve gotten my road rage under control. I’ve also come to realize how important our words are and how they can affect and shape the lives of those around us. I had a lot of little “aha” moments while reading these books, and I think they would benefit anyone who reads them.
In fact, I probably need to go back and read The Mastery of Love. I recently had a relapse and yelled at a guy who was driving too slow on I-35.
Headmistress, Hockaday School of Dallas
I recently read two books of letters, both rooted in a rich and fascinating period of American literary history. First, The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938-1978; the second, Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964. Each details unlikely friendships sustained by lavish correspondence.
All four writers are associated with this period in American history, which comes alive in their letters. However, it’s really the liveliness of their prose that engaged me and made me wish for a return to an era of paper and pen.
I recommend these books if you wish to share or learn about the details of friendship, if you wish to learn about nationality, if you wish to learn about race, and, most important, if you wish to learn about loveliness.
Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church
John Maxwell’s The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team is outstanding. The book would be an excellent gift for church leaders, business executives, or anyone who wants to influence others for good.
Keep in mind, reading through the Scriptures is vital to our spiritual lives. You may want to not only give, but also read, The New Living Translation Application Bible and The One Year Bible. Applying the messages from the Bible is powerful and life changing.
Dallas Morning News Columnist
My best book experience in years came while reading back-to-back The Gates of the Alamo by Stephen Harrigan and The Borderland: A Novel of Texas by Edwin Shrake. They present Texas history the way you wish your 7th grade teacher had taught it—powerful and gruesome and rip-snortin’. Both novels made Texas history come alive for me as never before.
However, the books are very different. The Gates of the Alamo is epic and elegant. The Borderland is down and dirty. Together, they probably capture the range of life in those years when Texas became a nation.
I capped the books with an all-day visit to the new Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. As a lifelong Texan, I understood a little more about why we are the way we are: God help us, God bless us.
Dr. Franklyn Jenifer
President, The University of Texas at Dallas
Know a history buff? Wrap up Charles P. Roland’s The American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War, one of the best short story versions of both the battles and politics of the Civil War still in print. Roland is an excellent writer and historian who makes the reader feel that he is actually at the scene of the battles. This book is both an excellent choice for the general reader who wants a quick lesson on the Civil War and the serious student of the war who wants a succinct review.
The Right to Fight: A History of African Americans in the Military by Gerald Astor is an outstanding scholarly study on the role played by African-Americans in essentially every major American war. From the first battles of the Revolutionary War through the evacuation of American troops from Vietnam, Astor tells the story of heroism in the face of racism. Because of this, it is not only a study of war and warriors, but also one of our nation and its people and the key role played by war in the forging of the American character.
Best-selling Fiction Author
The book that stands out immediately, out of the thousands I have read, is Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas. I was probably in high school when I first read this novel and I’ve read it 20 or so times since. It’s a moving love story, but it also chronicles a man’s spiritual awakening, which changes his personality and his outlook on life.
For pure fantasy, I loved Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower. It’s sheer escapism and great fun. I am also a big fan of Rick Bragg’s autobiographical All Over But the Shoutin’. This book made me laugh and brought me to tears. Truly excellent.
CBS Channel 11 News Anchor and Managing Editor
If you saw the movie A River Runs Through It but never read Norman Maclean’s book, take the time to revisit this one. I’ve probably gone through it a half-dozen times or more and each time it becomes fuller and warmer and even a little sadder. Maclean’s book is largely autobiographical and a poetic retelling of events believed to be from his youth, focusing on his family and especially his brother Paul and lessons learned on Montana’s Big Blackfoot River. The fly-fishing they do is both real and metaphorical, and the story becomes the reader’s own story. I always feel closer to family and friends after reading this novel. It is simply magnificent.
If you like history, you won’t do much better than David McCullough’s John Adams. This volume is something of a primer on the revolutionary period and the difficult time that followed when Adams and others were putting in place the essential building blocks of America. McCollough allows us to judge those early decisions for ourselves and watch them unfold through the life and decisions of one of our early presidents. Sometimes our founding fathers appear as something more than mere mortals. But this finely researched and readable narrative peels away the varnish to show us how human they really were. And they may well remind us of ourselves.
Point Guard, Dallas Mavericks
If anyone has put the notion that “no man deep down inside has any considerable amount of respect for himself” to the test, it is Gandhi. In An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahadev Desai, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Sissela Bok, he is continually testing the boundaries of himself and his religion. Reading this book showed me that we barely scratch the depth of our honesty. We’re really only topically honest with ourselves. Deep honesty is a sign of the respect Gandhi had for himself.
If you’re reading to children, The Little Prince, translated by Richard Howard and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is a book filled with sweet messages. It’s a fulfilling read for all ages, but the best messages in this story, about a very imaginative little boy, are the ones the children will pick up.
For that person on advertisement overload, think of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies by Naomi Klein, an inquisitive look into consumerism and branding. It looks at brands and their dominance in the economy and questions their worth in our lives. It’s also a look into anti-corporate activism. I found it interesting because it’s something we take for granted and underlines how we continually lose our rhythm with the earth in this age of technology.