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The best gifts of all

Monday, November 29, 2010

You can bet your life that I’m going to suggest the best possible Christmas gifts of all: books. Giving the gift of books opens up a whole new world of experiences for those people on your Christmas list. It gives those special people in your life the ability to learn something special about themselves. Here are some of my favourite books I discovered this year. There are also some books that are on my “to read” list.

1. The Immortelle Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: This is my choice for the best science-related non-fiction for last year.
The Immortelle Life of Henrietta Lacks is the fascinating true story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American migrant tobacco farm worker and mother of five who died of cancer in 1951 at the age of 30. Her aggressive cancer baffled and intrigued scientists who decided to study her tissue. Out of Henrietta’s cells they grew HeLa cells for studying many diseases. The cure for polio can be linked to Henrietta. Her cancer cells were used in countless research projects for cancer research. The irony is that her poor family, literally and figuratively speaking, never knew that Henrietta’s diseased cells were being sold and that they are a multi-billion dollar business.
This is a fascinating book for anyone into science, biographies and great non-fiction in general.

2. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender: On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein bites into her lemon birthday cake, made by her mother, and discovers she can read her mother’s emotions.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was my favourite fiction for this year. It is a beautifully written book about what we see and know about life. This is a beautifully written book that will also make you think about how we all have special gifts.

3. In a Heartbeat: If you saw the movie The Blind Side based on Michael Lewis’ best-selling book, you already know the story of the Tuohys who took a poor, black teenager, Michael Oher, into their home, adopted him and made him an NFL football star. It doesn’t seem that there would be any more to say about that, but.In a Heartbeat is the Tuohys’ own story about their journey and their philosophy of giving. This book is part biography, part autobiography and part inspirational literature. There is so much to contemplate in this book. It really made me think differently about money and giving in general. In a Heartbeat is a celebration of joyful giving. It’s great to know that in this cold, cruel world there are people who give from the heart and expect nothing in return. This book is really a guide to living and loving.

4 Full Dark, No Stars: Stephen King has a new book out; four horrific, short stories, disturbing in a King-like way. A woman discovers her capacity for revenge after she is assaulted and left for dead. King makes my list of Christmas gifts because I think he is greatly under-rated as a short story writer. I have always preferred King’s short stories to his novels, but then that could be because I can’t take that much tension!

5. The Confession: A Novel by John Grisham: Action-packed Grisham novels are a safe bet for Christmas. Grisham has a new novel out just in time for the holidays. This is the story of two men: one convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and one who gets away with the crime.
After nine years, Travis, the man who committed the crime, learns he has an inoperable brain tumour. He tries to right the injustice he
has committed and confess to the crime. His challenge is to convince everyone—lawyers, judges and politicians—that he’s telling the truth. Time is running out. In four days, Donte is going to be executed for the crime that Travis committed.

6. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: This is at the top of my “to read” list. Although I haven’t got my hands on Unbroken yet, I am anxiously awaiting its arrival because Hillenbrand’s book Seabiscuit is one of the best books I ever read. Hillenbrand actually came across this story when she was writing the story of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit. Unbroken is the story of Louie Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent who ran in the Olympics and survived a plane crash over the Pacific while he was in the army. Hillenbrand is getting rave reviews for her latest non-fiction.

7. The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon by John Paul Rathbone: There are many books about Castro’s revolution and there are many books about Cuba before Castro’s revolution. This book captures that transition between the two. It is the fascinating biography of a Cuban sugar magnate. This is a colourful, crucial period of Cuban history that makes a riveting read.

Next week: I’m compiling my list of Caribbean fiction and checking it twice. Caribbean fiction is a must this Christmas. Read it and give it and keep Caribbean literature in print.


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