Books to check out and check off your holiday list

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TImeOut

December 1, 2016


Andrea Fencl/TimeOut Staff
“Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round” by Ron Faiola is an adult book that Martha Merrell’s Books & Toys proprietor Norm Bruce said was doing well at his downtown Waukesha store.

Books as Christmas gifts is an idea to be addressed in separate local presentations during the next week.

On Saturday at the Shorewood Public Library, 3920 N. Murray Ave., Daniel Goldin will deliver the annual Holiday Book Talk under the auspices of the Friends of SPL organization. According to the library’s newsletter, Goldin, who runs Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company, “will share book recommendations, from today’s top fiction to the most interesting nonfiction,” considering in the process “all ages and many types of readers.”

After Goldin’s talk, books will be available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going to Friends of SPL. Questions can be directed to shwd.

From 12:15 p.m. 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Milwaukee Public Central Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave., “Books for Gift Giving,” a “Lunch and Learn” event with sub sandwiches, chips and water will be provided, is scheduled. Registration is required for what is billed as “a round-up of the hottest titles of 2016.” To register, call 414-286-3011.

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Those named above aren’t the only area book venues readying for the holidays. Two others are Martha Merrell’s Books & Toys, 231 W. Main St., Waukesha, and Half Price Books, with locations in both Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

Martha Merrell’s proprietor Norm Bruce spoke of his store’s “great array” of children’s books when a reporter visited. He proceeded to point out a number of Christmas-related books for kids, including Anik McGrory’s “The Christmas Fox” (for ages 3-8), which tells the Nativity story from an animal’s perspective; “Squirrels!” by Nancy Rose (3-6), containing photos of actual squirrels in artificial settings; Delia Huddy’s “The Christmas Eve Tree,” concerning a homeless lad and a rescued Tannenbaum (5-8); and “Rudy’s Windy Christmas,” Helen Baugh’s tale of a certain red-nosed reindeer who eats Santa’s pawned-off Brussels sprouts and gets into a, let us say, gaseous state (4-8).

A pair of adult books “doing very well,” Bruce said, are Jeff Pearlman’s “Gunslinger,” a biography of Hall of Fame Green Bay Packer Brett Favre, and “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round,” Ron Faiola’s sequel to his similar eateries examination in 2013. Among a slew of additional authors represented in the Waukesha store is Kathleen Ernst, whose “A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life through the Seasons” is highlighted by pictures snapped at Old World Wisconsin in the Town of Eagle. Situated close to copies of that hardcover book at Martha Merrell’s were paperback copies of Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson mysteries  “Death on the Prairie” and “Heritage of Darkness.” Also nearby: “Breweries of Wisconsin” books autographed by author Jerry Apps.

A stop at the Half Price Books store at 5032 S. 74th St., Greenfield, proved that contending the chain sells nothing but old books would definitely be incorrect. Assistant manager Franz Buchholtz pointed out some popular 2016-minted tomes, selling - as is the case with the store’s entire inventory - at a discount: Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing the Rising Sun,” John Grisham’s “The Whistler,”  the memoir “I Am Brian Wilson,” Chris Smith’s “The Daily Show: An Oral History” and “Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins.”

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About midway between downtown Milwaukee and downtown Waukesha is my favorite haunt - the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the Mayfair Mall. Based on books that I, a nonfiction fan, have seen in that store of late, I’ve compiled the following list of biographies and the like. I’m hopeful my wife and adult children will add one or more of my 10 categorically arranged entries to their holiday shopping lists.

Autobiography: “Negroland,” by Pulitzer Prize-honored critic Margo Jefferson, about growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s as a member of a well-to-do African-American family in Chicagoland.

Biography: “Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life,” by Peter Ackroyd; the aforementioned “Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre”; “His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt,” by Joseph Lelyveld; and “Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life,” by Ruth Franklin, profiling the author perhaps best-known for “The Lottery,” one of American literature’s darkest - and most brilliant - short stories.

History: “Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop,” by Marc Myers; “Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital,” by David Oshinsky; “Stealing Games: How John McGraw Transformed Baseball with the 1911 New York Giants,” by Maury Klein; and “Television: A Biography,” by David Thomson - rather quirkily subtitled, since this book deals with a what rather than a who.

Journalism: “The New York Times Book of the Dead,” edited by William McDonald, a “book-and-website package” of the newspaper’s obits of thousands of notable individuals across many years.

To the foregoing, allow me to add four biographies and one baseball history book that I read, or am reading, in 2016: “Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon,” by Larry Tye; “Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story - How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War,” by Nigel Cliff; “Sinatra: The Chairman,” by James Kaplan; “Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin,” by David Kaufman; and “The Last Innocents: The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers,” by Michael Leahy.