Downtown View:Good Books for Gift Giving

By Karen Cord Taylor

It’s December. Time for a holiday gift book roundup. Two recommendations are the works of Massachusetts authors whose books, no matter what the titles, are really about relationships.

No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults, published by John Wiley & Sons, is downtown Boston author John Spooner’s follow-up to No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to My Grandchildren.

Spooner’s day job is investment advisor. He has also written magazine and newspaper articles, a couple of novels, and a series of financial advice books over a long writing career.

This latest book is aimed at men and women just beginning their careers—the 22 to 32 year-olds who are more often associated with social media, technology and start-ups that capitalize on social media and technology.

But Spooner’s book has little to do with these millennial activities. Although its title explains that he will address money matters, the advice is not much about money either.

Instead Spooner advises young adults to cultivate good relationships, make time to listen to other people’s stories and operate with optimism. It’s all about a good life, rich in friends, family, co-workers, and the stable of helpers—doctors, lawyers, plumbers, car valets and waiters—who help you get through both good and bad times.

This is a personal book. He describes the loss of his beloved wife of 45 years to cancer, the loss of his father with whom he tussled as well as held dear, and the pleasure of spending time and getting advice himself from old camp friends, college roommates and new people he meets in activities he forces himself to participate in, even when he doesn’t want to be bothered.

Some of his stories, especially about lawyers, journalists and IRS agents, descend into stereotypes that are a bit curmudgeonly and surely don’t reflect his total experience, given what a good outlook he usually has. But these clichés also add to the reader’s understanding of the author—he has his prejudices too, like everyone else.

Moreover, the advice he gives is good not only for young adults but for older ones too. My favorites are about buying jewelry—don’t expect it to appreciate because it won’t. And join clubs early in your career before you make enemies—you will make enemies if you are doing your job, he says—and before those enemies can blackball you.

Anne Fadiman’s At Large and At Small is my second recommendation for holiday gift giving. Fadiman lives in Whately, Massachusetts, in the Pioneer Valley, with her husband, author George Howe Colt. This is not a new book. It was published in 2007. But that is a trouble with books—if you missed the review or you don’t have a reliable librarian or friend with good recommendations, you might never hear of the book again.

In this book of essays you will learn about the author’s marital bed, her fascination with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 17th century mail service in London, ice cream, catching butterflies and her family’s move from Manhattan to western Massachusetts. The author’s brother, their parents, her husband and their children appear again and again in a loving way.

She has the gift all writers want: her writing is so good that before you know it you are as interested in the minutia and trivia of a strange topic as she is. You can’t put the book down because each sentence about flag raising or the Arctic is so well crafted that a reader just keeps reading, as if he or she were sailing through the atmosphere in a glider.

Spooner’s book and Fadiman’s have commonalities. Even though short, Spooner’s book has an index, which is a nice touch. Fadiman’s has a list of sources from which she has quoted.

And they can be read in short intervals. So they could be part of an outdoor library in a park, lying on a shelf in a bathroom or placed beside a guest bed for a little literary pick-me-up before a good sleep.

Happy holiday shopping.

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