Books are gifts that last. The joy of giving and the pleasure of reading are wrapped neatly into one during this festive season as the Bangkok Post's reporters and editors recommend books to suit a wide range of tastes and passions. From pictorial tomes to moving fiction and practical manuals, plus delectable cookbooks and even theoretical studies on fashion writing, no presents are more worth unwrapping than fine new books.
By Alice Munro
Beautiful, as ever. In her latest book, Alice Munro continues to make life, dear life, so authentic and heart-melting, with every quiver of emotion seeping through her prose like tears, or like blood. This is a book to give to the woman you love _ mother, wife, girlfriend, lover, ex _ because it's the least you can do (if you're a man, and if you're not, just give it anyway) to show how you try to get in touch with that elastic fibre of womanhood. Dear Life consists of 14 short stories, mostly set after WWII in rural Ontario, where Munro grew up, and most telling tales of women at a time when being a woman seems slightly harder than it is now. From a story of fleeting romance, to a memory of childhood insomnia, and a final section that is the writer's "emotional autobiography", Dear Life isn't just a tender fiction of disparate female characters. It's also tough, wry, and real.
Recommended by Kong Rithdee, deputy Life editor and movie critic.
Asian Godfathers: Money And Power
In Hong Kong And Southeast Asia
By Joe Studwell
Profile Books, 2007
Money is power. Power is money. Here, Joe Studwell gives a detailed account on a region where some 600 million people live, but only 50 families run the show, some of which are familiar names in Thailand, whether it's the Chearavanonts of the CP Group or the Chirathivats of the Central Group.
Studwell examines the relationships between overseas Chinese business pioneers and the local ruling elites of Southeast Asia, the centuries of partnerships and rivalries, and the tipping balance of power that make up the present political situation in the region. Included are interviews with those business elites themselves.
On Thailand, we see the balance of power tipping from the local elites to the Chinese business elites, and the reasons behind the fall from power of Thaksin Shinawatra. The book can be daunting, so pick and choose which country to read about. For those interested in Thailand, Asian Godfathers will give you a solid background of the how and the why of where we are today.
Recommended by Voranai Vanijaka, political columnist.
Manchester United Ruined My Wife
By David Blatt
Know The Score Books, 2008
First published in 2004, Manchester United Ruined My Wife is one of the most hilarious sports books I have ever read. The book is about a devout United supporter's obsession with the club which affected his wife and daughters.
"Manchester United have taken me to higher highs and lower lows than anything else on this planet, including sex," author David Blatt said in the book. On the cover is a quote from Mrs Blatt who said: "I've just read it. I'll kill him when he gets home!"
Be sure to get the updated version which includes the tale of the Munich tragedy and the 2008 Champions League victory. It is a good read, but it may only be good for Man U fans, as several sections of the book are devoted to the Red Devils' success _ including their European triumphs.
Recommended by Wanchai Rujawongsanti, sports editor.
The Backpacker's Handbook
By Chris Townsend
It's been the better part of two decades since I walked in earnest, walked as Thoreau by ''sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements''. The relentless toil of time on the physique, the pressures of modern urban life or the searing heat of tropical Thailand _ I have used all as convenient excuses. But a recent visit to New Zealand's sublime Milford Track helped remind me of the serenity of being alone with one's thoughts amidst nature's grandeur.
Much has changed in the world of packs, boots and outdoor gear. Leather boots and goose-down sleeping bags have given way to high-tech synthetics, while smartphone apps and built-in GPS has made traditional orienteering skills with a map and a compass archaic.
Chris Townsend's The Backpacker's Handbook, now in its fourth edition, is a fine practical guide for any would-be hiker, and offers up-to-date advice on the latest gear for any foray in the wilderness. Over the course of 480 pages, he offers pithy advice on footwear, packs, clothing, tents and meals for various weather conditions and environments.
Together with Mountaineering: Freedom Of The Hills by The Mountaineers Books, and Colin Fletcher's The Complete Walker, Townsend's updated classic earns a well-deserved spot on the reading shelf of any lover of the outdoors.
Recommended by Chiratas Nivatpumin, managing editor.
Thailand Highway Map
By The Road Association of Thailand
The Road Association of Thailand, 2012
Books make great travel companions. Having one handy while on a trip is like having a buddy on call whenever you have idle time to kill. Some can even help you plan the journey and keep you on course.
The Thailand Highway Map is a book readers will want to bring along every time they hit the road. The most accurate and up-to-date available in the Kingdom, this book of maps is revised and reprinted every year. And the 2013 version has already been released.
Apart from highways of all classes, the main maps also show back roads in rural and forested areas, as well the distance from one point to another, locations of cities, towns, villages, tourist attractions and other places of interest. Also featured in the book are city and town maps for all provinces, as well as plans for expressway entrance and exit points.
To come into line with Asean Economic Community (AEC) trends, the newly released version of the bilingual (Thai-English) map book also includes more roads in neighbouring countries, particularly those that connect to our border checkpoints.
Recommended by Pongpet Mekloy, travel editor.
The Fashion System
By Roland Barthes
University of California Press, 1992
I won't claim to have finished the title, and nor will I say I understand the bits I have read, but The Fashion System remains the book that is worth being wrapped as gift from, and as well for, a fashion writer.
The first book by great semiotician Roland Barthes to be translated from French into English, in 1967, The Fashion System delves into the construction of language, the grammar, and the linguistic traditions used in fashion magazines, shedding its skin and uncovering the symbolic, cultural, conceptual and ideological meanings that belong to none but dwellers in the world of fashion, whether or not they are aware of it.
By exploring what he calls ''the written garment'' _ which he believes to be different from, and more functionally fulfilling than garments represented in accompanying photos _ Barthes reveals what fashion ''assumes in order to constitute its signification''.
Polemic and unnerving, yes. But if such monumental thinker of the 20th century can be taken enough by the so-called superfluousness of phrases such as ''A leather belt, a rose stuck in it, worn above the waist, on a soft shetland dress'' to spend six years writing about it, then the book is surely worth reading, even when you don't care about fashion.
Recommended by Samila Wenin, deputy Life editor and fashion columnist.
Popular Dishes: One Table, Sangkhla
By Pawinee Lamaikul
Paega Publishing, 2012
Her restaurant, One Table, Sangkhla, located at the Thai-Myanmar border town in Kanchanaburi province, has only one table for service. And Pawinee Lamaikul insists on serving only one small group of customers a day, yet the customers are willing to travel a very long distance to experience her culinary mastery. A chef this confident must be more than extraordinary. So when I heard that Pawinee had released her cookbook, I rushed to the nearest bookstore to get one.
If you like cooking, you should get one too. In Popular Dishes: One Table, Sangkhla, Pawinee generously shares precious cooking tips most chefs keep to themselves. She also reveals the ingredients (easily found in markets) her kitchen uses to make seemingly ordinary Thai dishes an unforgettable experience. Best of all, Pawinee makes us feel that we, too, can cook like her.
Recommended by Sanitsuda Ekachai, editorial pages editor.
By Todd Selby
This gastronomic memoir by Todd Selby, an American fashion photographer, illustrator, blogger and lifestyle aesthete, will make most food enthusiasts reconsider whether they're really keen on food culture, obsessed with eccentric ingredients and evolving in accordance with culinary trends as they think they are.
Through the book that's 70% photos, 20% watercolor illustrations and 10% text, Selby introduces you to some of the most innovative artisan bakers, rooftop farmers, sea foragers, tea collectors, butchers, affineurs and bento-box caterers. You'll meet also cuisine revolutionists who work mainly with tweezers, razors and hand-forged fireplace tools.
Capturing the energy of today's food movement, the 294-pager takes you from a taco shack in Queens, New York City, to an open-air restaurant in a Mexican jungle, a progressive restaurant in South Paolo, a winery in Sicily, a bakery in Stockholm, a food lab in Copenhagen, an influential bistro in Paris and a caravan cafe in New Zealand. A gift that promises to excite the curiosity of food snobs and wannabes, indeed!
Recommended by Vanniya Sriangura, Life food columnist.
I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography Of India's Bandit Queen
By Marie-therese Cuny, Paul Rambali
I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography Of India's Bandit Queen takes readers through the tumultuous life of a notorious modern-day female Robin Hood who encounters a barrage of injustices after her birth into a poor, low-caste family in a rural village in Uttar Pradesh.
What makes the book a must read is that the accounts of her life form a tapestry narrating a true depiction of Indian attitudes towards women and how two-faced they can become.
Illiterate Phoolan shares through the pens of the writers numerous examples of how she was a part of a world that meted out more respect to a stray dog than to a woman. With both poverty and a low caste hounding her existence, she had no one to rely on but herself.
The emotionally gripping moments start when she is married off at age 11. The graphic details of her persecution, which include brutal rapes and beatings, make you cringe and your eyes well up with tears.
The emotionally strong-willed Phoolan shows us how mind over matter helps her to survive a kidnapping by bandits, and the circumstances that lead her to become one of them.
Recommended by Yvonne Bohwongprasert, feature writer.
Celebrate: A Year Of British Festivities
For Families And Friends
By Pippa Middleton
Viking Adult , 2012
Packed with year-round celebrations the Britannia way, this hard-covered collection _ by the Duchess of Cambridge's sister Pippa Middleton _ offers much history and how-to for each and every occasion. Divided into four sections _ autumn, winter, spring and summer _ each section explores different get-togethers, from bonfire nights, Christmas parties and high-tea gatherings to picnics in the countryside. Along with recipes, decoration ideas, arts and crafts and games to play, there are also poems and cultural facts that will add to your party. It's a one-stop instruction book that gives guidance on every single aspect of organising merry-making. Even if you don't throw anything, the delightful feel-good photographs will make you feel like you're at the party.
Recommended by Parisa Pichitmarn, feature writer.
HOME & DECOR
By Anna Shepard
DK Publishing, 2009
Housekeeping does not have to be a tremendous, time-consuming task. This book is the bible for any domestic goddess or anyone who wants to keep their home effortlessly clean. With concise, step-by-step explanations, from getting the house cleaned to tackling dirty laundry, the book offers time-saving techniques with checklists and essential tools for each job. Every task is made simple in four easy steps, with pictures clearly illustrating how it should be done. The content is divided into six chapters _ speed cleaning, washing up, clothes and laundry, removing stains, coping with children and pets, and decluttering. It is a foolproof guidebook to make sure your house is spotless, in an (almost) effortless way. It also offers useful tips such as using white vinegar, lime juice, or bicarbonate of soda instead of chemical detergents.
Even for a non-domestic person, Express Housekeeping still comes in handy, as it offers tips on how to declutter a wardrobe, how to tidy up a home office, how to store food in the fridge and how to unblock a toilet. The person who receives it can lighten the cleaning load, and the giver can walk into a cleaner, fresher home when visiting.
Recommended by Napamon Rungwitoo, beauty and lifestyle writer.
The Hidden Messages In Water
By Masaru Emoto
Pocket Books, 2005
The book introduces the revolutionary work of internationally renowned Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto, who discovered that molecules of water are affected by human's attitudes.
Emoto put many different types of water into bottles and wrote phrases such as ''Thank you'', ''Love'' and ''I will kill you'' on paper before wrapping one around each bottle and freezing them at -20C. Then he photographed the frozen ice crystals.
Crystals from bottles with positive words were beautifully formed, while those with negative words looked disgusting and distorted. Water, it seems, has the ability to copy and memorise information.
Emoto's experiment revealed the world is in fact influenced by people's attitudes. While an average human body as well as the Earth's surface is 70% water, positive thinking not only brings about good physical and emotional well-being, but also global environmental recovery and finally a world at peace.
Recommended by Arusa Pisuthipan, health writer.
In One Person
By John Irving
In One Person is the coming-of-age story of a bisexual man who's attracted to men, women, and transgender women. It is the 13th novel by the international best-selling author John Irving, and the most daring, gender-bending story that explores human desire, secrecy and sexual identity.
The story is centred on Billy Abbott, a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman _ Miss Frost, the librarian in a Vermont public library. The 70-year-old American novelist wrote an essay on his website, noting that Billy is not himself, but a character coming from his imagining of what he might have been like if he'd acted on all his impulses as a young teenager. Irving open-mindedly shared that his wild imagination as a young boy was from sexual desire towards his friends' mothers to girls his own age _ even towards older boys among his wrestling team.
One of the highlights of the story is that when Billy calls Miss Frost a ''transsexual'', she replies: ''My dear boy, don't put a label on me _ don't make me a category before you get to know me!''
Recommended by Yanapon Musiket, culture writer and columnist on queer issues.
By John Franklin
Stationery Office, 2009
Stop taking bicycling for granted. Most know how to balance on the saddle and move forward on a two-wheeler, but it doesn't always mean you are an efficient cyclist. Cycling, like driving, requires familiarity with the vehicle and expertise to integrate with traffic.
Cyclecraft is a cycling 101 book recommended for new riders to learn and for the veterans to double-check facts and improve their skills. The book aims to maximise your safety and riding efficiency, and minimise inconvenience to others.
In the earlier chapters, the book features the basics _ how to choose your bike, what's needed for your ride (light, helmet, and etc), where to start the first cycling lesson, and even how to place your feet in the right position. In later chapters, cyclists are taken onto the busier roads with faster traffic. Even though you may be experienced, you might need to revisit crucial skills for negotiating streets or how to make a turn into a multi-lane road.
The only drawback of the book is it's written based on Canadian traffic systems.
Recommended by Sirinya Wattanasukchai, feature writer and cycling enthusiast.