The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso (W. W. Norton $29.95)

This book is, as the title would suggest, a veritable love song to the apple. The 100 recipes cover everything from soup and salad to ice cream, and with a guide to 59 apple varieties including helpful descriptions of flavor and recommendations for uses in cooking and baking, you'll be sure to use the right one every time. The cookbook's sweet recipes, like the Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce and Blue Ribbon Deep Dish Apple Pie, and savory options such as Apple Squash Gratin and Duck Panzanella with Apples and Thyme, are delectable choices for every day, or for upcoming holiday meals. Additionally, throughout the book Amy delves into the histories of different apple varieties, while meeting farmers and apple lovers as she tours orchards and cider farms in Washington, New Mexico and around New England. By itself, or paired with a pretty pie plate, The Apple Lover's Cookbook makes a great gift for bakers and apple enthusiasts, or treat yourself and invite family and friends to share a mulled apple cider and a scrumptious crisp or cobbler. – Sarah

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Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco, $16.00)
Those of you who know me through the store recognize me as primarily a reader of fiction, but after seeing Patti Smith interviewed recently I was compelled to pick up her National Book Award winning memoir Just Kids. She captured my heart within the first two pages by ending her brief forward with a quotation from Tosca’s aria “Vissd’ante”: I have lived for love, I have lived for art. And so follows the memoir of her early life with Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City, most notably their time spent at the Chelsea Hotel. This is not a “who’s who” of the art and music world so much as a moving depiction of her relationship with a person she loved deeply, their dedication to live a life committed to art, their support for each other through poverty and illness and struggles with sexual identity, and ultimately finding a way into their separate expressions of creativity. What surprises is not her passion but her tenderness.

I would say it makes me want to visit NYC but I would need a time machine, for what the book makes one long for is the New York of the late 60’s and early 70’s when the city itself seemed to be the Muse for unparalleled artistic energy and talent.

For listening, try Patti Smith’s iTunes Original Album in which she introduces each song in her personal, inimitable way, though you won’t want to miss out on other collections that include her poetry and music. I like “ Ain’t it Strange” and “Ask the Angels”.

Highly Recommended! – Heidi

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The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (Pantheon, $23)
Our customers love to travel... both on the road and from the armchair. This is a beautifully packaged little book that explores what the point of travel might be and suggests how we can be happy in our travels. (Available also in paperback for $13, but we can't resist keeping the handsome hardcover on hand).
   
Book Lover's Cookbook Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature and the Passages that Feature Them by Shaunda Kennedy Wagner & Janet Kay Jensen (Ballantine Books, $21.95)
Don't miss this treasure trove of literary nuggets and great recipes. From Jo's Best Omlette (Little Women) to Veteran Split Pea Soup (The Red Badge of Courage). There's something here for every book and food lover.
 
   

Conversations With Jim Harrison edited by Robert DeMott (University Press of Mississippi)

Reading Jim Harrison is like having a bear loose in your head. Suddenly, you think about things differently. Everything gets rooted through and pulled out of the drawers and sniffed. Stuff you never thought of as edible, as good for you, seems like it might not be so bad afterall. Blake’s admonition—that you never know what is enough until you know what is too much—comes to mind. You realize how foreign some human standards are to all the other inhabitants of the planet. It dawns on you: the presence of wildness.

This new book, “Conversations with Jim Harrison,” is no exception. Harrison’s talk is as accomplished, eventful and far ranging as his fiction, essays and poetry. Spanning nearly 30 years, the interviews offer a glimpse of Harrison in the company of others. His openness and responsiveness to often the same questions is wonderful. One spoof literary interview is included that Harrison conducted with writer friend, Tom McGuane, that is hilarious. Harrison probes with insightful questions like: “Why have you never mentioned the Budweiser Clydesdales in your work?”

Here’s a few other quotes just to give a feel of the book’s breadth. On inclusiveness: “You have to think of reality in terms as an aggregate of the perceptions of all creatures.” On Native Americans: “they got even with us by allowing us to invent television.” The sexiest reading material: “Finnegan’s Wake.... Vogue is better than Hustler.” On religion: “So I think all my religious passions adapted themselves to art as religion.” On the love of food: “Only in the Midwest is overeating still considered an act of heroism.” On having a literary reputation: “I’m not interested in any reputation that has to be sought.” On living: “I have to constantly forgive myself for not being as good as I’d hoped to be.” On Shakespeare and Dostoevsky: “Nothing human is alien to them. There is nothing that can’t be explored.”

Somebody has said that whereas art used to spin around nature, now the orbit is around culture. Which reminds me of a question I heard posed on NPR recently: “Is the economy part of nature or is nature part of the economy?” Harrison reassures us of the order of things. He gets it right. As Robert DeMott, the editor of this collection, writes in his introduction: “What Gertrude Stein once said of Paris applies to Harrison—it isn’t what he gives you, so much as what he doesn’t take away.” —Mark

   
Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff (Doubleday, $22.95)
Rakoff, a regular on NPR’s This American Life and author of Fraud has written this new collection of essays which are witty observations on American society and its excesses. He take many to task, and Rakoff himself is fair game as he explores such topics as U.S. citizenship, working as a “pool ambassador” at an upscale Miami hotel, and flying the not yet defunct Concorde (comparing his experience to a subsequent flight on Hooters Air). We become as appalled as he is at our own country’s narcissism. With his frank insights, biting sarcasm and playful use of words, he is not unlike his contemporaries David Sedaris and Auguston Burroughs. – David
   
Endangered Pleasures by Barbara Holland (Harper Collins, $12)
“In defense of naps, bacon, martinis, profanity, and other indulgences” this is a refreshing reminder that rest and relaxation are more rewarding than counting fat grams and sitting behind that desk every day. Life is short so have some fun while you're living it!
   
Grace from the Garden by Debra Landwehr Engle (Rodale, $19.95)
This is a little gem sure to delight any gardener. 20 gardens and gardeners from all over the country are featured, including our own Elgin resident, Virginia Umberger!
   
Home Ground edited by Barry Lopez (Trinity University Press, $29.95)
H
ome Ground: Language for an American Landscape brings together a collection of over 800 words that if you read much nature writing you may have stumbled over and wondered about their origins. Here's just a taste: beheaded stream, browse line, kiss tank, biscuit board, basket-of-eggs relief, and ait. Even if you're familiar with the basic meaning of a featured phrase or word, these definitions will still enrich your understanding. In many cases they are miniature works of art themselves. Almost like the notes that a writer might keep in a private revery. 45 poets and writers have contributed including Charles Frazier, Robert Hass, Linda Hogan, Kim Stafford, and Gretel Ehrlich. Sometimes its nice to have a book that you can read in short interludes. This is just such a book and will probably be a great reference for years to come as well. If you like Barry Lopez, he writes the intro and has a number of entries. For those days when you can't get out to your favorite woods, fen, prairie, or stream—this book provides a little solace. – Mark
   
Illinois Seasons of Light by Robert Shaw (Cache River Press, $39.95)
In the introduction to this beautiful collection of photographs, Illinois native Dan Fogelberg writes: “I invite you to celebrate this book. It is through the dedication of artists like Robert Shaw that our precious heritage of wildness can indeed be preserved.” We echo the invitation with a display of signed editions of Robert's book at Town House.
 
   
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton (Norton, $13)
May Sarton has her own shelf at Town House. Her body of work includes poetry, journals and novels. She has been like a friend to many readers with her honest insights into life lived as an artist and human being trying to find one's way in the world. She continued writing until her death in 1995 at the age of 83. While she never achieved the critical acclaim that she coveted, she was beloved to many of us.
   
The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber (Pantheon, $23.00)
The wonderful author of Crescent presents us with this funny, poignant, and mouth watering window into her private world growing up in an Arab- American family. Diana Abu-Jaber is the product of an Irish German mother and Jordanian father... food is at the center of their family life and the stories she tells are alternately hilarious and heart rending. Each vignette ends with a family recipe... from “Eat it Now Shish Kabob” to “Mad Genius Kaffea” the reader becomes enchanted with the characters, food and frolic in Abu-Jaber’s life. – Heidi
   
Marley & Me John Grogan (Morrow, $21.95)
Even though I am a dog lover and a "softy" to everything that has to do with dogs, I am normally not drawn to sentimental, cute dog books (at least I wouldn't admit it in public!) This is not one of those types of books anyway. John Grogan, a newspaper columnist and former editor of Rodale's Organic Gardening magazine, writes about Marley, which he calls the world's worst dog. We learn all about Marley– puppyhood through old age and witness how he turns his owner's life upside down. It is a love story written so beautifully and vividly that it in turn broke my heart while still making me laugh out loud throughout the book. – David
   
My Cat's Not Fat, He's Just Big-Boned by Nicole Hollander
(Hysteria Publications, $9.95)
Nicole Hollander's syndicated cartoon strip “Sylvia” appears nationwide, delighting readers with her hilarious depiction of life with the cats we love. Cats who think too much, cats who hypnotize their owners, cats who plot dastardly deeds, and of course cats obsessed with food! We keep this one on the front counter just for laughs.
 
   
Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures Edited by Jennifer L. Leo (Travelers' Tales, $14.95)
This is a hilarious collection of essays by funny women who write from the road. Anne Lamott, Ellen Degeneres, Sarah Vowell, and many more. For those who like to travel or laugh or both, this is great fun and a great gift.
   
Sixpence House Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins
(Bloomsbury, $14.95)
Paul Collins and his family moved from San Francisco to the Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye, the “Town of Books” — a population of fifteen hundred with forty bookstores! This is a tribute to the place, the people, and most of all to the books that are at the center of our lives. For those lucky enough to have visited and for those who dream of one day venturing to this mecca for book lovers, this is a funny and insightful little book for bibliophiles.
 
   
These Rare Lands by Stan Jorstad (Simon & Schuster, $40)
The only individual ever to document all of our national parks is Stan Jorstad, and we are lucky enough to claim him as a St. Charles resident and customer of Town House. If you have never experienced his gorgeous panoramic photos, stop in – we always have signed copies of his book available, as well as photos on display. Visit Stan's website.
 
   
The World According to Mister Rogers - Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers (Hyperion, $16.95)
When Fred Rogers passed away this year we felt the loss of a wise, warm, and gentle soul. His legacy continues in this wonderful collection of stories, anecdotes and insights. Also available on CD, read by Tyne Daly, John Lithgow, Lily Tomlin, and André Watts, and including actual Fred Rogers recordings and music from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
 
   

For other reviews see our other review pages:

 
   
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