The Things They Carried
Can't get enough of "Breaking Bad?" I know the feeling. I can't get enough of Tim O'Brien novels. But this holiday season is going to be special. "Breaking Bad"'s own Walter White (Bryan Cranston) lends his distinct voice to O'Brien's classic Vietnam book, The Things They Carried. If you haven't read this spellbinding book, let Walter White read it to you in this audible audio edition.
Suggested by Gilbert King, contributing writer
A Mark Twain Christmas: A Journey Across Three Christmas Seasons
If you've ever wondered how Mark Twain might have spent his Christmas holidays, you'll definitely want to pick up this book by Carlo DeVito. Twain, it turns out, was a joy-loving prankster on Christmas Eve. (He loved dressing like Santa Claus to wake his girls in the middle of the night.) Yet the book is also heartbreaking, as America's favorite novelist must confront, on one holiday season, the death of a daughter.
Suggested by Gilbert King
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore reconstructs the life of Ben Franklin’s youngest sister Jane in this National Book Award finalist. Jane married at 15 years old and birthed 12 children; she left behind letters written to her famous brother that reveal a fascinating woman. Lepore looks at how the parallel tracks of the lives lived by the Franklins reveals much about the role of men and women in the 18th century.
Suggested by Angela Serratore, contributing writer
Lego Architectural Sets
Earlier this year, our design writer Jimmy Stamp wrote about these fun LEGO sets for adults:
The sets aren’t exact Lego-built replicas, but artistic interpretations created through the medium of plastic brick. Every design is instantly recognizable—a testament to the artists and designers tasked with translating stone and brick to plastic brick. Despite their diminutive size, the surprisingly expensive sets manage to capture the distilled essence of the each structure.
Use your own construction skills to build replicas of architectural wonders like the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and national treasures such as the White House or the Empire State Building.
Suggested by Angela Serratore
Civil War Toys
The website for Homestead Folk Toys looks like a Geocities page from 2001, but it has an amazing selection of Civil War-era crafts and toys, including kits to make clothespin dolls in Union and Confederate uniforms, dice games, dominoes and signal whistles with sheet music. Craftsman George Rice, based in Nashville, Indiana, claims that his toys are historically accurate.
Suggested by Angela Serratore
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism
Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Team of Rivals, is in the limelight again, with her latest book, The Bully Pulpit. The New York Times describes the work, seven years in the making, as a “tandem biography” of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. On top of these narratives, Goodwin layers the story of how muckraking journalists affected the two politicians’ terms. “’The Bully Pulpit’ brings the early 20th century to life,” says the Washington Post.
Suggested by T.A. Frail, senior editor, Smithsonian magazine
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
Political journalist George Packer paints a picture of America’s fragile economic state in The Unwinding. To depict the growing disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots,” he profiles elites—Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey and Jay-Z, among others—alongside everyday people trying to make a go of it in factory work, venture capitalism and the biodiesel market. Packer thanked the latter group when accepting his 2013 National Book Award, saying that it was their willingness to welcome him into their lives that allowed him to “try to illuminate some of what’s gone wrong in America over the past generation and in their own lives some of what’s gone right.”
Suggested by T.A. Frail
When Nixon Met Elvis Puzzle
On December 21, 1970, President Richard Nixon accepted an impromptu visit from Elvis Presley. “The King” had a request. He showed the president some police badges from his personal collection and asked if he might obtain an official badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Nixon and his staff obliged. A 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, sold by the National Archives, features an iconic image that White House photographer Ollie Atkins snapped during the meeting. In it, the president and the singer, wearing a velvet suit and massive gold belt buckle, shake hands in the Oval Office.
Suggested by Mark Strauss, senior editor, Smithsonian magazine