Keeping It Straight: SOME HOLIDAY GIFT BOOK SUGGESTIONS

A CHRISTMAS STORY TREASURY - A TRIBUTE TO THE ORIGINAL, TRADITIONAL, ONE-HUNDRED-PERCENT, RED-BLOODED, TWO-FISTED, ALL-AMERICAN HOLIDAY MOVIE - by Tyler Schwartz

Yep, a book about the movie, "A Christmas Story," and it even includes actual sound clips from the film! When I first saw the film in the theatre in 1983, I knew then it was going to become a Christmas classic. But I had no idea it would become the virtual iconic American Christmas film that it has.

This book is for anyone who loves the film and wants to know the background of how it came to be. The most interesting - and telling part of the ignorance of Bean Counters - is that the studio had no faith in the film, did not bother to view the rushes nor put any money into promoting the film when it was released. Gotta love accountants!

The author covers the movie's origins, development, casting choices, filming, initial reception and eventual flowering into a Christmas classic. The relaxed narrative is accented by dozens of photographs of Ralphie, his mom and dad, neighborhood kids, and of course that wonderful lamp.

Why did such a minor film garner so much success? Simple enough - Jean Shepherd's wonderful story, impeccable casting, top-notch production values and a great feel for the material by Bob Clark, the director.

Yep, this book is as great a classic as the film itself.

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DONALD DUCK - "A CHRISTMAS FOR SHACKTOWN" - by Carl Barks

As a kid, a large portion of my pre-adolescent world revolved around the magical world of Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and those three mischievous nephews - Huey, Dewey and Louie. A comic-book world created and brought to life by master story-teller and illustrator Carl Barks.

Over the past few years, Fanatagraphics Books has been assembling and reprinting the works of Barks in beautifully designed and executed hard-cover books that bring all of that long-ago, nearly forgotten joy, back to life. This edition is headed by the wonderful story, "A Christmas for Shacktown," that has some of the most amazing artwork Barks ever created along with a story line that is impossible to not be drawn into. What is fascinating about the story is that Barks detested the Christmas holidays as a festival of greed, materialism and false sentiment. So when pressured by Disney to produce a Christmas story he brought the readers a story of how Donald's nephews set out to deny themselves gifts by promoting the needs of the poor children of Duckburg's Shacktown. Classic images include Uncle Scrooge tossing a single dime into his money bin, followed by a massive rumble as his fortune breaks through the earth's crust and disappears.

A side note of trivia here. "A Christmas for Shacktown" features the very first comic strip drawn by a budding young artist named R. Crumb.

There is much more to this book than just the lead story, with numerous short stories, and the classics "The Golden Helmet" and "The Gilded Man." This is a wonderful book for someone who has fond memories of the "Ducks" of Disney and the stories of Carl Barks. And of course, once this volume is placed in your library I feel confident the other Fantagraphic Books volumes will soon follow.

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THE JEFFERSON BIBLE - THE LIFE AND MORALS OF JESUS OF NAZARETH - The Smithsonian Edition

A gift for those who have an appreciation for the intellect of Jefferson that goes beyond the usual pandering and subsequent misunderstanding of the man. This is for those with a willingness to understand Jefferson seeking the essence of Christianity, stripped of its nonsensical miraculous and supernatural aspects while concentrating on the philosophy and teachings of Jesus Christ.

This edition is the only one to have if you truly want to understand what Jefferson was doing. This is an exact copy - creating a true facsimile - of Jefferson's original book that he held secret after its creation for fear of what his detractors and even "mainstream Christians" would do if the book were to be released prior to his death. The Smithsonian copy of Jefferson's work was carefully disassembled as part of a restoration project and each page digitally photographed. What has been reproduced is the complete original work showing his notes, inserts and pastings from Latin, Greek, French and English editions of the Bible.

Drawing from the gospels, Jefferson strings together a comprehensive narrative of Jesus' life, removing the fantastic and keeping the empirical and moral - the teachings in the synagogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and the parables, concluding with the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. This is a volume for those willing to remove the superstitious nonsense of Christianity and examine the true teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately, those who demand a "literalist" interpretation of the Bible will find only frustration and strong disagreement.

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WORKING - by Studs Terkel

Over 40 years ago, Terkel - the master of the oral history - produced "WORKING," a book that celebrated the average American worker where they were allowed to "talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do."

Much like an art gallery filled with self portraits, "WORKING" is a collection of stories about the work experiences of bartenders, teachers, laborers and janitors along with, literally, dozens of other professions. It is a compendium of confessions by working people. And without surprise readers will discover that, much like themselves, virtually everyone hates their job!

Also not surprisingly is just how little has changed in the intervening 40 years since the interviews were first compiled. When Americans talk about work they will wax nostalgic about the days when our nation was a manufacturing haven that produced most of the goods we consumed. This volume strips away the misty-eyed view of the past and exposes the much less idealistic truth that factory work was often robotic, dehumanizing, and physically punishing. Men who did that work had no love for it and their bodies often paid a steep price for it. They didn't view it as romantic or noble then and they probably don't now. Basically, work is nothing more than a means to make a wage.

Laborers see management as tyrants playing for the other side. Many times it's nothing more than a game based on, "How can we get back at 'the Man'?" People want to be recognized and respected no matter their job. They want the understanding that the product or service being offered wouldn't be viable without their efforts. They know society couldn't produce a steel beam or a car or serve hot meals if it weren't for them. These jobs lack status and glamour, but the world would stop without them.

The "old days" were always better, no matter what era you grew up in. Nostalgia for a better past is universal. "Kids today!" and how they lack drive or commitment is a common refrain. There's nothing new under the sun. "WORKING" shows that 40 years ago people were complaining the days of company loyalty were over, the idea that you could work for one firm for a lifetime and be rewarded or valued were a thing of the past. And of course, today we have those who live on Social Security and thrive on Medicare saying, "If you don't like your job, just quit," one of the truly asinine statements of all time.

Yep, still as compelling a work today as it was when it was initially released, "WORKING" stands tall as an important work in the American psyche.

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TRAILER TRASH - THE WORLD OF TRAILERS AND MOBILE HOMES IN THE SOUTHWEST - by Bob Moore (yep, that's me)

Now in its fourth successful printing, this obviously odd volume is homage to that peculiar American mobile home and travel trailer culture of the 1940s thru the 1960s.

The book was the result of years of photographing abandoned and derelict trailers and mobile homes all across the West. I felt, as a proud bearer of the pejorative "Trailer Trash" title, I somehow owed it to the aficionados of the rolling homes of the '40s and '50s to record them.

Contrasting the original advertisement with the trailer as found years later, the book has been referred, by the author, as, "The weirdest book you will ever have in your library." Also included are pages of vintage trailer advertising and an entire section devoted to the curious bi-level/double-decker models that remain a true oddity.

It is obvious the author respects the subject and even the title drips with reverence and irony. No coffee table is complete without "Trailer Trash."

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ROUTE 66 TREASURES - by Jim Hinckley

Almost as important to the hard-core Route 66 Roadie as traveling the 2,448 miles of the historic Mother Road is the collecting of ephemera from, about and devoted to the road.

"ROUTE 66 TREASURES" provides not only a glimpse of some of the more classic pieces including postcards, maps, menus, and even "wooden nickels," but includes facsimile reproductions of some iconic classics of the road, such as the Williams, Ariz., Rod's Steak House die-cut steer menu (with a top sirloin selling for $3). One unusual illustrated piece is a "Coast to Coast in 48 Hours by Rail and Air" brochure that promotes "By Night - Luxurious Trains. By Day - Safe Swift Planes."

Each page provides a look-back at the heyday of Route 66 when businesses went out of their way to make certain their advertising pieces would be carried in the car and kept at home as a souvenir in anticipation of that next Route 66 trip.

In a nice envelope pocket affixed to the inside back cover of the book can be found facsimile postcards, hotel brochures, state decals, and a great "Auto Trails Map" highlighting the "Optional U.S. 66 Route" crossing on the McKinley Bridge at St. Louis. Oh, yeah, and the envelope is a perfect place to put some of the treasures you've gathered over the years.

Author Hinckley has produced one of the more unusual Route 66 books to come along and one that is, in itself, a treasure of Route 66.

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DEATH VALLEY: HOTTEST PLACE ON EARTH

by Roger Naylor

Few places on Earth are as dramatically fascinating as Death Valley. It is, hands down, my favorite place on the planet and for years I have visited the valley, usually during the searing heat of the summer, where I enjoy the pool, the restaurant and the motel at Stovepipe Wells. Funky and laid-back, Stovepipe Wells is a counterpoint to the fabulous Furnace Creek Resort. And of course there is Furnace Creek Ranch, with its great golf course, for those inclined to a more moderate lodging experience.

Roger Naylor has provided us with one of the best "coffee-table" type books to be released about Death Valley in a very long time. Naylor's narrative is always enjoyable and a pleasure to read. The photographs are outstanding, providing views of not only the valley but surrounding areas as well.

From the stark beauty of Badwater to the amazing moving rocks of the Racetrack to the curiosity that is the Devil's Golf Course, both the photos and the narrative draw the reader into the wonder that is this astounding part of the Great American West. From Scotty's Castle to Rhyolite (and the very curious Goldwell Open Air Museum) to Beatty, Skidoo and Ballarat, the book excites the imagination.

Death Valley is intriguing, mysterious, quiet, amazing and stunningly beautiful, and ranks as one of those places everyone should make an attempt to see at some point in their lives. Naylor's book will pique an interest that must be satisfied.

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THE 66 KID - RAISED ON THE MOTHER ROAD - by Bob Boze Bell

This is, indeed, a look back and one that is a true joy to read while perusing Bob's great artwork and memorabilia. Through the pages we see young Bob filling ice jugs at his Dad's gas station in Kingman, Ariz., and, thanks to a massive amount of family photos, see the boy become a man in that town along Route 66 - a town that holds bittersweet memories for a youngster.

This was a town where four guys would service your car when you pulled in for gas - "'One would pump gas, another checked tire pressure, a third guy washed all the windows and the fourth guy opened the hood and cut your fan belts' - just kidding," says Bob.

As a kid, Bob was an avid reader of True West magazine, and in 1999 he bought the magazine that continues to thrive as the premier publications devoted to the Old West. Bob's love of the West has led to the massive library at his offices in Cave Creek, devoted to Western history and lore including bad guys, good guys and Indians. And his love of The Road is stuff legends are made of. He and I both agree that one of the best road films ever is Two-Lane Blacktop.

Bob was raised in a dusty little backwater Route 66 town where tourists bitched about gas prices and thought when they reached Needles they would be out of "this God-forsaken desert." He learned to shoot, ride, wear a coonskin cap, play baseball, love cars, drum in a band and tackle art and writing - all with an equal fervor, while being that smart-ass kid in class who kept everyone laughing - except for the teacher, of course.

Overall, describing THE 66 KID is a difficult task. I keep looking at the book and marvel that I learned Honky Tonk Sue was an amalgam of women Bob had known while growing up, including his rodeo queen aunt, Jean Guess Linn. That he first had Mexican food at the El Charro Café in Flagstaff (a place my foster parents would take us on a Friday payday evening back in 1959). And of course, like all of us in that time-frame, in Northern Arizona he listened, at night, to the "Mighty KOMA" out of Oklahoma City.

I can honestly say that anyone interested in a fascinating look at a boyhood on 66 or attracted to some cool history of the Kingman area, or likes great artwork, needs to add this one to their library. Yeah, it is just that good!

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"ROUTE 66: SPIRIT OF THE MOTHER ROAD"

by Bob Moore (yep that's me again)

A great coffee table book for the roadie who loves the lure and adventure of Route 66. The book traces the humble beginnings of Route 66 through its formative years to its present rebirth as an international tourist destination. The captivating text offers carloads of legends and lore, as well as miles of stories about the unique characters that have traveled the fabled road. Nostalgic photographs that capture the spirit of the highway's glory days are juxtaposed with modern images by award-winning photographers that show today's version of Route 66. From the Road's bustling origin in Chicago to its western terminus at the Pacific Ocean, this beautiful book will guide you through virtually every roadside attraction. So fill your tank, put the top down, and find out what it really means to 'Get Your Kicks On Route 66'!

From the Midwest Book Review - "Route 66 is one of the most famous American thoroughfares in American history, receiving mention in books, articles, and affectionate reflection across the country, but none are as visually pleasing as Bob Moore's "Route 66 - Spirit of the Mother Road," a visual celebration of the Mother Road and its mementos. Color photos trace the route, its colorful roadside attractions and ads, and impart past and present culture."