Red Wheel Weiser Staff Picks: Holiday Gift Guide

Publishers love books, but we also love to read them! And it’s not just the editors who do all the reading. We’ve scoured our library shelves to bring you staff picks from our back and front list, from the people who make them!

Pick 1: Death Poems

death poems

Death Poems
Classic, Contemporary, Witty, Serious, Tear-Jerking, Wise, Profound, Angry, Funny, Spiritual, Atheistic, Uncertain, Personal, Political, Mythic, Earthy, and Only Occasionally Morbid
Edited by Russ Kick
Disinformation Books. Paperback, $21.95.

Death Poems seems an odd choice for a holiday gift, eh?  Not really.  Though it offers a vast survey of death (320 poems by 200 poets) including the death of children, funeral rites for serial killers, war, elegies for famous people, and more death-ish-ness, it is actually life affirming!  Readers will find Walt Whitman celebrating death as an important part of the richness of life.  Lord Byron pens a beautiful epitaph for his beloved dog.  Emily Dickinson goes for a carriage ride with Death, and Dylan Thomas pleads with his father to go gentle into that good night.  Kick offers a “finely wrought kaleidoscope of ideas, attitudes, and experiences.” Celebrate the season (and life) with Death Poems!

~ Bonni Hamilton, Director of Marketing & Digital Content

Pick 2:  The Showings of Julian of Norwichthe showings julian of norwich

The Showings of Julian of Norwich
A New Translation

Mirabai Starr
Hampton Roads. Paperback, $18.95

Julian was a fourteenth century mystic who was an anchoress at the church of St. Julian in Norwich, England.  She is called Julian after the church where she served; her real name is lost to us.  An anchoress literally lived in a very small addition to the church she served at.  Her function was to pray, and the only human contact she had was through a small window to the outside world.  Her only other point of contact was either with the priest  assigned to the church or her cat, which she kept with her.

What makes Julian remarkable to me are her visions of Christ, set at a very patriarchal time, which fairly sing with love, peace, optimism, compassion, and most of all, of motherhood.  Julian proclaimed the motherhood of God at a time when doing so could result in a quick trip to the nearest stake with a match.

She was insistent in proclaiming God’s tender love for all people; she looked deep into God and said there was no punishment, only understanding and love.  She identified “sins” as mistakes and urged all to simply get up, not waste time on guilt, but throw themselves into the arms of a God who loves with a tender mother’s love for healing and grace.

If that’s not an appropriate holiday message, I don’t know what is.

~Meg Richardson, Sales Manager

Pick 3: Everyday Energy Boosters

365 energy boostersEveryday Energy Boosters
365 Tips and Tricks to Help You Feel Like a Million Bucks
Sondra Kornblatt and Susannah Seton
Conari. Paperback. $17.95

With the constant running around, over-scheduling, overworking, and undersleeping who couldn’t use an energy boost? This book offers easy ways to make the most of your day and find that second wind. There are far too many things to see and do and not enough time to waste.

~Kimberly Ehart, Publishing Associate

Pick 4: The Museum of Lost Wonder

J030023 Jacket.pdf, page 1 @ NormalizeThe Museum of Lost Wonder
Jeff Hoke
Weiser. Hardcover w/ paper model kits, full color throughout. $49.95

This book is a real trip. A trip in the sense that it takes visitors through a series of mysteries for which there can be no absolute answers, but leaves them understanding more than when they set out. It’s an adventure through various wonder-full ideas which reside at the base of human questioning. The Museum of Lost Wonder is one of those rare books which provides a lesson as an object, not just within the text. This lovely, oversize, full-color illustrated and illuminated book is perfect for delving into, parts at a time. Pull-out card stock models provide activity which stimulates the hands as much as the mind. It doesn’t so much explain what Wonder is as directly engage readers in Wonder, inviting us to re-experience and treasure Wonder in our lives.

Careful readers of this recommendation will note that there are not too many specifics given. This is a difficult book to summarize in a pithy gift-book review, but an easy pick to recommend as a gift book. It’s a Big-Picture (and illustrated!) kind of book, exploring eternal questions of humanity through a lens of mystery and awe. This is one of those gifts where a recipient will look at it–and you–quizzically, but may very well launch late night discussions about Big Issues months down the road, or remain a true coffee table curiosity object for visitors to peruse.

Over-the-top production values, truly unique and thought-provoking content, and a presentation which makes this a book which can be read at any point for however long a visitor wishes to remain in The Museum make it a perfect gift, especially for those who have everything: who couldn’t stand a bit more Wonder in their lives…?

~Mike Conlon, Production Manager

Pick 5: The Upgrade

the upgrade coverThe Upgrade
A Cautionary Tale of Life Without Reservations
Disinformation. Paperback, $18.95

The holidays can be a busy time, although the commercials lead you to believe that it will be a time filled with sweaters and hot chocolate, in all reality it is filled with stress and frustration. So what is the best way to relax after the most reeling time of the year? Well to laugh of course. The Upgrade by Paul Carr will make you do just that. Paul Carr takes you through his self entitled “ridiculous adventure” of living out of luxury hotels and giving up all commitments. Working out that it is actually cheaper to live this way, then in his small London apartment Carr takes his readers on a hilarious adventure across the world. Although this book will make the reader laugh, Carr’s behavior tends to escalate towards the destructive, teaching a valuable lesson on what is really important in this life. This is the perfect gift to give anyone on your list, especially someone who has had an especially stressful time hanging the stockings.

~Grace Goodman, Editorial Intern

Pick 6: Darkside Zodiac

darkside zodiac coverDarkside Zodiac
Stella Hyde
Weiser. Paperback, $24.95.

Sometimes, in a world where everyone is posting adorable little memes on facebook telling you to “shine bright” it’s refreshing to have someone tell you like it is: you suck. I laughed out loud, like LOL, when I read this line about my own sign, Taurus,  “Alright, being soul-sappingly boring isn’t the most stygian you can get on the Darkside (although tell that to your desperate family, mouthing ‘kill me now’ through the windowpane at passersby as you get out the Monopoly board for your biweekly game.)” You may not like what you read about your own Zodiac sign, but you’ll get a real good laugh to see what this book has to say about the signs of your family and friends.

~Hillary Peacock, Operations Manager

Pick 7: Steampunk Magic

Steampunk magic

Steampunk Magic
Working Magic Aboard the Airship
Gypsey Elaine Teague
Weiser. Paperback. $16.95

Even for the Scroogiest of us all, the holidays are the most Victorian season of the year, from Yule logs to plum puddings. Why not revel in the mood with Steampunk Magic, the only book that tells you how to invoke Queen Victoria for good fortune, celebrate your coming of age among the crew of your very own airship, and gaze into the Aether through consecrated brass goggles? It’s a little pagan, a little Dickensian, completely adorable, and the only magick system that’s just as at home with Ada Lovelace as it is with tarot divination.

~Michael Alexander, Assistant Production Editor

Pick 8: Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires and Other Creatures of the Night

banshees, werewolves, vampires

Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Creatures of the Night
Facts, Fictions, and First-Hand Accounts
Varla Ventura
Weiser. Flapped paperback. $16.95

Ventura’s little book is packed with vintage charm, full of stories of olden days, modern-day horror stories, true and terrifying tales. It’s just creepy enough to please any fan of horror, magical creatures, vampires, werewolves, monsters, fairies, and odd history. It’s good for tweens and as well as the decrepit, and holds a special charm for anyone who feels most comfortable at midnight. The package itself is perfect for a stocking-stuffer, it’s 5 x 7 with lots of charming spot art. Fans of Ventura’s other works will appreciate her inside-jokes and puns, and those new to this author will surely be charmed into wanting more. It’s one part Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, one part Bram Stoker, and three parts “sh*t, did I remember to lock the door?”

~Amber Guetebier, Editor

Pick 9: The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family

the good stuff

The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family
How to Survive and Then Thrive Karen Casey
Conari. Paperback. $16.95

I’m thinking people might like to check out Karen Casey’s latest, The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family, because pretty much, no matter how old you are and how much “work” you’ve done, if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, things can get pretty hairy at the holiday time. This book will help restore balance and peace. So maybe multiple copies are in order—one for everybody.

~Jan Johnson, Publisher

Pick 10: 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women

12 secrets of creative women

The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women
A Portable Mentor
Gail McMeekin
Conari. Paperback. $17.95

My pick is an oldie but a really, really goodie. Every time I open the book I get another shot of inspiration, whether I read just a few lines or curl up on the sofa with it for a rejuvenating break (we have this wonderful red leather sofa in the office, and when I’ve had enough computer time I sometimes change the scenery and sit there for reading and contemplation). Sometimes I just like to open the book to a random page and see what’s in store for me at that moment. Today’s “random” hit was this quote from poet Minnie Richard Smith: Diamonds are only chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs, you see.” Perfect for writers and editors and publishers and, well, pretty much everyone else who is trying to leave the world a bit better, a bit more beautiful, than they way they found it. I love how Gail draws wisdom from women from so many different fields and creative endeavors and finds these 12 themes—from Following Your Fascinations to Conquering Saboteurs to Surrendering to Cycles. We originally published the book back in 2000, which just goes to show that most good reads never go out of style. The book continues to touch so many creative women, and I just love that. And the new cover we added last year is so pretty to look at, too.

~Caroline Pincus, Associate Publisher

What’s on your holiday must-read/must-buy list?

Curating the Creepy – a Conversation with Varla Ventura

Ankhie sat down (virtually) with the always awesome Varla Ventura (Book of the Bizarre, Beyond Bizarre) to chat about her role as curator of the new Weiser Books Digital Collection, specifically the series Magical Creatures. I want to live next door to Varla. I really, really do.

Hi Varla. Thanks for taking time to chat! I thought we could talk about the Magical Creatures series in the new Weiser e-book Collection. You curated this group as well as the Paranormal Parlor series. How did this gig come about?

 Well, Jan Johnson, the publisher over at Weiser Books just called me up one day and said she had a new idea and could I come for tea? Weiser has published The Book of the Bizarre and Beyond Bizarre and they have been pretty successful and I guess my penchant for collecting and my eye for the unusual or strange made her think I’d be the right person to curate! It has been great fun.

Was the decision to split the collection into these two series a publisher decision or a curatorial one?

Both. Originally they asked me to do the Magical Creatures but then I found a great deal of paranormal stuff that I liked and we kind of mutually came up with the Paranormal Parlor collection.

 In your own occult collection (which I know is vast) are you more inclined toward the paranormal or the monstrous? Or is that like asking you which child you prefer?

Worse. It’s like asking me who I’d rather date, Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi.

My first question about this series is a fairly obvious one. What distinguishes a magical creature from, say, an ordinary house-pet?

Magical Creature is the marvelous umbrella term for fairies, elves, gnomes, imps, mermaids, werewolves, vampires, and more. Your house-pet may well be a magical creature–you never know what they are up to when you are not around. Your cockatiel might just be a shapeshifter in disguise! A Magical Creature is a description of a being of folklore or myth but I’d like to invite readers to throw out the idea of real vs. myth. Sometimes it is just a matter of how keen your eye is, or how observant you are. You may not have seen them, but I can pretty much guarantee that you have been seen by them. And they have the magical ability to reveal themselves only to select people, and grant them riches or curse their first born.

There are two books in this series that focus on the undead as their subject matter. Vampyre – a Tale, and The Mummy and Miss Nitocris.

Starting with Vampyre; this story has quite a literary legacy. Could you tell us briefly how it came to be written?

Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft (Shelley) were reading ghost stories aloud to one another one stormy night at Byron’s lake house in Geneva, Switzerland. Byron prompted his partygoers to write a ghostly tale of their own. Out of this came the beginnings of Frankenstein, a Modern Prometheus.  As it happened, John William Polidori was also there that fated night. Personal physician to Lord Byron and a writer as a past time, Polidori crafted The Vampyre, A Tale from a sketch of a story that Byron composed that same evening. Often wrongly advertised as a story by Byron himself, The Vampyre has remained a relatively obscure tale of terror. The first vampire story published in English, Polidori’s work predates the seminal Bram Stoker’s Dracula by more than seventy years!

So this is one of the first vampire stories written for the entertainment of the reading public? How was it received in its day?

I think it probably was fairly well received, at least at first, because of its association with Byron. When it was first published several printings were mistakenly identifying Byron as the author. I guess back then you could just poach something pretty easily and print it. Also the publicity confused matters, saying that Lord Byron was the author but he was embarrassed by it and denied it. That wasn’t really true, though we really don’t know the ultimate truth. I kind of think of Polidori as this doctor to the stars who wished he was one himself. And so he made it happen. Would it have happened if he hadn’t known Lord Byron? Probably not. It is entertaining, but admittedly Polidori was not the master of language that Lord Byron was.

What do you think Polidori would have thought of today’s sparkly teenaged vampire heartthrobs?

He would have probably wanted to inject them with some kind of slow poison that first robbed them of their sparkle and then stopped their heart.

I think I love him!

The mummy hasn’t fared as well as the vampire in the public’s affections, but it was enormously popular at the time The Mummy and Miss Nitocris was published. What do you think accounts for that decline?

We know too many of the facts about the Pharaohs and the Egyptians. Back in late 1800s and the early part of the 1900’s we were still going about raiding the tombs and rumors of curses were rampant. Now we have all of these scientific facts getting in the way of our imaginations. Also, you have to be an Ancient Egyptian to become a mummy. A vampire is much more communicable. One bite, and bam! You are in.

We know that mummies are real (though not perhaps in the way that George Chetwynd Griffith meant), but you also mention in your introduction to The Werewolf that there is a scientific basis for that phenomenon, at least in part. Can you tell us a little more?

There is a rare but very real disease now called clinical lycanthropy. Those diagnosed believe themselves to able to transform into a non-human animal, specifically a wolf.

You also talk in that introduction about the difference between vampires and werewolves. Vampires are frightening but also, let’s face it, kind of sexy, whereas there is something sympathetic, even pitiful about the werewolf. Why is that?

Well, there is something kind of lusty about a bite on the neck. We might have some sympathy for the poor immortal vampire, but overall we kind of want to be a vampire ourselves. Live forever, make out with other vampires with dark hair and pale skin. I’ll keep it G-rated here, but certainly we’ve all had a hickey here or a love bite there?

But werewolves, in many cases, seem to not want to be what they are. And they have this more pathetic help-me kind of vibe, I guess it’s the dog in them. Vampires are very civilized but werewolves have an uncontrolled wild streak. You can put pants on them, but as soon as the full moon comes round they are going to dash the pants and run out into the yard howling and foaming at the mouth. They can’t hide what they are. I’ve dated both and I can’t tell you which I prefer. They both have merits.

Now for my favorite title The Occult Power of Goats (I want that on a tee-shirt) – this is really a fantastic compendium of British and Welsh Faerie tales. Most everyone reading this knows the difference between Fairy Tales and tale of the Fae, but for the sake of clarity what makes these stories chilling and not really for children?

These are old-world fairies that prey on children, or expect payment, or play tricks. They aren’t all evil, but there is no Prince Charming here. There are things you can’t outrun and creatures that lure you into their kingdom. Ultimately, the fairy gets rewarded for trapping mortals so don’t expect the fairies with sparkling wings and cute figures. They’ll take whatever form necessary to get you, but once they have you, you will most assuredly regret being so foolish. These are goblins, brownies, imps, selkies, and other mythological members of the fairy world.

I know that there are a lot of people in both the old world and the new that believe wholeheartedly in the Fae. There is also a modern witchcraft tradition known as Feri, and a Faery Pagan movement. It may seem a silly question, but can you tell us briefly what the difference between them is?

Actually, as I understand it, the modern magical traditions attempt to work in harmony with unseen forces from the fairy kingdom. They are also really into fairies, so they probably wear wings to all the pagan conventions and such. All witches work with unseen forces, but I think the fairy traditions specifically use the trickery and magic of the types of creatures that appear old-school tales like those in Occult Powers of Goats. But I’m no expert on the magical practice part. I just like to scare people.  

And scare them you do!

As always you are an amazing resource Varla, and this is a fabulous collection. Will there be more titles to come?

But of course! There are some upcoming fun things like a Christmas Troll, always more mermaids, and a great collection of Pooka stories. I’ve got about two-thousand potential titles that I am trying to narrow down, so it will keep going as long as Weiser sees fit!

Excellent news! Thanks Varla!

Want more Varla? Check out her Blog of the Bizarre and on The Huffington Post!

If you are a Nook reader, the Weiser Collection can be found here.

The Collection is coming soon to iPad and other e-readers everywhere!

Catch the Wave! Join author Dan Furst on the Surfing Aquarius North American Tour

Dan Furst , intrepid rider of astrological tides and sacred geographical currents, begins his Surfing Aquarius tour TOMORROW NIGHT  at East West Bookshop in Seattle! Dan will be reading and signing his new book, and chatting with folks about the changes to come (2012, the end of time as we know it … good stuff like that) and the state of spirituality in America. He will also be videotaping some of these conversations as he travels across the country and uploading them to the Weiser YouTube page.  So stop in at East West if you’re in Seattle tomorrow night, say hi, smile for the camera, or check the list below and see if Dan is coming to a city near you! It’s a great way to support your local bookstores and metaphysical shops, by the way – a cause near and dear to Ankhie’s heart.

More Dates and Locations to Come!

Follow Dan Furst on his U.S. Book Tour for Surfing Aquarius on his website