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Holiday Gift Books 2014 

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101 TWO-LETTER WORDS

Stephin Merritt, illustrated by Roz Chast

W.W.Norton & Co, 2014, $19.95

When not at home in Hudson, rock star Stephin Merritt, leader of The Magnetic Fields, spends a lot of time waiting, during which he plays Scrabble. This hilarious one-of-a-kind volume contains the rhymes Merritt uses as mnemonic devices for remembering the two-letter words admissible in the game. With wildly entertaining illustrations from New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, Merritt's Edward Gorey-inspired four line poems will make you laugh while increasing your word power. —RBW

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THE ART OF JOHN ALVIN

Andrea Alvin, foreword by Jeffrey Katzenberg

Titan Books, 2014, $34.95

"Mention a movie, such as Blazing Saddles, that opened with a John Alvin poster and people can vividly describe the image in detail," writes Andrea Alvin of her late husband, a Rhinebeck resident whose credits included paintings for (among others) E.T., Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, Batman, Godfather III, The Lion King, and many Star Wars graphics. This large-format book accompanies each iconic poster with backstory anecdotes, sketches, outtakes, and more. Fanboy heaven. —NS

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DEAR WALLY: A COLLECTION OF SNARKY ADVICE COLUMNS & OPINIONATED ESSAYS

Wally Nichols

BookBaby, 2014, $15

Part Jackass-style brazenness, part Ann Landers, all fun. Wally Nichols, advice columnist / farmer / radio deejay / musician, dispenses salty guidance for the lifelorn and lovelorn in the Blue Stone Press. A heap of his advice—hilarious, sarcastic, irreverent, even sweet—is gathered here. To a midlifer considering skydiving, Nichols recounts his own airborne misadventures. He also trolls a Nigerian scammer, salutes Neil Armstrong, rants on mayonnaise, and makes everyone laugh, which is the best advice anyway. —JM

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DELICIOUS DECEMBER: HOW THE DUTCH BROUGHT US SANTA, PRESENTS, AND TREATS

Peter G. Rose

Excelsior Editions, 2014, $24.95

Get your Sinterklaas on with this beguiling book, which traces the migration of Dutch holiday traditions from Old to New World. "More of a secular personality than most other saints," Nicholas rescued fourth-century sailors and left anonymous gifts for the indigent (Christmas presents, anyone?). Celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day moved from church to home, with wonderfully named sweets (Pepernoten, Speculaas, Kweepeer koekjes); Rose includes more than 100 delectable recipes. —NS

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GRAND OPERA: THE STORY OF THE MET

Charles Affron, Mirella Jona Affron

University of California Press, 2014, $45

Husband-wife academics, part-time locals, and passionate opera fans Charles and Mirella Affron have created a comprehensive, decade-by-decade history of the Metropolitan Opera House and its changing repertoire, from the inaugural 1883 Faust to Marian Anderson's Civil Rights era debut to the age of "Live in HD" simulcast. If the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice whetted your operatic appetite, here is a splendid multicourse meal. —NS

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HANSEL & GRETEL

Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti

Toon Graphics, 2014, $16.95

International avatar of literary cool Gaiman unveiled the opening pages of this dark masterpiece at his Bard "Conversations With" program last year with Maus scribe Art Spiegelman. Lorenzo Mattotti's line is looser, but no less emotional. His tempestuous black-on-white paintings illuminate Gaiman's wrenching tale of wartime starvation, parental abandonment, and hard-won redemption. For a gift that will thrill any Gaiman fan, The Golden Notebook has signed first editions. —NS

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HONEYKY HANUKAH

Woody Guthrie, pictures by Dave Horowitz, CD by The Klezmatics

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, $17.99

Renowned children's author-illustrator and local drummer Dave Horowitz brings to life the sweet, celebratory folk song Woody Guthrie penned for his Jewish wife, Marjorie. Horowitz employs lively cutout art featuring a barefoot, curly-headed boy playing guitar and singing as Grandma bakes honeycake, Dad plays accordion, and hugs abound. A bonus CD of the Klezmatics' version of the song makes this the best Hanukkah gift ever. —RBW

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HUDSON VALLEY FOOD & FARMING: WHY DIDN'T ANYONE EVER TELL ME THAT?

Tessa Edick

The History Press, 2014, $19.99

FarmOn! Foundation founder and executive director Edick pens an eloquent love letter to Hudson Valley farmers, detailing 400 years of local farming traditions and the resurgence of family farms in today's locavore foodie culture. Meet the people who bring you a seasonal bounty of mesclun greens, farm stand tomatoes, sweet corn, heirloom apples, artisanal cheeses, and grass-fed meats. Book signing 12/18 from 4-6pm at Terrapin Restaurant, Rhinebeck. —NS

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  • Chronogram's round-up of gift books.

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