Archived Reading Room

It’s OK sometimes to just take a dip

It’s OK sometimes to just take a dip

Of course, we’re intended to read from cover to cover many books — novels, histories, biographies, and more. It would make little sense to begin Mark Helprin’s novel A Soldier of the Great War on page 340 of its 860 pages. We might open and commence reading Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat, on page 241, but we’d miss some of the main points of this fine biography.

There are, however, “dipper” books — anthologies, collections of essays, short stories, poetry, certain histories, cookbooks, books on fashion and film — into which we can dip where we like. We scan the Table of Contents for something interesting, or we simply open the book and are instantly hooked by some article or observation, and so we dip here and there in the book. We may even end up reading the entire thing by wandering all over the place, an essay on page 198, a poem on page 40, a story on page 221 followed by an account of an Africa safari on page 244. 

Here in no particular order are some new books into which I have dipped lately, books that might interest you or serve as holiday gifts.

First up is Tristan Stephenson’s The Curious Barista’s Guide to Coffee (Ryland Peters & Small, 2015, 192 pages, $24.95). This handsome volume with its many photographs by Addie Chinn includes chapters on the history of coffee, roasting and grinding coffee, different brewing methods, and coffee-based drinks and desserts. My favorite chapter was “Espresso and Milk: A Match Made In Heaven” in which the author covers lattes, cappuccinos, and other concoctions, even giving instructions on the art of pouring your latte into those decorative hearts and flowers made by your local barista. If you have a coffee-lover in your life and you’re looking for a gift, you just found one.

In The Company Of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs (Artisan, 2016, 358 pages, $35), Grace Bonney and photographer Sasha Israel give us an impressive look at women in the world of business, craft, and art. Each short chapter includes an interview with one of these women along with photographs of her, her workplace or home, and in the case of artists, her work. Most impressive about this book is that these women come across as engaged human beings with real talent rather than as celebrities. 

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Eye-Popping Oddities  (Ripley Entertainment, Inc., 2015, 256 pages, $28.95) provides, if nothing else, grand entertainment for children and grandchildren. A man pulling a truck with his nose; a celebration of six fingered people; “bone” trucks; the heaviest man on record; the man who eats snakes and frogs: these and other narratives kept my own grandchildren enraptured, hopefully without giving them nightmares or inflicting them with some sort of psychological damage. The cover of the book with its popping eyeballs also snared their attention.

Related Items

Until two weeks ago, I had never heard of Celia Rivenbark, a columnist and writer out of Wilmington, North Carolina. Then I picked up a copy of some of her collected essays, You Can’t Drink All Day If You Don’t Start In The Morning (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009, 242 pages, $13.99) and became an instant admirer. Rivenbark is as Southern as bourbon, grits, and beauty contests, and is laugh-out-loud funny in the bargain. (Fortunately, I read some of these essays seated on the back porch of a house in a quiet neighborhood. Had I read them in a café or bookshop or any other public place, people would have stared at the guy larking it up all on his lonesome). The titles of these pieces alone give a sense of Rivenbark’s humor: “Gwyneth Paltrow Wants to Improve Your Pathetic Life,” “It Is What It @#$%^-Is,”  “Miss North Carolina Is Too Nice to Hate,” “Strapped For Cash: Try Cat Whisperin,’” and others. An example of her work: In “Poseable Jesus Meets Poser Ken,” Rivenbark reviews the Biblical action figures found in her local Walmart, writing “With toys like this, it’s only a matter of time before one Sunday School kid says to his buddy, ‘My Goliath can kick your Samson’s ass.’”

If you have a grammar nerd in the family — I confess I am a semi-nerd — then a fine gift may be found in Stephen Spector’s May I Quote You On That? A Guide to Grammar & Usage (Oxford University Press, 2015, 396 pages, $15.95).  What sets Spector’s book apart from other similar works is his extravagant use of quotations to make his points concerning the intricacies of the English language. Woody Allen, Winston Churchill, Lady Gaga, Mark Twain: these and several hundred others make an appearance here. You can read this book to learn more about grammar and usage, as the subtitle indicates, but you can also thumb through it just for the sheer pleasure provided by the quotations and by Spector’s concise writing.

Finally, there is Neil Gaiman’s The View From The Cheap Seats (William Murrow, 2014, 522 pages, $26.99). Known for his science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels, in Cheap Seats Gaiman gives us his take on reading, writing, and books and authors he has loved. In the “Introduction,” he even tells us that Cheap Seats is a dipper book by writing “you are under no obligation to read them (the essays and speeches) all, or to read them in any particular order.” So far, I have enjoyed his thoughts on the importance of libraries, ideas, and reading as well as his take on C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton. An ideal gift for those who love Gaiman’s work, science fiction, comics, and literature in general.


(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.