Donald’s last-minute, highly personal, Fresno-biased, holiday gift guide

You’ve seen more “holiday gift guides” than you ever need. But none will likely be quite as specific as this one.

Pictured above: Diana Marcum at the launch party for ‘The Tenth Island.’

What’s the common thread in these recommended gifts? A Fresno and a Donald connection. And if you are one of those millions enslaved by Amazon Prime, you might even get them by Christmas. Here goes:


Format: Hardcover book plus Kindle (you have to wait until Jan. 19 to get the paperback version)

Description: Author Diana Marcum fell in love with the island of Terceira in the Azores. Her memoir “The Tenth Island,” a tale of personal growth, cross-cultural enchantment and finding love in unexpected places, is a charming encounter with a fascinating place. (And, speaking of That Which Controls All Commerce, a little old publisher called Amazon financed the whole thing.)

The Fresno connection: The author is a former Fresno Bee reporter and current Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times correspondent based in Fresno. And her book is steeped in the Azorean culture of the central San Joaquin Valley, which is a part of most of our lives (even when we don’t realize it).


The Donald connection: I’ve known Diana for years, and she’s one of my best buds. I even went to Terceira to visit her during her book adventure. And … I’m mentioned in the book!

What critics say: Well, I’m a critic, and I think the book is beautifully written, full of warmth and humor, and is a delightfully immersive experience in another culture. (OK, so maybe I’m a little biased, particularly since Diana found me a free place to stay when I was there.) Then there’s Andrew McCarthy, who writes of the book in the New York Times: “In her engaging travel memoir [Marcum] captures the spirit of saudade with an eye for detail and a playful earnestness … In the remote islands of the Azores, Marcum seems to have found her spot.”


Format: CD and music streaming.

Description: Benjamin Boone — acclaimed composer and jazz saxophonist — teamed up with Philip Levine — who served as poet laureate of the United States — before the great poet’s death in 2015. Together they put together a project, “The Poetry of Jazz,” that with its release earlier this year took the jazz world by storm. Levine recited his poetry, and Boone and his band played off the words. It was great.

The Fresno connection: Boone, a longtime favorite on the local jazz scene, is a much admired Fresno State music composition professor. And Levine, of course, also made Fresno State his teaching home for much of his illustrious career.

The Donald connection: On a pleasant evening in 2012, I wandered into the Tower Theatre to hear a new project by Boone — who is always up to something interesting — that teamed up jazz with Levine’s poetry. It was wonderful. I don’t think anyone at the time realized just how far this collaboration would go, but as the years crept forward, Boone and Levine created a stirring, emotionally complex and highly listenable sort of hybrid between music and literature.

What critics say: “Poetry and jazz have long been great partners, but ‘The Poetry of Jazz’ offers a fresher take, just like Levine’s poems give us new, heroic looks at the ordinary lives of the lower-middle class,” writes Jeffery Gleaves in The Paris Review. The album was ranked as No. 3 “Jazz Album of the Year” in Downbeat Magazine’s 83rd Annual Reader’s Poll, just behind Wynton Marsalis. Plus, mark your calendars: Volume 2 of “The Poetry of Jazz” will be released Jan. 18.


Format: Hardcover and mass-market paperback book plus Kindle.

Description: Author John Scalzi offers the second book in his latest sci-fi series, “The Consuming Fire,” this one about the Interdependency, a thousand-year old human empire of 48 star systems.

The Fresno connection: For a short time at the beginning of John’s stellar writing career, he reviewed movies for the Fresno Bee. (This was back when the paper had a full stable of arts and entertainment writers.) Though we knew we couldn’t keep him long, Fresno remains an important part of his life — mostly because that’s where he met his wonderful wife, Krissy.

The Donald connection: See above. I sat across from John in the office and enjoyed witnessing the creative energy constantly flowing out of that invigorated brain of his. And I still get my Scalzi fix on a nearly daily basis as a subscriber to his famed “Whatever” blog, a pithy mix of sci-fi industry buzz, potent political commentary and very cute cat photos. (Plus, he’s a generous supporter of The Munro Review.)

What critics say: “Another fast-paced romp through Scalzi’s imagination, bearing hallmarks of his humorous slant on sf tropes,” according to a review in Library Journal.


Format: Hardcover book plus Kindle.

Description: Did the U.S. flirt with Nazism in the buildup to and during World War II? Sadly, some Americans did. In a fascinating work of non-fiction, “Hitler’s American Friends,” author Bradley W. Hart examines “The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States,” as the book’s subtitle explains. You’ve probably heard of famed pilot Charles Lindbergh’s role in rallying support for Germany, but many of the other groups that Hart explores here — including the Silver Shirt Legion, which claimed that Hitler fulfilled a religious prophesy — have been swept under the rug of American history.

The Fresno connection: Bradley is an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism at Fresno State.

The Donald connection: Hey, I teach in the MCJ Department, too! It’s exciting when a colleague writes a book that gets national attention. Speaking of which …

What critics say: “Hitler’s American Friends” was named to Time Magazine’s “13 New Books Everyone Will Be Talking About This Fall” list. And the New York Journal of Books opined: “…well-written and well-researched…Hart’s new book raises issues that are not limited to history. The streak in the American psyche for authoritarianism and racism is evident today. Hart’s ‘Hitler’s American Friends’ should serve as a useful reminder of the calamity we must avoid.”


Format: Gourmet coffee.

Description: How great is this coffee? Several Rusty’s Hawaiian coffees have earned 95-point scores in “Coffee Review: The World’s Leading Coffee-Buying Guide.” The Obra family patriarch, Rusty, died before realizing his dream of turning the Ka‘u District of the Big Island into a celebrated coffee region. His wife, Lorie, took over and made it happen.

The Fresno connection: Rusty and Lorie’s talented daughter, Joan Obra, was food writer of the Fresno Bee before returning to Hawaii and the family business. She and her husband, Ralph Gaston — a former Fresno television journalist — are helping Rusty’s Hawaiian conquer the coffee world.

The Donald connection: Hey, I used to sit next to Joan, too! Not only is she a wonderful writer, she’s been demonstrating her chops in the business world, too. Her Fresno friends are all very proud.

What critics say: Forbes magazine in December named Rusty’s Hawaiian one of “The 12 Best Coffee Roasters In The U.S.” Joan and family, you’re on a roll!

The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (4)

  • Jackie Ryle

    This is great, Donald. Love the format and connections. Reinforced my pride for Fresno Arts and artists! Hope you have wonderful holidays

  • My mom’s mom is from Terceira! I’ll have to get The Tenth Island and read it to her.

  • Lisa Bartels

    John Scalzi is even more entertaining on his Twitter @scalzi and @scamperbeasts!

  • Ken Robison

    Donald, I loved Diana’s book and I have enjoyed Rusty’s Hawaiian Coffee. In fact, twice we have toured the coffee farm. I will check out those books, too. And the jazz/poetry. Thanks.


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