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RICK MACLEAN: Feathers, Ironmen worthy for Christmas list

If you can afford it, purchase new books on summer reading lists and donate them to the school library. (123RF)
Books are always a solid hit at Christmas. - File

Cat burglar stealing feathers collected by Charles Darwin 150 years ago stored in museum building

I should have known the question was coming. ‘Tis the season, after all.

“What are you going to get your daughter for Christmas?” said Beautiful Wife.

Now, I don’t do shopping. I run 60-70 kilometres a week with a light step and a song in my heart, sort of. But 10 minutes in a store and my legs throb. Another five minutes and I feel the beating of my heart through the soles of my feet.

“Well,” I said. Then a blank.

“Well,” came the reply.

“You know I don’t buy clothes. And everyone’s buying her stuff for Beautiful Granddaughter. She doesn’t need any more baby stuff.”

More silence.

Buying for Handsome Son is so much easier. He’s a runner. There are always shoes. They only last about 700 kilometres before going flat, so they’re always a safe bet at Christmas. And March. And July. And October. Two pairs at a time, each time.

And running clothing, and a head lamp for night running, and ear buds to listen to audiobooks to break up the boredom.


Beautiful Daughter has been reading since she was big enough to open a book. She read Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan - about what happened in the peace talks right after the First World War - for fun when she was in high school.

She read entire Harry Potter books aloud to her little – nearly foot taller – brother when they came out each year. She’s a huge Stephen King fan, but even King can’t keep up with her reading appetite.

Looking for book for someone you know? Here are a few suggestions:

• The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century, the 2018 book by Kirk Wallace Johnson.

I know what you’re going to say, a book about someone stealing feathers. Turns out, there is a huge black market for rare bird feathers prized by salmon fly tyers. And where there’s money, there’s skulduggery.

Enter 20-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist.

By day he played the flute at London's Royal Academy of Music. By night – one night in June, 2009 – he was a cat burglar stealing feathers from birds collected by Charles Darwin 150 years ago and stored in a building run by the British Museum of Natural History.

Who knew?

• Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run is the 2011 book by Matt Fitzgerald.

Scott and Allen didn’t like this book about the 1989 Ironman World Championship. But the tale of how the top two men went shoulder to shoulder for eight hours in the event’s 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race and 26.2-mile marathon is a can’t-put-it-down story.

Having needed 16 hours, one minute and 34 seconds to cover that distance in 1999, the idea of doing it in just over eight hours still leaves me breathless.

• A whodunnit fan? Raven Black, the 2006 book by Ann Cleeves has prompted me to race through six of the eight books in her series about detective Jimmy Perez working on Shetland.

I never figure out the killer in advance in this kind of book. But the sense of place Cleeves weaves into her books has hooked me.

How hooked?

Beautiful Wife and I hope to spend part of next summer in those windswept Scottish islands far off the northern coast of Great Britain.

- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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