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Culture Notable Books

Notable Books

Top Almanacs

Students, writers, and crossword-puzzle aficionados often need obscure information.

FOCUS First published in 1868, it remains the best-selling almanac today by concentrating on what it does best, the most facts with the least adornment on topics ranging from Roman rulers to the brightest stars in the galaxy. For instance, this almanac lists the 100 largest cities in the United States; most almanacs include only 50.

GIST Just the facts, ma'am.

2. Time Almanac with Information Please

FOCUS Has most of what the World Almanac has, but packages it in a more reader-friendly format, and mixes in articles from the pages of Time on topics ranging from antigravity to the "digital divide." Includes Time's picks for Man of the Year and America's best artists and entertainers.

GIST The world according to Time.

3. The New York Times Almanac

FOCUS Packages its broad spectrum of information with editorials by New York Times correspondents on current issues including global warming, immigration in Europe, and inflation. Readers gain not only all the facts fit to print (in the eyes of the almanac's editors) but The New York Times template for how to think about them.

GIST Facts with high-toned writing.

4. People Weekly Almanac

FOCUS Full of information relating to the worlds of film, television, music, stage, and literature, this is an essential buy for those who have been stranded on desert islands for the past year and are desperate to learn which celebrities were married, divorced, or arrested. Sections include lists of Pulitzer Prize winners, bestselling albums of all time, and the American Film Institute's Top 100 Movies.

GIST Celebrity facts.

5. ESPN Sports Almanac

FOCUS The personalities of ESPN's sports analysts do not quite translate into print, making the short essays each wrote for this almanac nonessential for the sports junkie. The other 900+ pages of trivia and statistics are valuable for fans who can learn that Willie Wilson's 21 triples in 1985 were the most by anyone in the past 50 years or that Norm Duke made $136,900 on the professional bowling circuit last year.

GIST Sports facts for the sports junkie.

In the spotlight

We had to dip down all the way to book No. 847,466 on the bestseller list-bypassing much garbage-in order to come up with this "in the spotlight" choice. The Inklings, by first-time author Melanie Jesche (Xulon Press, 2002), is a novel set at Oxford in 1964. It combines romance, biography, and a love for C.S. Lewis. Although the book starts on the day of his funeral, Lewis is the central character, with his memory hovering over Oxford, drawing earnest admirers to the ancient university, and awakening in them a desire to follow in his Christian footsteps. Lewis inspires a young Oxford don to start a new Inklings group, where current students can come together for Christian community as they discuss literature, especially the works of the original Inklings.

Of course there's romance, but unlike a typical contemporary romance the characters are determined to seek God's will for their lives and maintain their purity. Educational side benefits of this engaging novel, meant to be the first in a series: lots of details of Lewis's life and works, and even some intelligent discussion of Christian themes in Shakespeare.