We received a number of books at Christmas. My office was closed between Christmas and New Year's, and I was getting over a cold, so there was plenty of time to read. Three seem particularly worth mentioning.
My son gave me Latin: Story of a World Language by Jürgen Leonhardt. This covers the history of Latin, from earliest times until now. It is not philological in its focus, though no doubt Leonhardt can hold his own philologically Rather, it considers what it means for a language to be standardized and to become a world language. There is a snippet of Latin every five pages or so, with translations provided. They begin with "the so-called Duenos inscription, a brief text written on a vase from the sixth century BCE"; this uses a very old form of Latin, old enough that one wrote "duenos" rather than "bonus" (good). They continue through (among others) Cicero, Augustine, Erasmus, and Newton, concluding with Angelina Jolie's abdominal tattoo. Figures show manuscripts and early printings of poetry, plays, and grammars, and depictions of Romans and Latinists. Three long days will serve to read the book. Anyone interested in Latin in particular or languages in general is likely to find it interesting.
A friend gave us a couple of books by Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. We had read many of the pieces when they originally ran in Gourmet magazine. Gourmet is no more and, far worse, neither is Laurie Colwin. Looking through the pieces reminded me how well I liked them when I first read them. It also raised the question whether we ever actually cooked from them. I haven't yet spotted a recipe that I know we have used, though I see a number resembling ones we use now and then. I think that what we enjoyed in her columns was her common-sense, optimistic approach to cooking. The books are the sort to pick up and dip into as you have free time: there is always the chance of getting the menu for your next dinner.