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Books Make Ideal Holiday Gifts for Readers of All Ages

A key reminder for gift-giving season: books truly are 'one size fits all'

By Patricia Corrigan

Seasonal Tip: Buy books now for holiday gift-giving, and you'll have time to read them before you wrap them to give away. (Am I the only one who does that?) Book shops across the country are rife with new titles, and more than 30 appealing examples are listed here. And remember — if you can't decide what books to buy, present family and friends with gift certificates from your local bookstore.

A collage of several new books. Next Avenue, The Light We Carry, Michelle Obama, Ina Garten new cookbook

Fans of former First Lady Michelle Obama are flocking to her new memoir "The Light We Carry." Devotees of John Irving will appreciate receiving "The Last Chairlift," the author's  first novel in seven years. Friends who relish reading about Inspector Armand Gamache will be thrilled with Louise Penny's new book, "A World of Curiosities." In profiles and interviews, White House correspondent April Ryan chronicles the lives of movers and shakers in America in "Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem."

Buy books now for holiday gift-giving and you'll have time to read them before you wrap them to give them away. (Am I the only one who does that?)

For music enthusiasts, consider Linda Ronstadt's "Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands," Bono's "Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story" or Bob Dylan's "The Philosophy of Modern Song," in which the Nobel Prize winner holds forth on what makes a tune memorable. Jann Wenner, founder of a magazine dear to many boomers, tells tales on musicians and himself as well in "Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir."

Andrew Sean Greer has followed up "Less" with "Less Is Lost." Hugo Award winner N. K. Jemisin — a science fiction/fantasy writer whose pointed "The City We Became" bedazzled even readers who rarely venture into the genre — now offers the sequel, "The World We Make." George Saunders has penned "Liberation Day: Stories."

Three new cookbooks on bookstore shelves are Ina Garten's "Go-To Dinners," Maren Ellingboe King's "Fresh Midwest: Modern Recipes from the Heartland" and Phil Rosenthal's "Somebody Feed Phil The Book," based on the first four seasons of the author's popular television series.

Novels, Memoirs and a Dash of Self-Help

Speaking of television, in Bonnie Garmus' novel "Lessons in Chemistry," a female chemist stymied in her career in the 1960s treats her cooking show as a chemistry class.

"The character makes the very good point that women are not bound by convention," said Cathy Berner, event coordinator at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas.

"The book is beautifully written, bittersweet, and with hilarious characters." Jeremy Nissel, owner of J. Michaels Books in Eugene, Oregon, agreed, noting that the book "captures readers from the first page and doesn't let go."

Two new memoirs have impressed Berner. One is "Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional" by Isaac Fitzgerald, a series of essays about pop culture punctuated with stories about the author's childhood. "Fitzgerald's perspective and capacity for grace and understanding are real gifts for the reader," Berner said.

A woman smiling in a bookstore. Next Avenue, new books, gift ideas
Cathy Berner from Blue Willow Bookshop  |  Credit: Courtesy of Cathy Berner

She also liked Tabitha Carvan's "This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch: The Joy of Loving Something — Anything — Like Your Life Depends on It," a light-hearted yet revelatory book about reclaiming former passions.  

Grandparent Alert: Berner said children ages 3 to 6 will be enchanted with "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" as retold by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. For kids 8 to 12, look for Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate's "Odder," a tale of a renegade otter illustrated by Charles Santoso that is based on a true story. For teens 14 and up, Berner suggested "The Agathas" by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson. "It's an amazing thriller, funny and fast paced," she said.

For women of a certain age, Berner recommended Clare Pooley's "Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting," a novel about relying on the kindness of strangers who become friends. Valerie Koehler, Berner's boss at Blue Willow, weighed in with a vote for Marianne Wiggins' new novel "Properties of Thirst," set during World War II. The New York Times named it as a "Best Book of 2022."

Poetry, More Novels and Two Worthy Translations

The marketing and events coordinator at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Annie Metcalf is promoting Saeed Jones' "Alive at the End of the World," which considers private grief, public grief and national grief, all tempered with humor.

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"Whether or not you read poetry, this is a great collection," Metcalf said. "Jones, a gay Black man, imagines conversations with Aretha Franklin and Little Richard and also has conversations with himself."

Metcalf described "Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?: A Memoir" by Séamas O'Reilly as "maybe my favorite book of the year." It's about a widower in Northern Ireland left in charge of his 11 children. "Séamas was what he calls 'one of the wee ones,' just five when his mother died," Metcalf said. "You will cry when you read this book, but it's also gut-bustingly funny."

"You will cry when you read this book, but it's also gut-bustingly funny."

Two novels are on Metcalf's list of recommended gift books. One is "Time Shelter" by  Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel. Metcalf called it "a darkly funny imagination of a Europe that looks like modern day, but where people are engaging in nostalgia — and with an interesting treatment of that when it's used for political gain."

The second is "Dogs of Summer" by Andrea Abreu, translated by Julia Sanches. "This is a nuanced look at the lives of two young girls growing up on Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands," Metcalf said. "The book is subtle in terms of female relationships, like Elena Ferrante's books and the language is fascinating."

Science, Nature and 'A Beautiful Book'

Nissel, the bookshop owner in Eugene, used that same adjective to describe "An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us" by Ed Yong, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist. Another good book for the science-minded, Nissel said, is "The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human" by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

A woman smiling in a bookstore. Next Avenue, new books, gift ideas
Annie Metcalf from Magers & Quinn Booksellers  |  Credit: Courtesy of Annie Metcalf

Nissel named "The Winners: A Novel," the last volume in Fredrik Backman's Beartown trilogy, as a good choice for hockey fans or readers who enjoyed Backman's "A Man Called Ove." And he predicted many gift-givers will seek out Celeste Ng's "Our Missing Hearts," Kate Atkinson's "Shrines of Gaiety" and Barbara Kingsolver's "Demon Copperhead," which Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles has declared "my favorite novel of 2022."

A bookseller since 1975, Nissel also mentioned a book I'm going to buy for myself: Molly Hashimoto's "Trees of the West: An Artist's Guide" illustrated in "pencil, pen, and wash sketches; block prints; studio watercolors; and intaglio etchings," according to her website.

The book also includes "a rich natural history and brief ethnobotanical notes" for each species, plus poems and quotes from writers and artists who identify, as so many of us do, as lovers of trees. Nissel said, "It's a beautiful book."

Photograph of Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia at latetothehaight.blogspot.com. Read More
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