Let’s face it: Books make great gifts. They’re properly rectangular, so it’s easy to wrap them. Whether a dense historical tome or a baby’s colorful board book, they have a pleasant weight when hefted. Yet they’re not too large, leaving plenty of room under the tree for other items.
And what’s printed on the pages will provide hours of entertainment and enlightenment.
Naturally, the Extra section staff loves the written word, and we want to encourage engagement with the printed page in all its forms, so we’ve compiled some holiday gift suggestions for the bookaholics in your life. (And OK, if the person destined to receive the gifts prefers one of those newfangled digital readers like Kindle or Nook, consider these as possible download recommendations. You can always buy them a gift certificate and tell them which e-book it’s intended to pay for.)
When you know someone’s tastes well enough to find that unusual book that’s a perfect match to their specialized interests and personality quirks, that’s a great thing, a trait to be treasured. But sometimes — just like moviegoers venturing out to the theater for the biggest tentpole blockbuster — the book your loved one, friend or co-worker wants is the one everyone else is reading.
Released just a month ago, Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” (Crown) leaped atop best-seller charts worldwide, taking only two weeks to sell two million copies, making it the biggest seller of the year. Containing “no dramatic revelations and not much overt politics,” according to Publishers Weekly, the book begins with Obama’s working class childhood in southside Chicago and chronicles, in her own words, the experiences she had becoming our country’s first African-American FLOTUS.
In further proof we live in a surprising world, Joanna Gaines, best known as the winsome co-host of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” and its spin-off, “Fixer Upper: Behind the Design,” penned the year’s best-selling cookbook, “Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering” (William Morrow). A review in Cooking Light declared the book “worth its weight in gold,” praising the Texas author’s attention to her Southern roots and her willingness to venture outside them, with recipes for dishes like bulgogi and fatayer.
The year’s best-selling self-help book comes from another Texas author, Rachel Hollis, whose faith-based hit bears a mouthful of a title, “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be” (Thomas Nelson). An event planner and motivational speaker who’s been referred to as “the Tony Robbins for women,” Hollis’ prescription for a better life combines references to biblical scripture with an emphasis on self-reliance.
When a book that came out 28 years ago still tops the best-seller lists, there might be something truly special about it. “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” (Random House), the final book from the late Dr. Seuss, creator of the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat, spins a tale of overcoming life’s challenges that resonates with all ages. The book has become something of a graduation gift tradition — but it will work as well for the giving season as a library addition.
Speaking of tentpole blockbusters, a number of this year’s best-selling fiction books are tied to movie adaptations. Gifts of classics such as Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” (Square Fish, paperback) or Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” (Simon & Schuster, paperback) will always be evergreen, and most of the time, better than the films they inspired.
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
Brooklyn-based author N.K. Jemisin made science fiction history in 2016, when she became the first African-American to win the field’s prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel. She made science fiction history again in August, when she became the first writer to win the best novel Hugo three years in a row. Each winning novel was part of “The Broken Earth Trilogy” (Orbit), now under development for television by TNT.
Set in a far future Earth, Jemisin’s story combines elements of science and magic. In this future, all landmasses have once again combined into a single continent, known as the Stillness, which is under constant threat from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Among the remnants of the human race, some people are born with the ability to psychically draw power from the Earth and use it to control geological forces — but when discovered, those people face death or enslavement. The publisher has released all three volumes in a boxed set, just in time for the holidays.
A landmark fantasy series that’s a few decades older has also gotten a timely holiday release. Starting with “A Wizard of Earthsea” in 1968, the late Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Ursula K. Le Guin wrote six books set in the mythical land of Earthsea, an archipelago inhabited by wizards and dragons. The Earthsea books were groundbreaking, with a main character, Ged, who wasn’t blond and white, but the cover art through the years never reflected this — until the release in October of “The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition” (Saga Press), a massive omnibus gathering all the stories in a single volume, sumptuously illustrated by Abingdon artist Charles Vess.
In what’s perhaps the opposite of timely, the newest novel from “Game of Thrones” creator George R. R. Martin is not the one everyone is waiting for. (“Winds of Winter,” where are you?) But until the long-long-long delayed next book in the saga of Westeros finally appears, “Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before a Game of Thrones” (Random House) is what fans of the best-selling series and the HBO show it spawned will be stuck with. Consider it an appetizer.
YOUNG READERS AND CHILDREN
Who says that young people won’t read printed books? Sales of kids’ lit increased by 3 percent during the first half of 2018, according to Publishers Weekly, and the growth happened across the spectrum. Graphic novels, dystopian teen fantasies, baby board books and classic children’s stories are still popular with younger readers. Even in a “Fortnite” and Instagram age, books are great presents for kids.
The popular musical “Dear Evan Hansen” (Poppy/Little, Brown) has been turned into a well-received novel by author Val Emmich, who adapted and expanded the Tony Award-winning show created by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The book tells the angst-ridden story about a teenage loner dealing with the pressures of school, social media and loneliness, all complicated by a fib of his own making.
Speaking of fibs, Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ “Little White Lies” (Freeform) is about a girl who immerses herself into her grandmother’s fairytale world of debutante balls and fancy dresses, a world in which people are not quite who they seem to be. “Little White Lies” is recommended by Doloris Vest, owner of Roanoke’s downtown book shop, Book No Further. She also likes “Bridge of Clay,” (Knopf Books for Young Readers) a new novel from Markus Zusak, author of the massive best-seller, “The Book Thief.”
Elementary and middle grades
“One my favorites is ‘Grenade’ [Scholastic Press] by Alan Gratz, the author of ‘Refugees,’” Vest said. “Both are great historical fiction that show the real world has as much excitement and adventure as the fantasy realm.”
Vest said that “Code Girls” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), the acclaimed nonfiction book by North Cross School graduate and former Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy, is now out in a young reader version. The book tells the true story about the American women who deciphered enemy codes during World War II.
“You can’t help but laugh when you read ‘Georges, The Goose From Toulouse Who Only Ate Couscous’ [Mixed Nuts Publishing],” Vest said of the kids’ book written by Tracey Riegel Koch and illustrated by Lauren Hawthorne. She also recommended “Beautiful Rainbow World” (Two Poppies), by Suzee Ramirez and Lynne Raspet, calling it “rightly named: beautiful to look at with a beautiful message.”
Books published by Southwest Virginia authors this year could be stacked as high as a Christmas tree. Start with these selections.
“Don’t You Ever” (HarperCollins) is Mary Carter Bishop’s beautifully written memoir of an incredibly sad story about Old Virginia, her mother’s shame, her father’s devotion and the tragic life of a brother she barely got to know.
Beth Macy’s third-consecutive nonfiction best-seller, “Dopesick” (Little, Brown), untangled the miserable threads of America’s opioid crisis, and traced its deadly beginnings to the coalfields and collapsed factory towns in our own backyard. New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin, a huge Macy fan, wrote that the book’s “toughness and intimacy make it a must.”
Bishop and Macy honed their investigative and storytelling skills at The Roanoke Times, where it should come as no surprise that they once had desks 8 feet apart from each other in the features department.
Prolific fantasy novelist R.S. Belcher just came out with his seventh book, “King of the Road” (Tor Books), the second installment of his haunted truckstop and interstate series, “The Brotherhood of the Wheel.”
Vest also likes two new releases from a pair of local college professors-turned-authors. “Yellow Stonefly” (Swallow Press) by retired Radford University English professor Tim Poland has been named a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance “Okra Pick” as one of the top 12 Southern-themed novels this winter. Vest said that the book is “set in a fictitious area that sounds a lot like the New River Valley and Virginia Highlands. The novel tells the story of a flyfisher who uses the sport to cope with the vagaries of life and aging.”
Roanoke College English professor and writer Mary Crockett Hill’s young adult novel “How She Died, How I Lived” (Little, Brown) is aimed at teenagers, but Vest said that the book “will move adults who [know] how hard life is to understand when faced with tragedy way too young.”