I hung out with a friend yesterday, and as we were catching up, I discovered she was one of those people I didn’t realize really existed: People Who Finished Holiday Shopping By December Tenth. Although I’ve ordered some things here and there, I haven’t even gotten my list together of the people I need to shop for! In the hopes this helps you too, I’ve rounded up some suggestions for the book lovers in your life (and, c’mon, it doesn’t hurt to pick up something for yourself, too…just sayin’).
Austin Reading Mama Recommendations
- The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel, by Adam Johnson — North Korea revealed through story. When I read this I felt like I was getting a global education and, at the same time, being taken on the most wildly imaginative ride of my life. It’s a literary tour de force, plain and simple, and I make everyone read it.
- The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate — Last year’s Newbery award winning novel for young people. Pure heart and soul. I would’ve cried with every page turn except sometimes I was laughing.
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel, by Karen Joy Fowler — This is ‘The One and Only Ivan’ for grown-ups. It’s maybe the most surprising thing I’ve read in awhile, partly because I was told not to read reviews, not to read the flap copy, to go in completely unawares. So that’s what I recommend to you all too.
- Unexploded, by Alison Mcleod – This was long-listed for the Booker Prize and I almost always love the Booker Prize books. So my only question is, “Why wasn’t it short-listed for the Booker Prize?” I loved this book the way one likes watching Call the Midwife or the first season of Downton. This is the best British novel I’ve read since Black Swan Green , by David Mitchell, which is brilliant. (Did you see how I did that? How I snuck in another book?)
- The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa — Just a little slip of a book, but a beautiful slip of a book. And, honestly, it made me fall in love with math just a little. Which is an actual miracle.
- I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith — Hello? Why isn’t this book really, really famous and being read with all the Austen and Bronte books? Maybe because it’s too new to garner that kind of respect (originally published in 1949)? I haven’t the foggiest, but it’s delightful, I promise you, and now you know about it!
- OK, I know it’s the top five, but I want to add, from the last few years, State of Wonder: A Novel, by Ann Patchett; Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall; The Book Thief, by Markus Zuzak, and Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro. Because I couldn’t put any of the four of these down and they’re worth a second read, each one of them. (Which also, in my mind, means they’re worth a #6.)
- Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein — If you know me, you know I haven’t stopped talking about this book since I first read it a few years ago. I don’t want to say anything about it, because I think every reader should go into it like I did – not knowing what’s about to hit you. Some people love it, some people hate it. But if you love it, I know we can be friends. (Side note: the first 75 pages are so are pretty dense. Stick with it and you’ll be grandly rewarded, I promise. And I don’t make promises lightly.)
- Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech — I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. Every time I start it anew I think, “This will be the time I won’t cry.” And every.single.time I cry. It’s a lovely verse novel for children, but it’s really for everyone. I kind of want to cry just writing about it. So wonderful.
- Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, by Billy Collins — This is a collection of poetry that is so accessible, so resonant, so funny, so heart-wrenching, so all-encompassingly wonderful that, for those of you who are unsure about poetry, I dare you to read it and still say you’re unsure about poetry. (Also, his collection Ballistics is very good. And Horoscopes for the Dead. And, jeez. Just everything that he writes.)
- Essays of E. B. White (Perennial Classics), by E.B. White — We all know Charlotte’s Web and Elements of Style, but did you also know that E.B. White wrote hundreds of essays for a variety of publications? He wrote on everything from farm living to politics to seasons in Maine to musings about his dog to what it was like to live in Florida. His essays span decades, and are all still so pertinent today. They’re full of humor and melancholy and beauty. I like to carry this collection with me everywhere I go, because you never know when you’ll have a few spare minutes, and you can always count on Mr. White to brighten your day.
- The Rook: A Novel, by Daniel O’Malley — This is a crazy book. I don’t even know how to describe it without spoiling it. It’s kind of like the X-Files, but hilarious, and based in England. Just trust me. You want to read it. I mean, the main character’s name is Myfanwy and the first line is, “Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.” I don’t use the word “delight” a lot, but this book delights me. I grin just thinking about it.
(And now I cheat by giving you some runner ups. I don’t think any favorite book list of mine can be complete without mentioning Rainbow Rowell. She is a magnificent writer, and her books consistently make me laugh and cry, often at the same time. Attachments, Fangirl, and of course, Eleanor & Park… once you read one you’ll be compelled to read them all. So good.)
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes—I cannot get this book out of my head. I read it last December and haven’t read a book since that has touched me as much. Still hungover.
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, It’s quirky and smart. I LOVED it. Really, really loved it.
- The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. Really, nothing more needs to be said about this one.
- Tangled by Emma Chase. So fun. The laugh out loud kind.
- The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes. Great writing. Suspenseful. Emotional.
- When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery) by Rebecca Stead – This book, it slays me. Don’t read much about it, just dive in. It’s a quick read, but it’s so satisfying. I keep it next to my bed.
- Pastoralia by George Saunders — One of my all-time favorite collections of short stories. George Saunders moves from quirky situations to deep human emotion, and he’s just a gorgeous storyteller and wordsmith.
- The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Memoir of Early Motherhood, by Louise Erdrich — Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite fiction writers, so I was drawn to her memoir of the first year of motherhood–pregnancy and birth and parenting. This book, oh goodness. She captures the the sweetest highs, the fiercest struggles, the softest lulls, and the complex and intricate joy of mothering. It’s raw and real and will resonate with you no matter where you are in your parenting journey.
- Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino — A slim book of short stories, fantastical and rich, will swoop you away from your to do list and dance you through the farthest reaches of the universe.
- The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman — My husband Owen and I started reading this trilogy out loud to each other on our honeymoon, sitting outside in a hot tub on a 200 acre ranch in west Texas. At times playful and fantastic, at others sharp and biting, and often full of terror or deep sadness, these books are transcendent.
- Beast by Judith Ivory — Flat-out one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and probably the best romance. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this historical romance is set on a cruise ship in the early 1900s, and the heroine is a young American heiress. Both these elements set this book apart from other historical romances, since the vast majority of historicals are set in Regency England, and American heroines are relatively unusual in this genre. Ivory’s writing is sensual, lyrical and just impeccable, and the story is gripping and compelling. This is one I’ve reread many times, and every time I just want to linger over it and savor every word.
- Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas — Since I am a sucker for incredible writing and unusual settings and characters, here is another historical romance you should go buy today (seriously, today!) and read. Set in India’s Rumbur Valley (today’s Pakistan) during the Swat Valley Uprising of 1897, this novel’s unique setting is a big part of what makes the book so riveting and memorable. Another element that makes this book so distinctive is its heroine, a female physician (who breaks the romance mold by proposing to her husband!). Furthermore, author Sherry Thomas (an Austin writer and mama, herself!) is originally from China. She did not learn English until she moved to the U.S. as a young teenager, which makes her gorgeous writing that much more incredible to me. Like Judith Ivory’s books, you don’t want Thomas’s books to end, not just because the story is so captivating, but because the writing itself is so very edible. (On that note, be sure to read Delicious, Private Arrangements and Thomas’s other romances, and then try out her excellent young-adult novels, too.)
- Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Omnibus (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)— Man. I don’t even know what to say about these books. The Golden Compass was previously listed in Jodi Egerton’s Austin Reading Mama recommendations, but I have to re-recommend it (is that a thing?!) along with the second and third books in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Supposedly YA novels, these books’ themes and plots would challenge and satisfy readers of any age. The whole series is strange, powerful, devastating, hopeful and incredible all at once. It’s simultaneously spiritual and atheistic, anarchistic and revolutionary. Writing this makes me want to go reread them again, for the fourth time.
- Woody Guthrie: A Life by Joe Klein — So, the heroes in romance novels generally have “flaws” that are often things like a scar, an overly large nose or a tendency toward brooding isolation — things that are ultimately easy to look past, move beyond or actually resolve. Maybe this is part of why I love Woody Guthrie so very much. Yes, he was a real person, but he was also a folk hero, a larger-than-life figure who will forever be rooted in American consciousness. (Public school kids still sing “This Land Is Your Land” to this day, as we did when I was a kid — and I had no idea, as a kid, how intensely political that song was.) Guthrie as folk hero might arguably have been flawless, but as a human being, he had some very real and serious problems, and Joe Klein’s biography is fascinating in its study of this complicated man. Guthrie had Huntington’s chorea, a disease he inherited from his mother that eventually killed him. Klein theorizes that Guthrie’s extreme sexuality and his extreme prolificacy as a writer both likely came from his illness. His neglectful parenting, his wandering, disconnected nature, his inability to be faithful to or even present with his wife and family — who knows where these came from. As much as I admire Guthrie and love his music, I really don’t know if I would have liked him in person. But his contribution to American music, culture and politics is bigger than we probably realize. And he was really intriguing as a person, flaws and all, which makes this biography very absorbing.
- The Boyfriend School (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) by Sarah Bird — Okay, I’m going to wrap up this list with another Austin author, who started out as a romance novelist before going on to write literary fiction, and her novel that is very meta — though The Boyfriend School is literary fiction, it’s really a classic romance about an Austin journalist who becomes a romance writer (and falls in love). Bird’s first novels were romances written under the pen name Tory Cates, released in the early 1980s (and which have recently been rereleased). Then she wrote Alamo House, her first literary novel, which is set on the UT campus right here in Austin. It changed my life when I read it as a young teenager — it was so hilarious and irreverent but deep at the same time, and it focused on women’s friendships, even as those women explored (often frivolous) relationships with men. Then came The Boyfriend School, and I was absolutely hooked — in fact, I think this novel is the reason I became a romance novelist, myself. I won’t say any more about it, except that you should go read it, now!
- Friendswood: A Novel by Rene Steinke—I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of Friendswood when Rene Steinke taught at The Writing Barn, a workshop and retreat center, I run right here in Austin. A Texan herself, Steinke creates her fictional Friendswood on the suburb outside Houston of the same name. Dealing with large scale environmental issues coupled with and the intricacies and explosions of family life, make this one a must read.
- The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg—I’ve long been a fan of Goldberg’s, since the era where every writer read Writing Down the Bones, but in The True Secret Natalie Goldberg reveals the format for her popular Sit, Walk, Write Workshops and she does so in a way that allows for each individual writer and group who will assemble to get the most out of her thirty-five years of teaching experience. Coupled with intention, observation, meditation, and the committed practice of taking to the page, this craft book is an essential to any reader/writer library.
- Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott—this one hits the shelves today so I haven’t read it yet but as a devotee of Lamott’s essays, this one will be on The Writing Barn shelves soon. Lamott never fails to make me feel understood—the messy “scooch- scooch- stall” of life with all its pain and possibility. Recently, I read an interview with Lamott about this book in Salon.com and Anne’s (yes, we can use her first name—especially since we all feel she is our wise yet neurotic friend next door) going to take some time off. She’s written and toured with a number of new books over the last few years and said, “Time to fill back up. It would be good for me in every way to lie fallow.” And while Anne fills back up, I will be filling up—reading her latest and laughing and sighing and crying in recognition of my own blessed being, as I connect with myself, through her work and words.
- A Jab of Deep Urgency by E. Kirstin Anderson—For a change of pace, I like to explore the chapbook scene and one of my faves, is the recently released A Jab of Deep Urgency, a collection of 30 poems crafted during Found Poetry Review’s Pulitzer Remix Project in 2013. Anderson crafted her collection from master text, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, using the erasure method (also known as black out of whiteout) on pages of the original text. I fell into a love for blackout poems reading Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout and see the form taking hold and growing. It’s even hit the kid lit shelves in K. A. Holt’s fabulous new verse novel Rhyme Schemer.
- The Signature of All Things: A Novel by Elizabeth Gilbert—We all may know Eat, Pray, Love but have we all read The Signature of All Things? I was a latecomer to Gilbert’s fiction and I wish I had been one of the first to discover her well-researched and captivating fictional voice is as spot-on as her memoir voice. Having heard Gilbert speak recently, she revealed she writes memoir when in pain and fiction when content—I for one hope the contentment she has found in her own journey of self-discovery holds. More fiction, please. (And, I hear a creativity craft book is in the works so perhaps what I’m really saying is More, Liz, More.)
BookPeople Signed, Personalized Books
Austin’s own BookPeople has a special deal this holiday season. The store has partnered with local authors to offer signed, personalized copies of books ordered by 11:59pm on December 11th. You can pick up your order in store, or BookPeople will even wrap and ship the gift directly to the recipient. Among the books are Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day, which we wrote about here on LiveMom and Chris Barton’s new book for 3rd-7th graders, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!: A Gamer’s Alphabet.
Waterloo Records Booksigning for The Face of Texas
The Face of Texas celebrates the individuality and independent spirit of Texas through compelling portraits of its people by Michael O’Brien, one of America’s premier portrait photographers. In this acclaimed photo essay, he assembles a gallery of noteworthy Texans both native and naturalized, ranging from former president George W. Bush and first ladies and Laura Bush and Lady Bird Johnson, to famous figures such as Willie Nelson, Larry McMurtry, George Strait, Tim Duncan, Kinky Friedman, and Beyoncé, to ordinary folks who’ve made their mark on Texas as ranchers and farmers, cheerleaders and beauty queens, conservationists, church members, bar and restaurant owners, Odd Fellows, schoolteachers, artists and writers, business owners, and athletes. Michael and Elizabeth O’Brien will be at Waterloo Records on Thursday, December 11th at 7pm for a booksigning at Waterloo Records. Refreshments provided by Shiner.
Our Favorite Kids’ Books
- The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni
- A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
- A Moon of My Own by Jennifer Rustgi (read our profile of Jennifer here)
- All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon (see aforementioned recommendations from Liz here)
- An Awesome Book by Dallas Clayton (or, really, anything by Dallas Clayton)
- Boy, You’re Amazing and Girl, You’re Amazing by Virginia Kroll
- Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
- Grandfather Gandhi by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi (see aforementioned recommendations from Bethany here)
- Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola
- Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
- My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs
- The Nice Book by David Ezra Stein
- Rhymer Schemer by Kari Ann Holt (see aforementioned recommendations from Kari here)
- Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim
- Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
What are your favorite books?
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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 8-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]