Season’s Readings: The Gift of Books
Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa … December is a time of celebration, and in many traditions, that celebration takes the form of gift-giving. As a book-lover, I most admire the Icelandic Jolabokaflod tradition — roughly translated as “Christmas book flood” — where books are given as gifts on Dec. 24 and everyone spends the evening reading and drinking cocoa in front of the fire. Heaven!
As a salute to that tradition and an invitation to gift books this year, or simply find a new special book for your own reading, the following are some suggestions from WCLS librarians and local booksellers that hopefully will help you find something exactly right for all ages.
WCLS Collection Development Librarian Emma Radosevich brought “Special Topics in Being a Human: A Queer and Tender Guide to Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way About Caring for People, Including Myself” by S. Bear Bergman (illustrated by Saul Freedman-Larson) to my attention, and I’ve already purchased a copy for a niece who is feeling her way into adulthood.
Of this beautifully illustrated graphic novel guide/memoir, Radosevich says it “will gently nudge you to better show up for yourself and the people you care about.” Favorite topics include: “How to Avoid Getting Upset All Over Other People When You Feel Out of Control” and “How to Be Bad at Things and Do Them Anyway.” Recommended for fans of Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” and other advice columns, “Special Topics in Being a Human” would be a great gift for college-aged or 20-somethings whose lives are actively taking shape, but also a wonderful centering read for any special person in your life.
Who doesn’t love a new cookbook? If you haven’t yet discovered the “triumphant but unfussy” recipes by Smitten Kitchen food blogger Deb Perelman, pick up a copy of her newest, “Smitten Kitchen Keepers: New Classics for Your Forever Files.” The recipes are kid-tested, and Perelman is attentive to simplifying instructions by removing time and equipment hurdles without compromising deliciousness. How about a hearty soup for your Dec. 24 Jolabokaflod reading fest? I highly recommend slow-simmered lentils with kale and goat cheese, or creamy tomato chickpea masala. Yum!
Booksellers often have titles they are really hyped about hand-selling, so I asked Village Books co-owner Kelly Evert what book she is most excited about right now. Kelly recommends “Still Life” by Sarah Winman as “one of those novels that makes you re-read passages for the sheer delight of words chosen to describe a scene. A novel of battlefields, both far and near, and inside oneself. Of love and friendship, art and travel. Set in Italy and England, I adored the characters — even the foul-mouthed parrot. ‘Still Life’ would make a great gift for anyone on your list.”
“Best Books of 2022” lists are legion in December and these lists can be fruitful places to find wonderful books you might have missed during the year. Because they were all stellar and I can’t decide which to review, I’m going to name three debut novels that were among my most memorable reads this year. Worth your attention are “Calling for a Blanket Dance” by Oscar Hokeah (for fans of Louise Erdrich and Tommy Orange); “How High We Go in the Dark” by Sequoia Nagamatsu (mind-bending science fiction); and “Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt (“A Man Called Ove” meets “My Octopus Teacher”). All are authors to watch.
For readers looking for mystery, intrigue and a dash of romance, WCLS Teen Services coordinator Tamar Clarke loved “Anatomy: A Love Story” by Dana Schwartz. Of it, Clarke says “Ambition and the macabre entwine in this engrossing tale about young Hazel Sinnet, a 19th-century Scottish noblewoman, whose determination to become a surgeon pulls her into the dark alleyways of Edinburgh, and an even darker world filled with secrets, lies and, yes, lots of dead bodies. Hands down, for teen or adult readers, it’s the best mix for a winter read.”
Finally, for the youngest readers, I asked WCLS Youth Services manager and picture book connoisseur Thom Barthelmess for a recommendation from among the many delightful stories and evocatively illustrated picture books in the library collection. Barthelmess dished up (no pun intended) “Night Lunch” by Eric Fan, illustrated by Dena Seiferling. In it, “a horse-drawn lunch cart rolls into a starlit street to provide welcome and sustenance to a passel of nocturnal animals. The owl-chef prepares a variety of delicacies, each according to the appetites of the fox or possum, badger or moth, and finally offers up a veritable feast for an otherwise forgotten street-sweeper mouse.” Barthelmess describes “Night Lunch” as “atmospheric, evocative and shining with everyday magic; a fanciful exploration of the wee hours that thrums with warmth and comfort.”
Hopefully, some of these titles will resonate with you and the readers you love. Booksellers and library staff are trained to help you find reading that is right for you; share your interests or a few titles that you have enjoyed and they will help you find more in the same vein. May good books be warm companions to you as we move toward the darkest day of the year and then circle back toward the light.
Lisa Gresham is the collection services manager for the Whatcom County Library System. Experience the power of sharing … at the library!
(Originally published in Cascadia Daily News, Saturday, December 16, 2022.)