Buying gifts for friends and family throughout the holiday season can be quite stressful. What do you get the brother-in-law who (thinks he) has everything? What about the niece whose interests alter as constantly as our peculiar Michigan weather? And, of course, there are the rowdy kids and the beloved partner and the cordial neighbors and… Just thinking about it makes us anxious.
So in order to help you buy books for the woods walking naturalist, or the news junkie, or the literary fiction enthusiast, or the esoteric indie book reading hipster, Literati hosted a panel to provide options, answers, and most importantly, soothing advice regarding a vast array of titles. We arranged a stellar line up of panelists: booksellers, writers, editors, critics, and one of our favorite publisher reps, and asked them to talk about their favorite titles and gift ideas for the holiday season. Here’s what they had to say.
Keith teaches at the University of Michigan. He has published many books over the years: collections of poetry, a collection of very short stories, co-edited volumes of essays and fiction, and a volume of poetry translated from Modern Greek. His most recent collection, published by Wayne State University Press, is The Bird-While.
The Evolution of Beauty, by Richard Prum.
“For your brilliant bird-watching nieces and nephews, or your doctor father-in-law. Some books are the books of that writer’s lifetime, and this is the book of Prum’s lifetime.”
Where Now: New and Selected Poems, by Laura Kasischke.
“Laura is a significant American poet. She is also perhaps, interestingly enough, the best known American fiction writer in France. There’s a mix of a very dark visions and a very keen sense of humor. These poems are rich in image, and often turn on just one image — you can find yourself spending a lot of time inside of them.”
Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
“There are only 15–17 surviving paintings of Da Vinci’s, and this books is primarily concerned with those. But it’s an easy read, Isaacson is not trying to impress you with his erudition. It’s surprisingly quick!”
Polly Rosenwaike’s story collection, Look How Happy I’m Making You, will be published by Doubleday in 2019. Her stories have appeared in Colorado Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Copper Nickel, Indiana Review, and Glimmer Train. Her story “White Carnations” was selected for the O. Henry Prize Stories 2013. She has published book reviews and essays in the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times Book Review, The Millions, and The Brooklyn Rail. She lives in Ann Arbor and teaches creative writing at Eastern Michigan University.
Lucky Boy, by Hanthi Sekaran and Heather O’Neill’s
“A wonderful novel about motherhood. It deals with immigration, class difference, a lot of things that are on the table currently. I had to read this book really late into the night to find out what happened. A really involving story with characters you feel so sympathetic towards.”
The Lonely Hearts Hotel, by Heather O’Neill
“The story of two orphans in early twentieth century Montreal. It’s a love story, but also a story of circuses, Broadway shows, heroin and prostitution. It’s dark, but it’s really lovely novel.”
Strong Is the New Pretty, by Kate T. Parker
“This has been vetted by my daughter, who’s a seven-year-old. Essentially a book of photos, it’s about celebrating the qualities of girls that I think, especially now, need to be celebrated more. If you’re a sap like me, you may find yourself tearing up a lot.”
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado
“These stories cross different genres — part horror, part fairy tale, part studies in psychological realism. There’s a summary of ten seasons of Law & Order: SVU. Spectral stories about gastric bypass surgery. Funny, dark, disturbing and beautiful.”
Kate McCune is a publisher representative for Harper Collins. She is a voracious reader who has been known to write outstanding reviews. It is often quite difficult for her to speak about a book without making you want to immediately read said title.
The Great Halifax Explosion, by John U. Bacon
“What is really wonderful about this book is the story of the humanitarian response to this disaster. It changed the relationship of The United States and Canada. It’s not only a riveting minute-by-minute thriller, but a story of how the world responded. Sneak in a read before you give it to someone else.”
The Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
“Erdrich wrote this book during the Bush administration and put it away, thinking, ‘things could never get any worse.’ She had to rescue it from an old Apple hard-drive. It looks at women’s agency and how quickly it can disappear.”
My Favorite Thing is Monsters, by Emil Ferris
“I am not well-versed in graphic novels. This book had a small print-run initially, but then it took off. And it’s a debut by a woman in her fifties. She had been paralyzed by West Nile, waist-down, including her hand, and this book and its story was part of her rehabilitation process. It’s a deeply feminist story, and you won’t see something like it again for some time.”
My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
“I could tell you plot of this, but in so much of Strout’s work I don’t think the plot is the point. I think what she does is try to understand the human heart, and all of her work is in service of that. She is just a world-class, beautiful writer.”
Hilary is a co-owner of Literati Bookstore. A serious reader, authentic cat lover, and dedicated coffee drinker, Hilary chooses the titles for Literati’s signed first edition book club, Literati Cultura, in addition to running the bookstore.
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
“The writing is just gorgeous and it will grab you from the first page. It’s for your literary fiction reader or anybody who enjoys a good novel, it’s just amazing.”
Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Phil and Erin Stead
“There are magical beans and dragons and princes, but what runs through a lot of Phil and Erin’s work is the important of kindness. Phil recently said that kindness these days feels radical, and this book is radically kind.”
The Grammar of Spice, by Caz Hildebrand
“the perfect gift for both the foodie and bibliophile in your life. A cultural history of, and cultivation history of, every spice you know — and many you don’t. If you ever wondered how spices made their way to you, this is the perfect book.”
200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World, compiled by Ruth Hobday and Geoff Blackwell
“A wonderful gift book for anyone in your life who values the importance of ordinary and extraordinary women.”
This Book is a Planetarium, by Kelli Anderson
“It’s a Planetarium. It’s also a speaker. And it’s all paper. This book has been delayed many times by the publisher just get the paper cuts right, and it was worth the wait.”
Jill Zimmerman is a bookseller, children’s book buyer, and manager at Literati Bookstore. When she isn’t ordering the latest children’s books, making sure the deposits make it to the bank in a timely manner, or helping customers find that perfect title for a close friend, she enjoys spending time with her lovely daughter and phenomenal husband.
After the Fall, by Dan Santat
“Everyone knows the story of Humpty-Dumpty. What if they were able to put him back together again, what would it feel like? What if it wasn’t a matter of dusting yourself off, what if you were still broken? In a way, it’s really a book about dealing with trauma. It’s great for kids, but you could give it to an adult the way you would Oh The Places You’ll Go.”
Windows, by Julia Denos
“A nod to the perspectival Snowy Day, Windows set in an urban twilight environment. Unlike a Snowy Day, the focus is lifted up to the whole neighborhood, where you all of what this diverse community is doing. It feels very modern and new, and it has a wonderful color palette that perfectly captures the gloaming.”
Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend
“This book is getting -reasonably- compared to Harry Potter, as its central protagonist is plucked from unloving family to go from a magical school for magical people. What makes this book wonderful is that it starts out a bit darker, and features a female protagonist who is a great, plucky heroine. It’s also a mix of Steampunk, Willy Wonka, Marry Poppins, and Elouise — it draws from books you know but builds its own world.”
The Vanderbeekers of 141st St., by Karina Yan Glaser
“if you could make a middle grade novel that’s like Windows, this would be it. The premise is: a family’s evil landlord is evicting a family five days before Christmas, and they endeavor on a quest to convince him to let them stay. It’s a happy holiday story in a modern New York City community.”