Books Make Great Gifts, Part 2: Personal Picks

So I can’t very well remind you that books make great gifts without giving you some recommended reading.

In an effort to expedite this post, and therefore expedite any remaining holiday gift purchases, this year I’m calling my list “Off the Top of My Head,” with the somewhat lame yet totally true claim that if I can remember a title at 10 o’clock on a Friday night after a long day, a long week, and a year full of reading and researching, it must be a memorable read.


(I’m still so fond of the book picks I suggested last year, so give them a second look if you’re interested. I think Abigail Thomas’s A Three Dog Life is one of the most exquisitely written memoirs I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.)

Nonfiction (memoir, narrative, food, and health):
The Liar’s Club by Mary Carr
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Atlas of the Human Heart by Ariel Gore
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis
The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten
Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee
Encounters with the Invisible by Dorothy Wall
Breathing for a Living by Laura Rothenberg
The Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Blood and Guts by Roy Porter
Keep Working, Girlfriend by Rosalind Joffe

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld
Best Friends by Martha Moody
Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult
Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner
Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
Dirty Girls’ Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I’ll probably think of a lot more tomorrow, but I think that’s a wrap for now. As always, please chime in with more suggestions, or feedback on any of the books mentioned above!

Happy shopping…(and don’t forget: whenever possible, support local independent bookstores!)

What Better Gift Than a Good Book?

Last night at my writing group, a friend asked what we would do if Christmas was a time where we had permission to buy what we really want for ourselves. What, she queried, would we buy?

“Books,” I replied, without a second’s hesitation. Literally, it was the first thing that flew out of my mouth.

And it’s true, though with a caveat. I’d also like time, time to wander through my local independent bookstores. I’d linger over the new nonfiction titles and the paperback originals, I’d wander past the front-of-store displays and hit the aisles, looking for new names and titles.

(I’d also check out the health section to see Life Disrupted, because I’ll be honest, the thrill of seeing it is still there, and I’d try to guess what shelf will someday house Book #2 .)

I’d buy more narrative medicine books, and the engrossing narrative nonfiction titles I love so much. I’d select the breezy, snarky novels I can tear through in an hour, and the literary fiction books I re-read over and over before I go to sleep at night.

And then once I had as many books as I could carry by myself, I’d hunker down with my dogs and the afghan my grandmother (the most avid reader I’ve known) knitted for me, and I’d do nothing but read. No Internet. No clients. No writing. Just time to savor other people’s writing.

So consider this ode to books (and bookstores) a friendly holiday reminder that books make wonderful gifts. Last year, I gave you some personal picks and Best-of lists to consider, and for those of you who haven’t purchased all your presents yet, I thought I’d do so again.

NPR’s Best Books of 2009 is an extensive and eclectic resource, and it includes the Top Picks From Indie Booksellers.

I got my MFA in Nonfiction Writing and am a self-avowed nonfiction junkie, so I was excited to see Salon’s Salon’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2009. Still, I often need a break from true stories, so Salon’s Best Fiction of 2009 was another must-read.

The Wall Street Journal’s Best Health Books of 2009 is another great list to consider.

As for my own list? I’ll own it: end of term grades, client work, research detours, looming word counts, and Christmas-related chaos have all conspired to slow me down, but I’m working on it, and will try to post it soon.

(Don’t forget Life Disrupted is an affordable gift for anyone you know living with chronic illness, or anyone trying to understand what their friends/family members are going through. Okay, obligatory holiday plug finished.)

Do you have any fiction or nonfiction titles you recommend? I’d love to hear them, especially since I haven’t started my holiday shopping yet!


It’s Always the Season for Books

I hate to shop. When compared to all the other things I could be doing, the thought of spending time wandering around crowded stores seems incredibly inefficient to me, and I don’t usually want the item in question enough to warrant a trip. (Of course I also bring student papers to hair appointments and squeeze my laptop open on the subway, so clearly I have some issues with downtime.)

While my dislike of shopping is year-round, it kicks into high gear near Christmas; my proudest shopping moment of last year’s holiday season was when I realized I got every single gift I needed online, minus one.

I do have one huge exception, though. I love buying books and being in bookstores, and if left un-chaperoned, I could easily spend far too many hours and too much money. My husband fully supports (encourages, even) my book-buying binges, but I like it when we go together because I’m more conscious of that wily little word “moderation.”

I know the economy’s in terrible shape and holiday budgets are much tighter for most people, and I have a solution: Buy books. Seriously. They are affordable, durable, and can be used over and over.

Now, I know I am biased because I recently published my (affordable paperback)book Life Disrupted. But I’m making this plea not as a book author but as a lifelong book lover, someone whose favorite childhood Christmas present was the Little House on the Prairie boxed set of books, and who got a floor-to-ceiling bookcase for a 10th birthday present. I cannot go to sleep at night without reading, if even for 10 minutes, and I cannot leave the house without at least one book tucked into my briefcase.

The only gift I always buy in person for my nieces are books, and my gift to my oldest niece each Christmas is a hardcover book with an inscribed note. My brother told me she makes him read them to her throughout the year.

So buy books this year, and maybe even start a new tradition. What’s more, whenever possible support your local independent bookstores. They are more than simply places that hold shelves of books; between readings, lectures, and other literary events and book clubs, they foster a sense of community in neighborhoods. Like many independent retailers, they need our support and patronage more than ever right now.

For local readers, I just scored several great books on the sale table at Brookline Booksmith, and my two local favorites, Porter Square Books and Newtonville Books (both of which were awesome in supporting this local author with events) have tons of interesting readings and events this December and offer good discounts.

Obviously I believe books are a perfect gift for people of all ages and inclinations, but since this is a blog about illness, I do have to say that for people with chronic illness, books can take on even more significance. They bring the outside world into our homes when we can’t always leave, and they offer escape and entertainment when we need it most. I think part of the reason I was such a big reader at such an early age is because it was the one thing I could always do, no matter how sick I was or how many IVs I had in my arm.

I’m working on my own recommendations, but for now, check out this book editorial from the Boston Globe–it’s full of quirky selections for the readers in your life. Happy shopping!