Holiday literary guide: The one book you should give this season

Ana McDaniel and Lisa Sullivan of Bartleby's Books in Wilmington take a moment to enjoy their favorite books of the year.
Ana McDaniel and Lisa Sullivan of Bartleby's Books in Wilmington take a moment to enjoy their favorite books of the year.
KRISTOPHER RADDER -- BRATTLEBORO REFORMER
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From Bennington to Bellows Falls, Southern Vermont's independent bookstores are natural destinations for holiday shopping. Books make wonderful gifts; money spent in southern Vermont supports a local business and its employees; and our region has excellent bookstores where you can browse to your heart's content and get honest, helpful advice from an actual person.

So we posed a simple question to the folks who stock the shelves and ring the registers: "If you had to pick one book give as a gift this holiday season, which would it be?" Here are their suggestions for your reading and gift-giving enjoyment.

A happy, healthy and peaceful holiday season to one and all!

— Greg Sukiennik, Southern Vermont Landscapes editor

"Atlas Obscura," Joshua Foer

Roam if you want to Roam around the world... to the strangest places on every continent that you never imagined existed with the second incarnation of this bestselling atlas of hidden wonders. In Thailand, there's a Buddhist temple whose construction includes 1.5 million beer bottles. Salzburg boasts the world's longest ice cave. Don't touch anything in the Poison Garden in Northumberland, England. No diving at the world's largest deep-granite quarry located in Barre, Vermont.

— Stan Hynds, Northshire Bookstore

"Black Light." Kimberly King Parsons

Set in Texas, these short stories are odd scraps of messy relationships told with one of the strongest debut voices I've read in a long while. Parsons' sparse descriptions and intimate details are immediately satisfying. Whether they're discovering their sexual selves in scuzzy motels or searching roadside cow pastures for hallucinogenic mushrooms, her characters are boldly and seductively amplified. Keep an eye on this one.

— Joe Michon-Huneau, Northshire Bookstore

"Bomber's Moon" by Archer Mayor

Archer Mayor's 30th Joe Gunther mystery surprises the reader by introducing a reporter for the local newspaper and a private detective. Both are spunky women who aid the investigation. Not being police, the two can investigate in ways police can't. How do the murders of a small-time drug dealer and a thief fit in with mysterious goings-on at a prep school? The interactions between the women investigators and police in solving the crimes make for an enjoyable read.

— Sarah Knight, Northshire Bookstore

"City of Girls" by Elizabeth Gilbert

This love letter to New York City follows Vivian Morris, a wealthy college dropout (more like she was asked to not return), on her journey to becoming a seamstress with her aunt's theater company. She is having the time of her life coming of age in the city but makes some critical errors. The first part of the novel is set pre-WWII, so she can afford to be a little carefree. But as we all know, this late-night lifestyle can't last forever. This is a perfect read for historical fiction fans and for those interested in coming of age narratives. Gilbert doesn't disappoint!

— Maria, Bartleby's Books

"Doxology" by Nell Zink

Nell Zink has long been tipped as a novelist to watch. At last, here is a teeming magnum opus of life at the end of the last century and the beginning of the next. As the American empire careens towards a final reckoning with the logic of late capitalism, Zink presents the masque of anarchy as seen through the eyes of a couple of indie rock veterans raising their child in downtown Manhattan. Zink's prose has the ability to make you giggle with recognition and then sideswipe you with an insight that belies her years. For anybody who has lived through the time (that is to say, all of us), the book is a touchstone of opportunities met and missed. It's also a reminder that for all the mistakes we might have made, decency is still possible — even if we have to work at it.

— Charles Bottomley, Northshire Bookstore

"Make Trouble Young Readers Edition: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead" by Cecile Richards

As the daughter of the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, it was already assumed that Cecile Richards would be a tenacious fighter. However, Cecile's hard work against those that would impinge her rights began long before her mother had risen in the political ranks. Cecile was a young person filled with a burning passion to fight for the rights of all people. In this memoir, we learn that from the beginning she was a conscientious objector in school by not saying the Lord's Prayer and then chose to wear a black armband to show her distaste for the Vietnam war. Cecile continued to push on in her life's work and eventually became the head of Planned Parenthood. In this role, she was tested by current political entities that wished to "make a deal" with giving up women's rights for money. Her strength of character prevailed and the fight continues. What will you do?

— Wendy Marie, Northshire Bookstore

"Nothing to See Here" by Kevin Wilson

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A comic, feel-good novel about children who spontaneously combust. Lillian is hired by her rich friend Madison to be the governess to her stepchildren who are now coming to live with them. Madison's husband is a senator and jockeying for the position of Secretary of State. The only problem is that these kids have a condition: when they get upset they burst into flames, but then they're fine. Narrated through Lillian's dead-pan voice, it amazingly becomes a really moving novel about parenting.

— Dafydd Wood, Northshire Bookstore

"Olive, Again" by Elizabeth Strout

To my surprise and amazement Olive is back!! It is amazing that Strout is able to create a character, sometimes so infuriating, to someone so endearing. This wonderfully written novel begins where "Olive Kitteridge" left off, in the small town of Crosby, Maine. It explores her life since Henry has passed away, her old and new relationships. For anyone that loved her in the first book, you are sure to love her even more! Olive never ceases to amaze me and she will always have a special place in my heart alongside my literary favorites.

— Betty, Bartleby's Books

"On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" by Ocean Vuong

Like the best novels, Vuong's debut demonstrates what is possible through language. The narrator writes a letter to his mother, with whom he immigrated to America from Vietnam as a young boy. Through his life and the lives of his family, he reveals the inescapable momentum and violence of politics, war, and profit, which intertwine with personal ancestry and narrative. Also deeply rooted in his story is the scalding, life-giving force of love, which radiates from Vuong's writing. Like my favorite novels, it left me grateful.

— Cathy Taylor, Northshire Bookstore

"Running With Sherman" by Christopher McDougall

This is a heartwarming romp through pastures, trails, and landscapes that most of us have never experienced. Beginning with the rescue of a neglected donkey, the story blossoms into a rewarding journey with an ever-expanding cast of oddball characters and goats and other donkeys that McDougall meets and bonds with. Sherman is a donkey with a pretty much standard burro-shaped heart, who was in need of a kind, understanding, and intuitive home, that he finds thanks to McDougall and his bevy of unique friends.

— Jonathan Fine, Northshire Bookstore

"Spying on the South" by Tony Horowitz

Before he made a name for himself as an architect of public spaces designed to be enjoyed by all walks of society, most famously New York City's Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted was a young farmer and freelance journalist. Assigned to visiting the antebellum American South by the fledgling New York Times, the young writer became "Yeoman Olmsted", a keen observer of Southern mores in an age of radical political and social divide within the United States. One hundred sixty years later, Tony Horowitz has retraced Olmsted's epic trek across the South, from Baltimore to the border of Texas, and through the Eastern Seaboard on down to New Orleans. Horowitz's new book, Spying on the South, is both a travelogue through our contemporary southern states and a history of a landmark journey from the American past. The author uses his and Olmsted's journeys as an exploration of the demons which still divide us as a country, and the places where our commonalities bind us together as a people. It is a timely read, and complimentary addition to similar cultural depictions like "Hillbilly Elegy" and "Strangers in Their Own Land."

— Ana, Bartleby's Books

"Talking to Strangers" by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell digs into the topic of our interactions with strangers and how they can often go wrong in this fascinating new book. Like his other books, The Tipping Point and Blink, Gladwell meticulously researches and tells stories that make complex topics more accessible. From spies to Adolf Hilter, from the Sandra Bland traffic stop to enhanced interrogation techniques/torture, Gladwell challenges long-held beliefs about how we judge whether someone can be trusted or is telling the truth. The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, the trial of Amanda Knox and Brock Turner and Jerry Sandusky are all covered. The tools we use to understand people are broken. A compelling read that makes you think!

— Lisa, Bartleby's Books

"The Ship of Dreams" by Gareth Russell

The Titanic epic told largely from the perspective of six of her first-class passengers, including the naval architect who designed the ship, a movie star, a vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and his 17-year-old son, Isidor Strauss, who founded Macy's Department Store, and Lucy-Noelle-Martha Leslie, the Countess of Rothes. This is an incisive and engrossing account of the ship's evolution and tragic loss that injects intelligent light into an event that is as much enshrouded in legend as Titanic's remains are in the total darkness of the deep ocean. It is both a paean to the genius of the age that gave birth to her and a eulogy for the hubris that doomed her.

— Alden Graves, Northshire Bookstore

"This Was Our Pact" by Ryan Andrews

Every autumn the village places lanterns in the river and lets them float off to the unknown. Legend has it, they become stars. This year, Ben and his friends are determined to follow the lanterns to their end. They make a pact: No one turns for home. No one looks back. Yet, eventually all but Ben and "tag-along" Nathaniel, are left. That will not stop Ben. Tonight is the night for adventure. Even if that adventure includes a talking bear, a busy witch, a giant dog, a rickety gondola boat and catching the sun. Color, or the lack of, plays an important part. Mostly there is blue and dark colors with scattered white and yellow of light. Text and illustrations complement each other perfectly for the 10-to-14 crowd, and adults, too.

— Jeannette, Northshire Bookstore


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