As the Holiday Season draws near there are a crush of responsibilities that clamor for attention at the bookstore. One of them is the production of the Holiday 20: our picks of the top 20 books to give as gifts this Holiday Season. The Holiday 20 serves as both the store’s principal display and handselling center and also provides the materials for two local newspaper Holiday Top Ten lists I make for their Gift Guides. With everything on my plate I am very fortunate that the Year 2015 herself has agreed to help provide the Holiday 20 picks.
Kenny: Thank you for… wait a moment… you’re not the Year 2015!
Librarian of Years: No Kenny, like you the Year 2015 has chosen to delegate some of her responsibilities, so she assigned this task to me. I am the Librarian of Years.
Kenny: I had no idea the Years had a library! How extensive is it?
Librarian of Years: The Library has two sections, the Current Year Reading Room, which is quite extensive by the end of the Year, and the Permanent collection. Only 100 books from each Year are selected for the Permanent collection. The rest of them are given to our woodland creatures to do with what they will. The library was founded in 483 BC. Until 1612 only 50 books were selected, and from then on 100. You can do the math.
Kenny: Wow! Well, I’m very pleased to meet you. Thank you for taking this on!
Librarian of Years: It’s my pleasure, Kenny! All right then, let’s start with my Fiction and Nonfiction picks, bearing in mind, that I chose for bringing fun and engagement to the gift recipient, as opposed to some abstruse concept of importance.
Kenny: Oh, absolutely!
Librarian of Years: Okay, my two picks for Fiction are Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George and Seveneves by Neil Stephenson. Little Paris Bookshop is filled with wonderful turns of speech, delightful characters, poignant drama, and underneath it all the power of stories and of books themselves is played out like a musical instrument. Seveneves is so grounded in good science, solid sociology and astute psychology, that it is an absolute pleasure to be immersed in. Humanity has two years before the fragmentation rate of the moon accelerates exponentially to the point of becoming an apocalyptic event rendering the surface of the planet uninhabitable for 5,000 years. Billions are going to die, but to prevent total extinction a sudden and quantum effort involving both technology and psychology will be required.
At 861 pages, Seveneves is a commitment to be sure. This is no time to be commitment averse, however. First of all the book is only dense in the sense that it hurtles along at enormous speed like an accelerating bolide fragment. In fact, it is such an unusually satisfying reading experience that if the world were going to end in two years I would still recommend spending a chunk of your remaining time reading it.
For Nonfiction I went with Robert Kurson’s Pirate Hunters and Speed Kings by Andrew Bull. I was going to say that these are both exciting and interesting reads filled with unexpected twists and turns, but since Speed Kings is about the 1932 Winter Olympic Bobsled competition, that would be a dubious metaphor to use. The combination of great history, high interest, and exciting subject matter makes for a gestalt nonfiction book. These two are all that.
Kenny: I hear you, though I think H Is for Hawk is a worthy choice too.
Librarian of Years: It is, though I have the woodland creatures to consider, who share the library with the Retired Years.
Kenny: All right so what have you got for Picture Books and Holiday Titles?
Those are always a toughie, but I settled on three picture book picks. First, Tea Party in the Woods, by Akiko Miyakoshi. Its sense of wonder is accentuated by its powerful drawings and muted text. Also its classic adventure in the woods theme make it a great Holiday choice. Next: Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, by Alicia Potter. If you are looking for heart, warmth and wit, you will find them in Miss Hazeltine! Finally, Thank You and Good Night. It sublimely captures so many aspects of childhood: first sleepovers, funny face contests, chicken dances, and not going to sleep yet, the charm, silliness, and wonder of childhood friendships. This delightful book is both a tribute to and a new member of classic bedtime stories.
For Holiday Books my two 2015 choices are The Best Parts of Christmas by Bethanie Deeney Murguia and Merry Christmas, Squirrels! by Nancy Rose. Talk about truth in advertising, The best parts of Christmas is just a delight, a real celebration of everything that means the most in the Holidays. Merry Christmas, Squirrels just had to be here. The circulation among our woodland creatures alone demands it. Mr. Peanuts is back and his friend Cousin Squirrel joins in this holiday themed, preposterously entertaining sequel to The Secret Life of Squirrels.
Kenny: Right ho! What about Middle Grade and Young Adult titles?
Librarian of Years: I have three picks there. First, Kevin Sands’ The Blackthorn Key is a terrific middle grade fantasy. It has a richness of character and setting that makes its other strengths, strong action scenes and engrossing mysteries all the more compelling. It also brings a very authentic historical backdrop into the story: the fascinating world of medieval apothecaries, which demonstrates that real history is the best partner a fantasy can have. My next pick is Ursula Vernon’s Castle Hangnail. Talk about a fantasy story loaded with kid appeal and all the charm and character to make a great choice as a read aloud. Finally, my YA choice is Nimona. I mean, who would want to cross her? Seriously though, she did remind me of some of the Years around here. What a book! Nimona is a graphic novel that really accentuates all the strengths of that genre, while bringing in a highly original story and tone sure to captivate its readers. It is a moving story, and so funny at points.
Kenny: Those are great choices but what about Dory Fantsmagory and the Real True Friend and Half Wild? OMG!
Librarian of Years: Well, I tried to stay away from second books in a series, no matter how worthy,
Kenny: Touche! All right then, what about our other categories?
Librarian of Years: Well for cookbooks, my two favorites are NOPI, I mean you can’t touch Ottolenghi for sensational layout and great recipes, and Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year, her glorious account of cooking her way back to peak form. My first Gift Book pick book pick is Thunder and Lightning by Sarah Redness. What an unusual and amazing coffee table book that is! It is so fascinating and so beguiling from a visual point of view. Speaking of which, I had to pick Polar, the new photicular book by Dan Kainen and Carol Kaufman. Just opening the front cover flap and watching the penguins wiggle is enough to seal the deal. Too cute!
For humor I kept it straight and went with the two funniest books out this year, namely Poorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories by Reza Farazm and Deep Dark Fears by Fran Krause. I admit to having considered going with Mal Peet’s great The Murdstone Trilogy: A Novel, but when I thought of what Morl might do to me if I categorized the book as Humor I decided against it.
Finally, I know you need two Maine books. I picked out Kate Christensen’s culinary memoir, How to Cook a Moose. The sly nod to MFK Fisher is well earned. For a Maine-themed kid’s book what could be better than Cynthia Lord’s A Handful of Stars, a wonderful friendship story with a sprinkling of social awareness. Isn’t that what the Holidays should bring?
Kenny: It is. Thank you so much! These are great choices and will certainly make my job easier.
Librarian of Years: Happy to help. But I hope you are not thinking of plagiarizing my words for your gift guides, Kenny?!
Kenny: Hem hem. Wouldn’t think of it!