When I say "Our house is full of books," you may think to yourself, "My, that's wonderful. Reading is great." But, no, it's really FULL OF BOOKS. They are on every conceivable shelf, table, chair, surface, corner and even in the car. We have a lot of books.
We are a family of readers, even our ten year old who has severe dyslexia loves to be read to, and enjoys many graphic novels on his own. We have a wall of children's books on the third floor that encompasses, not only the beloved childhood books of my partner and me but the collection we have amassed over 18 years of parenting. Downstairs I have shelves worth of knitting books, pamphlets, and magazines - including an impressive vintage pattern collection and rare book selection I'm particularly proud of. My partner is an architectural conservator and historian who has a massive collection of books on Victorian building, Philadelphia architecture and history, and historic preservation. Together, we have a fiction and non-fiction book archive that would take more than a lifetime to read. There's the section of high-seas adventure, the Irish fiction, the LGBT history archive (including many, many zines), the feminist theory nook, the multiple books on biodynamic gardening, my extensive Anne of Green Gables collection (there are many editions...), cookbooks - and especially books about food and cooking (How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher is basically required reading for hanging out with me), writing and much, much more. So, without further ado, here are my top picks for book lovers this holiday season!
1/ NPR BOOK CONCIERGE
Every year I wait with baited breath for the release of the annual NPR book concierge. I love to read, but I am busy and often miss what is new. Getting books as gifts always goes over well in our family, and this year is no different. We all like different things, so this app is a handy way to find the dark thriller fantasy novels my sister loves, and the sweet fiction my mom likes, spy novels with a heavy dose of political intrigue for my dad, graphic novels for the kids, as well as a few surprise gems we may need to add to our own bookshelves this year.
2/ COOKING AND CULTURE
I love cookbooks and I love books about food and history. I could pretty much exclusively read about the foods people eat for the rest of my life and be pretty much perfectly happy. Michael W. Twitty's new book, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History In The Old South, is everything I want to read right now. He traces the history of southern food ways through the realities of slavery in a no-holds-barred approach to dissecting the southern, and American, relationship to some of our favorite foods. His own history as a black, Jewish man takes a role in his storytelling, bringing his own truth to the powerful story he tells. This is a must read!
Honorable Mention: The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman.
If you have a very special someone on your list this year, I cannot recommend enough a year-long gift subscription to New York Review Books.
Every month you get a totally amazing book published by NYRB, and it's always something amazing. “NYRB has made a specialty of rescuing and reviving all kinds of ignored or forgotten works,” said The New York Times, “in English or in translation, fiction and nonfiction, by writers renowned and obscure.” I got this as a gift a few years back, and it was totally inspiring. Not for the faint of heart, this is one for the true literary nerd in your life. I found one of my all time favorite books this way, The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson. If you have someone in your life who likes history and adventure, this book is amazing.
4/ SHOP LOCAL
Just like there is nothing better than your local yarn store, there is also no better thing than your local book store. It goes without saying that we support local, independent retailers - and my favorite bookshops in Philly are listed here. There's Marc Lamont Hill's new shop, Uncle Bobbies Coffee and Books in Germantown, woman owned Amalgam Comics in Fishtown, the classic Joseph Fox Bookshop in Rittenhouse Square, and Port Richmond Books in (you guessed it) Port Richmond - who may or may not be open, may or may not offer you a beer, but if you can make the trip it's well worth the visit.
Happy Holidays, and happy reading.