It's getting to be that time. You know, that time when we start thinking about Christmas, when the ornaments and tree lights sit right next to the costumes and fall leaf wreaths in the stores.
I'm all about giving books for presents. And I'm all about trying to foist my choices for best books of the year on others! So here are my recommendations for the best book presents of the year:
1. 2012 Pen/O'Henry Prize Stories: I read this collection every year and I have to say that this is one of the finest of them all. One of the stories, "The Hare's Mask," by Mark Slouka, will haunt me for years.
2. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed: More than a collection of advice columns, Strayed's book is essays on life. Every person on your list will see themselves in these columns.
3. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson: Adam Johnson went to North Korea to research this novel about an anti-hero named Pak Jun Do. This is a look into this country that will chill you, but Johnson also brings humor to the story.
4. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: In this dystopian novel, the earth begins spinning more slowly on its axis. Days and nights lengthen and life changes in ways that no one could imagine.
5. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: A fictionalized account of the journey of "picture brides" - women who were brought from Japan to San Francisco early in the last century.
6. Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Meghan Mayhew Bergman: Humans and nature are woven together to create these beautiful short stories. Bergman is a writer to watch.
7. The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Roarke: As compassionate a book on terminal illness and death and grief as you'll find these days. I've given this book to more people than I can count, and they all are grateful.
8. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon: One of my favorite writers, (his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is still high on my list too) Chabon has done it again! Using a used record store called Brokeland Records and a quirky cast of characters, Chabon brings us into the world of Archy and Nat and their midwife wives.
9. Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes: Based on a true story, this novel reads like non-fiction. One veteran of the war told me it was the most chilling and realistic novel he had read about Vietnam.
10. And my #1 best book read this year is...TA DA...In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin. Helprin wrote another of my all-time favorite books and war novels, A Soldier of the Great War. This new one is set in New York City after World War II. I fell in love with every one of the characters and the setting of old New York was a fabulous backdrop for the story.
So, shop on and shop local, my reading friends, and if you decide to buy a book or two for yourself, just say yes when the salesperson asks if you want it gift-wrapped. You can always use the paper for something else.
PS Mark Helprin, Karl Marlantes, Michael Chabon, Meghan Mayhew Bergman, Adam Johnson, Cheryl Strayed and some of the Pen/O'Henry editors have all read at my most wonderful local bookstore, Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh. I am so fortunate to have them in my city!