Books Make Good Gifts by Jeni Stewart

XmaspaperAs we’re moving in to the holiday giving season, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorites with you, in case you’re, you know, stuck for gift ideas.  Because I encourage you to give books.  Because books are awesome, and we should all indulge in them more.  And also, you know, support writers and publishers so that people keep making awesome page filled fun for us.

The following are some books I’ve either loved reading this year, or want to give some love to this year.  And poets – you’ll notice there’s no poetry below.  Don’t worry – thats because I have a whole separate post coming about poetry books to watch out for this year!

One of my favorite books this year has to be Lisa O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees.  I just love this book, both for the strength of the narrative voices, and for the poignancy of the story.  It was a quick read, and since Lisa is a new author, this means there will be lots more loveliness to come.  In fact, she has a new book coming out in the States this year.  Don’t worry – we’ll review it here and remind you about it when its out in May!

So, technically this book came out in 2012, but I just read it this summer.  Its a pretty powerful collection of short stories.  I haven’t read a lot of short stories lately, and frankly I don’t know why, because the good ones are better than good.  And there nicely compact little bits that you can easily settle into before bed, over lunch, while waiting on your oil change….  In any case, while there are things I DON’T love about this collection as well, it definitely made me think about putting more short stories in my to be read queue.  Oh yeah!  What book you’re wondering?  It’s Battleborn by Clare Vaye Watkins.  Yeah, its got a lot of press this year.  And definitely worth a look!

I also really enjoyed this new book by Amy Tan, The Valley of Amazement.  Confession: this is the first book by Amy Tan I’ve read.  And while the book has been criticized for not being her best, and for being too long, I found it quite enjoyable, and a refreshing change from other books I’ve been reading recently. What I also find interesting is that there is clearly a short story basically dropped into the middle of the book (it was actually available on Amazon quite some time before the book itself came out).  And at the end in her acknowledgements, Tan says, “Molly Giles, always my first reader, saw the false starts and patiently pushed me forward with astute advice.”  So this makes this book interesting for me as a writer, because if Ms. Tan is still struggling to find the best way to start her books after so many successful ones, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us? 🙂

Next, I actually want to recommend a cookbook.  Okay, okay, you got me.  Its not one I even bought this year.  Its one I got as a present last Christmas, actually, and have been meaning to talk about all year long.  Cue the ticking clock and red face….  In any case, its Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook.  If you’re not familiar with the Smitten Kitchen blog by Deb Perelman, you should be.  Its a great resource for those who both love to cook, and those who are still struggling to find their way in the kitchen.  She breaks receipes down and makes them easy.  She has a huge range of recipes on there, and never skimps on the vegetarian delights.  She even seems to love pizza almost as much as I do.  And the cookbook is pretty great too.  Although, in some ways, the blog itself has become such a rich resource, and one I frequently turn to for ideas and inspiration, I feel almost a little cheated that the book isn’t, well, infinite.  But in any case, I recommend it both as a gift for budding cooks and more experienced kitchenistas.  Try the Wild Rice and Kale Casserole.  I’ve served it both at a dinner party and at a brunch and it never fails to be surprisingly delicious and sneakily healthy.  But don’t tell anyone that bit about the health factor, unless its to entice them to indulge in more mimosas.

I’ve got one final recommendation, and it’s hot off the press.  And thats NO Lit, a new anthology of New Orleans Literature being put out by Lavender Ink and edited by Nancy Dixon.  That this is the first comprehensive collection of literature from New Orleans, a city thats known for producing (and intoxicating) great writers, is surprising.  But rest assured, thats a gap we’ll have no longer.    This is a great gift for any student of the English language – or fan of New Orleans.  Or Faulkner, or Tennessee Williams, or Eudora Welty… and so on.  Plus, you’ll be supporting a great small press as well!

I lied.  I have one more recommendation.  Or plea.  Because I must shamelessly plug our own fundraising campaign again.  Consider donating to our GoFundMe Campaign, and supporting our own small press.  We have a lot of different reward levels, so if you’re not interested in something for yourself, maybe consider donating for someone else.  You can get t-shirts, tote bags, manuscript consultations, registrations for The Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball, and even a writing retreat in Europe.  Also on offer – our undying gratitude!

Whatever you decide to do this holiday season, all of us here wish you a joyous, stress free, whisky and wine filled season of fun!