I don’t think it will surprise anyone if I state that when it comes to gift giving, I give books. Specifically, used books. (See the blog on Top Five Reasons to Shop East Side Books for further explanation.) Occasionally, I throw in a batch of baked goods and a handmade craft or two, but the book is a given. Although I always try to match the perfect book to the right person, there are some favorite titles that I find myself giving again and again. Curious, I asked owner Diane Doonan and well-read, fellow employee Kim, if they too had favorite books that they found themselves giving over and over again. To my delight, they did, titles different from mine and some I haven’t even read yet. (Hint…Hint…)
Diane quickly rattled off a list of favorites children’s books starting with The Children’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson, also the author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, wrote these beautiful and whimsical poems for his own children. In continuous print since 1885 when it was originally published, The Children’s Garden of Verses is considered a classic. Diane has lost count of how many sets of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books she has given as gifts. A childhood favorite, she thinks the pioneer period is an important cultural aspect of our history that should be appreciated. She also loves the picture book Mama, Do You Love Me?, a story set in Alaska with beautiful illustrations and a timeless message of the limitless love a parent has for a child. For the teenagers on her list, Diane gives them a copy of Douglas Adams’ series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, described as one of the funniest spoof on science fiction ever written. Diane says this is a book that teens don’t tend to find on their own, but love the ironic humor once they read it.
Kim’s list consisted of a little bit of everything–thoughtful nonfiction as well as quality literature and even some light escapism. First on her list was Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Kim describes this slim volume, a classic first published in 1955, as “a great reminder to slow down and care for one’s soul. I read it every year on vacation.” From Lindbergh’s nonfiction introspection, Kim dives right into a fictional journey of self-discovery with the recommendation of The River Why by David James Duncan. A tale of fishing and much more, this book is frequently a top ten book favorite for male readers. The title Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund is a book Kim recommended me and that I have shared with many others. Kim describes it as “a beautiful, lyrical story that is one to be savored.” If you need a gift of well-written, intelligent historical fiction, Kim recommends the bestselling, award-winning Outlander series by Diane Gabaldon. A combination of history, romance, and time travel, this series is escapism at its best. On the lighter side, Kim recommends the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich which starts with One for the Money. She says she has “given this book again and again” and that it is “absolutely the funniest series I have ever read.”
I have a few recommendations of my own. The first are a trio of books that I call Coming-of-Age stories. These titles are Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, Joy School by Elizabeth Berg, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Although these are three very different books, what they have in common is a strong young female protagonist who uses the bumps in the road to learn about who she is. I’d love for any of these girls to be a daughter of mine. Next, I recommend anything by Willa Cather and Edna Ferber, both Pultizer Prize winning authors, who write of the midwest with a sharp eye and beautiful language. My Antonia and O Pioneers! are the most well known work of Cather although I loved The Song of a Lark. Not as beautifully written as the other two, the storyline has stayed with me for over 20 years. I just discovered Ferber in the last few years and it is like discovering a gold mine. So Big is my favorite so far. For a modern take on the themes of Cather and Ferber, check out the work of Kent Haruf. Plainsong is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking novels I have ever read from the first line to the last. For a unique exploration of landscape, mother-daughter relationships, and breast cancer, I give the perfectly rendered Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams. Williams is one of the most articulate non-fiction writers working today. Another is Gretel Ehrlich, the author of the amazing collections of essays Solace of Open Spaces and Islands, the Universe, and Home. Her keen eye and lovely imagery makes Ehrlich an author to savor. Also excellent is her book A Match to the Heart, her experience of being struck by lightening. Lastly, I have given away a number of copies of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. I read this book in my twenties and it began a journey of shifting my whole way of seeing things.
If you are looking for that perfect gift for each person on your list, stop by East Side Books and let us help you. Nothing makes us happier than helping match the right book with the right person. The above books are the titles we tend to give over and over again, but we each have lengthy lists of books that we would love to recommend and help you find.