Paperback presents
Giving the gift of the ‘perfect book’

by Joe Foster

Being a bookish fellow, I’ve always found a certain satisfaction in giving someone the perfect book. There are few gifts more personal, and ever fewer more meaningful. As an advertisement I saw recently says, “Books: because a scented candle never changed someone’s life.” The right book to the right person at the right time can be a gift they’ll always remember.

It’s a daunting enterprise, though. There are hundreds of thousands of new books published every year, with millions already in existence. Here, I’ve narrowed it down to my four favorite new books, in my opinion the strongest books of the season.

The first is the no-brainer stocking stuffer gift of the year: J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Scholastic Books). A lovely small hardcover priced around $13, it is an addendum of sorts to the Harry Potter series. A selection of fairy tales translated by Hermione Granger with commentary by Albus Dumbledore himself. The sales on this book benefit the charity that Rowling and Baronness Emma Nicholson started in 2005 – The Children’s High Level Group, aimed at improving the lives of marginalized and institutionalized children – which makes Beedle a gift to feel good about. Besides, you know you want to read it, too.

The next is another stunning novel by Nobel Prize Winner Toni Morrison, author of Beloved, The Bluest Eye, etc. This new one, A Mercy (Knopf Publishing Group), reads like a prelude to Beloved, the lyricism that Morrison is famous for builds layer upon layer in this short novel. Set in the 1600s, A Mercy explores the question of slavery and loss while displaying the brutal act of forging a new nation from an unforgiving wilderness. Showing the strength that exists as counterpoint to loss, and the hope that exists alongside suffering, Morrison’s story is beautiful and haunting.

Then we come to the most beautiful photography book of the season, Canyon Wilderness of the Southwest by Jon Ortner (Welcome Books). This enormous and imposing tribute to the canyons so many of us love weighs in at a hefty 10 pounds and carries a $195 price tag. It seems exorbitant at first blush, but after one takes the time to explore the book, the price makes sense. Beautifully illustrated, with fold-out pages that stretch out to panoramas of almost 6 feet, this collector’s limited edition covers Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Grand Gulch, Petrified Forest National Park, Hopi Tribal Lands, Grand Canyon National Park, and Navajo tribal lands. This book is perfect.

If you pay attention to book news, you’ve heard of this final tome: Roberto Bolano’s 2666 (Farrar Straus Giroux). Chilean born Bolano surged onto the American literary scene just last year, three years after his death, with The Savage Detectives, a brilliant and violent look at life in Mexico City. Adored by critics, Bolano’s work has been compared in importance to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, the two heavy-hitters of the Latin American literature scene. This newest work, 2666, was written in the last few years of Bolano’s life, a daunting magnum opus, and a daring swan song the likes of which literature has truly never seen. This book is so intense that it infected my dreams. Set in five loosely connected sections, Bolano uses, as the core of his story, the real-life brutal murders of hundreds of women in the fictional border town of Santa Teresa. The brutality and sheer scope of these deaths serve as an anchor for the stories within stories within stories that sometimes meander and others times jolt the reader from world to world, and from mind to mind. This book is no easy ride page-turner for the lover of romances and mysteries, but a very serious work of great literature, a work of genius the magnitude of which we may never see again in our lifetimes. It was also just named by the New York Review of Books as one of the top 10 books of the year, and just chosen by Time Magazine as the Best Book of the Year.

Happy holidays, happy reading, and remember to Buy Local. •



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows