If you can believe it, the 2021 holiday season is upon us.
As is true for many industries, the book industry is suggesting you do the gift buying for the reader in your life early this year—with supply chain problems causing delays left and right.
We want to help. Here, the WD team shares which books have made great gifts to give you some inspiration this holiday season.
Michael Woodson, Editor
I grew up in a mixed-faith home, where we celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah—and in the middle of all of it lands my birthday. So gift-giving for my loved ones has always been something of a battle for them, poor things. But I always tell them that which is true: “Just get me books.”
In a rapid-fire style Q&A, I was once asked what my favorite book was of all time. To my surprise, I said Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. And while I think this is an impossible question to answer, and one that is by its nature ever-changing, there is truth to it—I adore this book and always have.
In the fall of 2015, my now-husband and I were having our engagement photos taken at a beautiful used bookstore in Cincinnati called the Ohio Book Store when I came across a hardcopy version of Tuck Everlasting with its original cover illustration from 1975. I couldn’t believe it, but in the chaos of taking photos, I’d put it down somewhere and forgotten to pick it back up. It’s considered one of the more thoughtless moments of my life.
Then on Christmas day of that same year, Josh presents me with the book. He’d gone back looking for it one afternoon, retracing our steps until he found it. Needless to say, I knew I made the right choice in a life partner.
Tuck Everlasting is a classic for a reason. Though few in pages, it’s a beautifully written story about love, loss, and the world around us. To this day, I think it has the most stunning opening paragraph of any book I’ve ever read. It’s the perfect book for the reader in your life this holiday season, and reprints of the original cover are also available for purchase.
Moriah Richard, Managing Editor
Picture this: It’s the mid-1990s, and you’re out to dinner at Pizza Hut with your mother, spouse, and child. This was back when Pizza Hut had that cool little toy-and-book section where kids could go and pick stuff up to occupy themselves while everyone ate and had a great time.
Your four-year-old wanders over to this section and brings back a book. She sits next to your mother, opens to the first page, and begins reading out loud.
Wait, she’s reading? You and your husband look at each other.
“Do we have that book at home?” Husband asks.
“No,” you answer.
And that’s exactly how my parents learned that I’d taught myself to read.
When I say that I’ve always loved to read, I really, really mean it. I think that when we think about our favorite books, we neglect the books that really sparked our love of reading in the first place. Sure, I may not sit around re-reading picture books all day, but I would be remiss not to mention Chessie, the Travelin' Man written by Randy Houk and illustrated by Paula Bartlett, a book that changed my life.
My Nana (the grandmother in the Pizza Hut story) bought me Chessie when I was 4. Until then, I’d never heard of a manatee. But after? I was obsessed. I asked for manatee night lights and plushies, and books and books and books. For most of my childhood, I told everyone who would listen that I was going to become a marine biologist and save the manatees.
Obviously, my life has taken me a little left of center of that goal. But I’m still someone who is active in local efforts to keep the Chesapeake Bay safe, someone who donates to manatee preservation organizations, and someone who launches into an overly enthusiastic rant about how wonderful manatees are when a stranger points at my ankle and goes, “I love your tattoo! Is that a walrus?” And it’s all thanks to a picture book by Randy Houk.
So, the next time you buy a book for a child in your life, remember—you could be giving them something that can change their world.
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Amy Jones, Editor-in-Chief
I met one of my closest friends in college and one of the things we connected about was our love for travel. Over the years, we’ve taken numerous trips together, visiting tourist spots and lesser-known places alike.
On a particularly memorable trip, I’d researched how to get to Sissinghurst, where Virginia Woolf used to visit Vita Sackville-West, only to discover it wasn’t a quick train ride away. It was two long train rides, a bus ride to the side of a random country road, and then a mile or so walk along said random road, in the rain, to the home (which also had a mile-long driveway). That same trip also involved accidentally eating microwaved past in Pisa and getting stuck in an elevator at JFK on the way home.
As often happens though, our lives have taken different paths and we haven’t been able to travel together in some time (but we’re neighbors with keys to each other’s homes—this isn’t a sad story!). She got married and had kids; I got cats and started traveling solo.
On my first solo trip to Italy in 2016, I decided to stay in Lucca, a small city northwest of Florence. We had visited it together during one of our previous trips and were enchanted by it. I liked the idea of staying in a place that was new enough to still offer new discoveries, offered easy access to other nearby towns and cities, and was familiar enough I’d feel comfortable there alone.
I found all the guidebooks to Tuscany that I could: Rick Steves, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and more. But for my birthday that year, my friend surprised me by finding a niche travel guide called The Wanderer’s Guide to Lucca. In it, Brian R. Lindquist offers a comprehensive guide to Lucca’s founding, the key families in its history, and several detailed walking tours that show off 78 former and current churches, 85 grand (or formerly grand) homes, and the Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance fortification walls which are in different states of existence now. Also included was a map showing what the city currently looks like overlayed with the historical structures so you can see what was there and what is there.
Thanks to my friend and that book, I saw parts of Lucca I never would have noticed. It enriched my experience and now when I open that book, I’m transported back to a city I love. Consider gifting a niche travel guide this year because you’ll also be gifting optimism.
Robert Lee Brewer, Senior Editor
To tell you the truth, deciding the best book I ever received as a gift was not as easy as I originally thought it should be. I mean, books have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. So much so that I thought writing about the gift of public libraries and a library card would probably be the direction I took with this.
My mother would take us regularly, and the children section was in the basement, which made it feel even more like an adventure—perusing books about sports, movie monsters, and mysteries. Every week or two, I’d receive a new load of gifted books (that, of course, I had to return) that helped grow my world and vocabulary. It’s something my mother continued to do even as late as when I was in high school. So yes, parents, please be sure to take your children to the library and surround them with books—and gift them a library card.
As a parent myself, I’ve enjoyed taking my own kids to the library. It’s always interesting to see what each child wants to read. And since I’m married to another English major, we’ve accumulated our own substantial personal library filled with selections for children and adults of all ages on a range of subjects. Surrounding my children with books has led to all five of them at different points in their lives creating their own homemade books, which is a pleasure in and of itself.
But to answer the question: What is the best book I ever received as a gift? Well, it’s actually very, very recent. My oldest son (now in college) bought a copy of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric for me. This gift was not for a special occasion (not my birthday or for some holiday); it was just a gift—he saw this book of poetry, heard it was good, and thought I would enjoy it. This sort of “book thoughtfulness” makes me believe the thread that began with my mother taking us to the library as a child will continue long into the future, and there’s no greater gift than that.