This year, Bookselling This Week surveyed the staff of the American Booksellers Association to find out what books they are reading and what books they are giving as gifts this holiday season. Here are their answers (names in alphabetical order):
Emily Behnke, Junior Writer/Researcher
What I’m reading: I was a bit overzealous and made a long list of spooky books I wanted to get to in October that I’m still working through, so I just finished Yōko Ogawa’s Revenge (Picador), which is a collection of loosely interconnected, creepy short stories, and started Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Riverhead), a perfect, wintry literary thriller. I’ve also been dipping in and out of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when I’m in the mood for something lighter (and perhaps more seasonally appropriate).
What I’m gifting: I haven’t quite decided who’s getting what yet, but I’d like to gift Disappearing Earth by Julia Philips (Knopf), which made me noticeably weepy as I read it during my commute, but was so good I kept bringing it anyway (much to other passengers’ dismay, probably), as well as Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Flatiron Books) and Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead), two other favorites I read this year.
Molly Bond, Advocacy and Public Policy Coordinator
What I’m reading: I just started reading Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet (Columbia Global Reports) by David Kaye. Kaye will be a guest on the January Counterspeak podcast. It is such a timely read given news of social media platforms censoring content and governments shutting down the internet to quash anti-government sentiments in authoritarian countries.
Kate Brennan, Membership Assistant
What I’m reading: I’m currently reading A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson (Celadon Books). I am also looking forward to reading the stories in Grand Union by Zadie Smith (Penguin Random House) during the holiday season.
What I’m gifting: I am giving my friend Anyone by Charles Soule (Harper Perennial). He is a big sci-fi fan so I’m hoping he enjoys it. I am giving my mom the 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die Page-A-Day Calendar by James Mustich (Workman). My mom loved Mustich’s book and she was excited when the calendar was announced.
Liz Button, Senior Writer/Researcher
What I’m reading: I’m currently reading Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Vintage) by Lawrence Wright since I’m planning to rewatch the HBO documentary soon.
What I’m gifting: This holiday season, I’m giving Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (Henry Holt), the 2019 National Book Award winner, to my sister, who is always looking for something edgy and engaging to read. I’ll be giving Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush (Milkweed Editions) to a friend.
Gen de Botton, ABC Children’s Group Manager
What I’m reading: I’m re-reading Little Women in anticipation of the movie release on December 25 (I keep hoping I’ll fall in love with Amy March, but it’s an uphill battle). I am also reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). This book. Read it. Everyone.
What I’m gifting: Every holiday season I gift a children’s book to my family members. Kids’ books aren’t just for kids and this year I’m giving Mac Barnett’s The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown (Balzer + Bray). The first time I read it, I cried. The second time I read it, I cried a bit more. Mac Barnett has really outdone himself with this one.
Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, Chief Operating Officer
What I’m reading: Over the holidays I’ll be reading the last of the Indies Introduce titles that I haven’t completed or read, including: Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné (World Editions), Stand Up Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim (Kokila), Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith (HarperTeen), and Layoverland by Gabby Noone (Razorbill). Plus authors who will be speaking at Wi15: Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jenny Boylan (Celadon) and Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit (Viking). And books I’ve been waiting to read during the holidays: Find Me by André Aciman (FSG) and The Resisters by Gish Jen (Knopf).
What I’m gifting: As for the books I’m giving, the list is very long. I’ve been shopping and visiting indie stores all year gathering piles of books for family and friends. This year they are all being “wrapped” in recycled bags or newspapers.
Dave Grogan, Director of ABFE, Advocacy & Public Policy
What I’m reading: I’m reading Sanctus by Simon Toyne (Harper).
Sydney Jarrard, Content Director
What I’m reading: I’m behind the curve so I’m reading the utterly fascinating Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (Simon & Schuster) in between heart-wrenching chapters of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron Books).
Alison Larkin, Book Data Assistant
What I’m reading: I’m reading Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro (Knopf Publishing Group). A spur-of-the-moment DNA genealogy test and an entire life and family crumbles with the weight of the secret — I have the feeling that there could be many more stories like this that will be discovered. Loved it. And what I’ll be suggesting to anyone who will listen to me: Red Notice by Bill Browder (Atlas Contact). Russia, money, corruption, murder, and Putin. A real-life thriller. Loved it.
Melissa Napolitano, Graphic Designer
What I’m reading: I finally just read my summer pick, Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine Books). I was delightfully surprised by how much I loved this book about a fictional rock band in the ’70s! The documentary style of storytelling made it easy to not only enjoy but sympathize with the intricately crafted characters. Next on my list is Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books). A sweet and sexy modern love story with humor? I’m in!
What I’m gifting: Some books I’m giving as gifts for the boys in my life, both big and small, are Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop (HarperOne), a kick-in-the-butt self-help book for my husband; the graphic novel The Iliad by Gareth Hinds (Candlewick Press) for my nine-year-old who just enjoyed reading The Odyssey; and Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel by Adam Rubin (Dial Books) for my almost-four-year-old because, after all, who doesn’t love tacos?
Daniel O’Brien, Senior Membership Manager
What I’m Reading: I’m reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (Harper Voyager); it’s always a good time for dystopia in dystopia-esque days. I just started, but the opening scenes are expectedly Le Guin-esque, that is, world-buildy, and I expect another great read. The Left Hand of Darkness is one of my all-time favorites and, somehow, I’ve never made my way through this classic. So here I go! Also, I’m reading The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi (Yale University Press). I always have to include a poetry title because the genre does not get enough readership for all the wrong reasons. (Shout out to my poetry booksellers out there!) This is one of my favorites I’ve read this year. It also reads as a Maggie Nelson-esque, diaristic, reflective collection of vignettes on the poet’s experience as a young trans person of color navigating transition, coming-of-age, and the experiences of a young artist at work on their craft. It’s just a compelling collection, and simple, by which I mean precise — through both its use of images and language.
What I’m Gifting: The Little People, Big Dreams series (Lincoln Children’s Books). The David Bowie version sits face-out on my office bookshelf, but there’s one of these books for every little person in your life. I adore this series, and the author, Isabel Sánchez Vegara, came to Children’s Institute and was just like her books: passionate, enthusiastic, and upbeat! Now, her books are my go-to for kids! “And by never being afraid to be himself, little David became the most unique star who ever fell to Earth.” Delightful!
Also, Oscar Wilde’s The Critic as Artist. I bought this from Books & Books at the Miami Book Fair. I wanted something small (size and length), aesthetically pleasing, and humorous. Of course, it’s searing, as all of Wilde’s best work is…and actually a fabulous gift if you get the David Zwirner ekphrasis series edition. Perfect for your snobby art friends, your cultural critic friends, or anyone who appreciates wit.
Ryan Quinn, IndieCommerce Specialist
What I’m reading: I started with Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine Books) and am already through about five others. Next up is Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert (Carina Press), who isn’t an author I’ve read before so I’m extra excited about it. I’m hoping to have read 31 books by the end of December (recommendations welcome!). As for why — because I love the romance genre, and this particular theme just adds to the fun and joy of the holiday season for me.
What I’m gifting: For books I’m giving, well, this year I’ve sort of gone backward. I purchased two books that I thought were really fantastic in their own ways and couldn’t put either of them down…now I need to find people to gift them to! They are Mostly the Honest Truth by Jody J. Little (HarperCollins) and The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis (Headline Review).
Pete Reynolds, Project Manager
What I’m reading: I’m currently reading Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here (Ecco) and enjoying it very much. The story is like none I’ve ever read before — very funny and quite poignant as well. I’m looking forward to reading his earlier novel The Family Fang soon (Ecco).
What I’m gifting: I’m gifting Elton John’s Me (Henry Holt & Company), and Prince’s The Beautiful Ones (Spiegel & Grau/Random House) this year to a friend who is a fan of both artists!
Jessica Stauffer, Program and Development Coordinator
What I’m reading: I’m currently reading Little Weirds by Jenny Slate (Little, Brown and Company), which is perfect for reading in snippets over lunch. It’s heartwarming and absurd and I love it, so I will also be gifting it this holiday.
What I’m gifting: Extended family members who love nature writing and have had a hand in caring for aging parents will be receiving copies of Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions), which might be one of my most recommended books since it was selected for Indies Introduce this past summer. And finally: I wish, wish, wish that Such a Fun Age, an Indies Introduce debut and January Indie Next List pick by Kiley Reid (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), was going to be on sale before all my gifting will be occurring… maybe some folks will receive a voucher for a pre-ordered copy.