There’s no getting around it, tablets and e-readers are here to stay — at least until some new technology renders them obsolete. But most likely there will always be those book lovers among us who hold dear the weight of a hefty hardback book in their hands, who relish the scent of freshly printed paper, the whish of a turned page.
There will always be that bibliophile eager to reveal something about themselves to a new friend through the loan of a favorite dog-eared volume, not to mention the pencil-wielding reader who underlines passages, scrawls notes in the margins and reads in the bathtub.
At least for the time being, there will be those people for whom virtual books just will not do, and it’s with those readers in mind that these three books are recommended for the holiday gift-giving season.
‘The Books They Gave Me’
Freelance writer Jen Adams struck a nerve when she created a blog inviting readers to write short essays about books they received as gifts and the people who gave them. And, as successful blogs are wont to do, it has spawned a book: “The Books They Gave Me” (Free Press, $19.99).
Most of the 200 or so featured titles were bestowed upon the recipients by past lovers and, based on the essays, the ability of each volume to engage the recipient — or not — seems to be an indicator (in hindsight) of the relationship’s ultimate success or failure. On the gift of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” one recipient says: “I was nineteen. He was thirty. I’m not sure he thought this gift through.”
Many of the titles are penned by literary heavyweights — Salinger, Neruda, Bukowski, Du Bois, Vonnegut. But sprinkled throughout are children’s books, cookbooks and a surprising number of books by Augusten Burroughs. The short essays that accompany each title alternate between ironic observations on how a particular book speaks to some deeper truth between the giver and the recipient, or bittersweet reminiscences of love affairs so fleeting that the only reminders are the books left behind.
Essays aside, “The Books They Gave Me” serves as an excellent source of recommended titles when the stack of books on your bedside table has dwindled.
‘My Ideal Bookshelf’
Another good resource for reading recommendations is “My Ideal Bookshelf” (Little, Brown and Co., $24.99). Edited by Thessaly La Force and illustrated by Jane Mount, it reveals a peek into the personal libraries of more than 100 contemporary cultural figures.
Each contributor was asked to select a handful of titles that represent his or her current favorites and to write a short essay about them. Among the contributors are local luminaries chef Hugh Acheson (“The Taste of Country Cooking” by Edna Lewis) and architects Merrill Elam and Mack Scogin (Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”). There are musicians: Rosanne Cash (“Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and Patti Smith (“Collected Poems” by Allen Ginsberg). And filmmakers: Judd Apatow (“Seize the Day” by Saul Bellow) and Mira Nair (“Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie).
But the real thrill is seeing what books your favorite writers treasure most, like discovering that you and Mary Karr both cherish Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That Dave Eggers draws inspiration from Joan Didion’s “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.” That Junot Diaz has a soft spot for Richard Adams’ “Watership Down.”
Mount’s colorful illustrations of book spines add a whimsical touch that makes the volume worthy of coffee-table display.
If bookstores are “the physical manifestation of the wide world’s longest, best, most thrilling conversation,” as novelist Richard Russo says in the introduction, then “My Bookstore” (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $23.95) is a series of monologues on a single theme: affection for the independent bookseller.
In this collection of essays, established authors from Dave Eggers to Louise Erdrich and John Grisham to Henry Louis Gates Jr. opine on their favorite bookstores and, by extension, their unbridled love of all things books related. A local entry features Atlanta novelist David Fulmer espousing the joys of Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, but Ann Patchett’s love letter to McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., is so inspired, she makes the reader feel as though being anywhere but there is a tragic mistake. And that’s some endorsement considering she has a bookstore of her own in Nashville.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.