Windows into Other Worlds: Gifts for the 2022 Holidays, North American Authors

To give a book is to give a window into another world. Here are five gift ideas for the 2022 Holidays. Today, North American authors. See last week for British authors.

First, a mystery/detective suggestion:

The Sweet Goodbye by Ron Corbett, 2022. Corbett has been nominated for both the Edgar and Arthur Ellis awards. The Sweet Goodbye is a complex tale of deceit and retribution set in the wild timberlands of Maine. Like Ian Rankin, Corbett doesn’t dish out genteel whodunits. However, Corbett’s fictional violence isn’t gratuitous; it’s part of life in the hinterland. [Be aware: The Sweet Goodbye may not suit fans of cozy mysteries.]

On Foot to Canterbury: A Son’s Pilgrimage by Ken Haigh, 2021. Shortlisted for the 2021 Hilary Weston Prize (Nonfiction). Do you have a traveler, hiker, or lover of English history and literature on your gift list? On Foot to Canterbury recounts a walk from Winchester to Canterbury, England, hiking the Pilgrims’ Way. The book delves deeply into England’s past. Haigh weaves together three main threads — travel memoir, English literature, and English history — producing a vibrant tapestry. 

Stray Dogs by Rawi Hage, 2022. Shortlisted for the Giller Prize. Stray Dogs is a collection of sharply-etched stories ranging from Beirut to Montreal to Baghdad. All are sparsely told; all unfold with a quick, addictive pace. Full disclosure: A few of the stories didn’t grab me, but I’m hard to please. 🙂 Regardless, Stray Dogs delivers far more delights than disappointments.

American War by Omar El Akkad, 2017. El Akkad won the 2021 Giller Prize for What Strange Paradise. American War is told with taut, clean prose. The novel’s apocalyptic post-oil storyline brings to mind Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The plot is inventive and disquieting. The post-oil world is artfully rendered. NB: The first 100 pages get mired in a few ruts. After that, the novel takes off.

A Season on Vancouver Island by Bill Arnott, 2022. Arnott is the award-winning author of numerous travel books and novellas. If your prospective giftee has visited Vancouver Island or plans to, present them with A Season on Vancouver Island, a travel memoir for all seasons. Arnott’s writing is humorous, poetical, and illuminating. For those yet to visit one of the world’s most majestic islands (and its surrounding archipelago), the book will whet their appetite and inform their journey. For those who’ve been there, the book will bring them back – to, as Arnott describes it, the language of ravens and the sound of sea-wash.

Windows into Other Worlds: Gifts for the 2022 Holidays, British Authors

To give a book is to give a window into another world. Here are four gift ideas for the 2022 Holidays. Today, British authors; next week, North American authors.

First, a mystery/detective suggestion:

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, 2005. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize (Barnes won it for The Sense of an Ending, 2011). Arthur & George should appeal to aficionados of detective fiction as well as literary fiction. The novel retells the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes’ creator) championing a lowly solicitor named George Edalji. Arthur & George aired as a TV mini-series in 2015.

Lessons by Ian McEwan, 2022. If you know someone who likes long, contemplative novels, Lessons could fit the bill. {NB: It weighs in at 448 pages, which could be too long for some.} Like Julian Barnes, Booker-prize winner McEwan is an elegant stylist. Lessons features a worldly plot and vivid detail, such that a social anthropologist could read it hundreds of years from now and form a solid picture of the novel’s era: post-WW II.

Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes, 2022. In Elizabeth Finch, Barnes has created a memorable character, a stoic, erudite Londoner. Finch is a beacon of light to the novel’s protagonist. She propels him to write a study of Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. NB: The novel is a philosophical exploration as much as a contemporary narrative. If your prospective giftee favours novels salted with metaphysics or antiquity, Elizabeth Finch is sure to please them.

Inside Story by Martin Amis, 2020. McEwan, Barnes, and Amis are considered three of the best British authors of the post-war period. Although subtitled A Novel, Inside Story is largely biographical. Amis regales readers with unique insights, both frivolous and cerebral. He grew up in a time and place of, let’s say, amorous exuberance (Swinging London, 1960s-70s). The novel uncorks womanizing and braggadocio, but also poignancy, self-doubt, and generosity of spirit. If your giftee admires inventive prose and unabashed characters, this is a book for them.

Windows into Other Worlds: Gifts for the 2021 Holidays

To give a book is to give a window into another world. Here are a few gift ideas for the 2021 Holidays.

First, my crime fiction suggestion:

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin, 2021. In The Dark Remains, Rankin completes an unfinished McIlvanney novel after his fellow Scotsman’s death. The story warms up slowly but is bubbling at the end. You can’t go wrong with Rankin, the King of Scottish Noir.

Bewilderment by Pulitzer-prize-winner Richard Powers, 2021. Bewilderment is set in the near-future, in a time of ecological collapse. Few adults are willing to confront the collapse. As with most dystopian fiction, there are didactic passages. However, the storyline eclipses them, as does Powers’ vision, which goes beyond the dystopic. A father and his son wrestle with the collapse, hoping that science will offer respite. It doesn’t. But the son’s love does.

Ring by André Alexis, 2021. Ring is a philosophical inquiry as much as a novel, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you have a literary fiction aficionado on your list, especially of 19th century fiction, Ring should please them. They’ll enter a contemplative world set in Toronto, a novel of manners à la Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy.

No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain, 2007. In a previous post, I noted that Kitchen Confidential is my favourite Bourdain book. No Reservations runs a close second. No one would call Bourdain an earth-shattering writer yet he’s pensive as well as informative. This book delivers an entertaining combination of food and travel, two things many people miss these days.

Gifting Books: The 2020 Holidays

Not so long ago, nouns didn’t double as verbs. You didn’t gift a book. You gave one. 😉 But grammar evolves. It’s 2020. It’s the Holidays too. To give a book is to give a window into another world.

Here are three titles I recommend:

NON-FICTION

Feel Free by Zadie Smith, 2018. Thirty-one engaging essays, ranging from pieces about Smith’s homeland (England) to literature, dance, art, and popular culture. Smith is a rare writer: although she’s erudite and lofty, her prose is warm and inviting. I’d love to have a conversation with her – on any topic.

FICTION

Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson, 2020. A 2020 Giller Prize finalist; sequel to The Outlander, a Giller Prize finalist in 2012.

In Ridgerunner, Adamson entwines two genres – mystery and western – to create a captivating morality tale. The characters inhabit a Wild West that’s both lost and still with us.

Last but not least, my crime pick:

Exit Music by Ian Rankin, 2007. As I did last year, I’m suggesting a novel by Rankin, the King of Scottish Noir. Although Rankin has written many recent novels, I rate Exit Music above them. It’s the seventeenth Inspector Rebus novel. Rebus is three days from retirement but he’s not going out with a whimper. Ach, nae, not John Rebus. He revels in righting wrongs.

Windows into Other Worlds

To give a book is to give a window into another world. Even if I like a particular author, I rarely give one of their books blindly, without first reading it.

Books are entirely subjective. You never know if a book will satisfy someone or, better yet, thrill them. Regardless, here are some titles I recommend (most are recent):

NON-FICTION

Figures In A Landscape by Paul Theroux, 2018. Essays for all seasons, from travel pieces to literary criticism to profiles of Elizabeth Taylor, Oliver Sacks, and Robin Williams. Full disclosure: One, I skimmed a few non-travel essays that didn’t grab me. Two, I’m not a fan of any of Theroux’s fiction.

The Rub of Time by Martin Amis, 2018. Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017. A smorgasbord of Amis treats, mostly literary or political, with topics ranging from Saul Bellow to Donald Trump. Amis is regarded by some as the Bad Boy of Brit Lit. They say he’s crass. I say he’s entertaining. Full disclosure: One, I skimmed a few of the almost 50 essays; they weren’t in my wheelhouse. Two, I find Amis’s latest fiction unrewarding.

{As an aside, I feel no compunction to read everything that comes my way – even if it is supposed to be “good for me” or part of the canon.}

FICTION

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, 2019. 2019 Booker Prize Co-winner. Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Clear-eyed, sardonic, accessible. Atwood doesn’t aestheticize The Testaments. The narrative is straightforward. As with all good novels, the prose is subservient to the plot.

Last but not least, my crime pick:

Standing In Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin, 2012. One of my favourites from the King of Scottish Noir. Rankin delivers brilliant banter and black humour wrapped in a cracking whodunit.