What Books Are ABA Staff Reading and Gifting This Holiday Season?

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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): 

Happy holidaysEmily BehnkeJunior Writer/Researcher

What I’m reading: I’m actually listening to Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson on Libro.fm (HarperAudio)! I got it as an ALC and am just now getting around to it. It’s a murder mystery set in a boarding school, which are probably my two favorite things (to read about).

What I’m giving: To celebrate the end of a very long semester, I’m gifting myself Art Matters by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow). I haven’t made any final decisions as to what I’m gifting others yet.

Kate Brennan, Membership Assistant

What I’m reading: I’ve started The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson (Simon & Schuster). I am so excited to read Robertson’s research and hopefully learn something new about the case. I also recently finished The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster) and it is the perfect gift for any bookworm on your list!      

What I’m giving: I am giving my mom 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich (Workman). My mom is a big fan of classic literature and I was able to get the book signed at Byrd’s Books during a reading they hosted. I am giving my brother, Greg, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay (Twelve). Greg is a junior in college and I also read this book in college. I’m hoping it will help him in the years to come. 

Liz ButtonSenior Writer/Researcher

What I’m reading: The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene. I’m a fan of Greene’s writing and just finished The Quiet American, so I decided to move right along to the next!

What I’m givingMy Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press), to a friend I think will appreciate the coal-black humor.

Dan Cullen, Senior Strategy Officer

What I’m readingThe Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin by Maeve Brennan (Houghton Mifflin).

What I’m giving: The Assassins Cloak: An Anthology of the WorldGreatest Diarists, ed. by Alan Taylor and Irene Taylor (Canongate Books).

Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, Senior Program Officer

What I’m reading: I’m currently reading Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Grove), Well-Read Black GirlFinding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim (Ballantine Books), and Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (Forge Books).

What I’m giving: When I volunteer as a bookseller this holiday season at The Doylestown Bookshop and The Lahaska Bookshop in Doylestown and Lahaska, Pennsylvania, I’ll be handselling: for nonfiction, Educated by Tara Westover (Random House), Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow (Doubleday), and Small Fry; for fiction: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead), The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (Viking), Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper), and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Algonquin); for YA, Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Dial Books), The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen), The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth (HarperTeen), Heartseeker by Melinda Beatty (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers), and The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (HMH); and, for picture books: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books) and all of Ryan Higgins’ books.

Phil Davies, IndieCommerce Director

What I’m readingThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Crown) because it’s the actual guide to hitchhiking around the galaxy. Why wouldn’t you want to read it again? 

What I’m giving: Recommended for gifting: a great backlist children’s book called Josephine’s Catastrophes: Three Great Cat Tales by D. Marion, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos (Silver Burdett). It’s a somewhat twisted children’s book that should be read aloud to children whose parents are somewhat twisted. My kids are now in their 20s and still talk about this book.

Gen de Botton, ABC Children’s Group Manager

What I’m reading: This year, I made it a point to only read books by diverse and #OwnVoices authors. I ended up reading frontlist, backlist, debuts, fiction, nonfiction, kids, adult... I read it all. Having a focus for a year’s worth of reading has proven to be extremely rewarding. My 2019 goal is to only read titles that are informative or educational. It’s a pretty broad theme, and my TBR pile currently includes Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel (Oxford University Press), Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard Marcus (HarperCollins Children’s), and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (Harper).

What I’m giving (to everyone regardless of age): Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick). The illustrations are stunning, the message is beautiful, and who doesn’t love mermaids?! It is my most favorite picture book since Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen by Nancy Wood, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering (Candlewick). 

Robyn DesHotel, Chief Financial Officer

What I’m reading: I finished reading Ken Follett’s Night Over Water (William Morrow) a week ago...and I still can’t stop thinking about the characters and the romantic ending! It’s going onto my list of all-time favorites.

What I’m giving: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf) and Jason Reynolds’ Track series (Simon & Schuster).

Greg Galloway, Director of ABA Technology

What I’m readingOld Christmas by Washington Irving. Irving is a local hero here where I live, in Tarrytown, New York, and while I’d always heard his Old Christmas was sort of a plot-free cousin to another seasonal favorite of mine, A Christmas Carol, I’d never read it. It totally hits the spot — like reading a wassail-scented candle.

I’m also reading Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter Most by Steven Johnson (Riverhead). Johnson wraps up society, history, and the intricacies of decision-making in well-woven stories. He details how we have arrived at the world we have today and how we will (or should) make the choices that will shape our future. 

What I’m giving: The boxed set of George O’Connor’s Olympians graphic novels (First Second) is going to my daughter. It has just the right amount of magic, history, and sword-wielding ladies.

Ana Gonzalez, Account Receivables Coordinator

What I’m readingYou’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Salomon (Simon Pulse). I enjoy all romance novels. I don’t buy many books for myself; I just take from the ARC shelf in the ABA kitchen. I’ve found lots of treasures there.  

What I’m giving: I’m gifting my daughter Project Semicolon: Your Story Isn’t Over by Amy Bleuel (HarperCollins).

Dave Grogan, Director of ABFE, Advocacy & Public Policy

What I’m reading: I am reading Origin by Dan Brown (Doubleday). I like mysteries and puzzles, so Origin is a fun read. 

What I’m giving: I’ll be giving Dog Man by Dav Pilkey (Graphix) to my youngest son, Patrick, who is seven. He thinks it is hysterical. I have not decided what books to give my 11-year-old. Something dealing with astronomy.

Josh Harding, System Administrator

What I’m reading: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (William Morrow). It’s a fabulously ridiculous book, and one of my all-time favorites. They’re making a movie of it, so it’s time to reread it. I’m also reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Harper). I spent a while working in rural Appalachia, and this takes me right back to that time. I’ve recommended this to everyone I know who doesn’t like my usual fantasy/sci-fi fare.

What I’m giving: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) — it’s my mom’s January reading club book. And Sunshine by Robin McKinley (Berkley) for my sister, who does like my usual diet of fantasy and sci-fi. A fun and well-constructed contemporary fantasy novel that uses all the usual post-Twilight era tropes (vampires, werewolves, etc.) without feeling tired. 

Sydney Jarrard, Content Development Director

What I’m readingThe Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Minotaur), because I miss Downton Abbey and I wanted something a little less heavy after reading A Night to Remember: The Classic Account of the Final Hours of the Titanic by Walter Lord (Holt Paperbacks).

What I’m giving: We are doing a gift-free Christmas and instead opting to buy something the whole family can enjoy, which this year is The Vintage Baker: More Than 50 Recipes From Butterscotch Pecan Curls to Sour Cream Jumbles by Jessie Sheehan (Chronicle).

Chanthee Keokhaw, IndieCommerce Specialist

What I’m reading: The Black Witch Chronicles series by Laurie Forest (Harlequin Teen). This very engaging YA series deals with difficult topics such as prejudice, hate, intolerance, and stereotypes of other cultures and races. It shows how one group perpetuates fear and mistrust among citizens and the acceptance of the destruction of others by people who seem loving to their friends and family. In the midst of all of that, there is a group of people within the dominant group as well as the minority groups that see how wrong it is. They work together to resist and save the lives of the innocent. This book reminds me of our political climate today. We need people to resist injustice, not just the oppressed but the non-oppressed. Without such people, there is little hope for change. And, yes, some characters have supernatural powers and there is also romance. I would love to see this book as a movie.
What I’m giving: Vox by Christina Dalcher (Berkley). This book reminds me how fragile our freedoms can be. It is thought-provoking and stirs an urgency in me to be more political, to support those who value freedom for all and not for some.
Alison Larkin, Book Data Assistant
What I’m readingThe Remains of the Day (Vintage International), a 1989 novel by the Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro that received the Man Booker Prize for Fiction that year. The narrator is Stevens, an English butler to an aristocratic lord from 1930 to 1970, primarily a reflection of his life in service and how hindsight might lift the veils of his unwavering loyalty to Lord Darlington who was a German sympathizer in the years leading up to World War II. I loved this very quiet and bittersweet look back on a life.

What I’m givingBeartown by Fredrik Backman (Atria). Think Friday Night Lights, but hockey instead of football and Sweden instead of Texas. A small town beset by unemployment, where hockey is the only game in town, literally. The high school hockey teams are the only hope of lifeblood, but a crime splits the town in two and pits friend against friend, family against family. I loved the less-than-perfect but wholly engaging characters, whose humanity sometimes surprised you but gave you hope.

Scott Nafz, IndieCommerce Training Manager

What I’m reading: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. I’ve been on a bit of a classics kick over the past few years, reading many of the books I was supposed to have read in high school but didn’t. Of the 30 or so that I’ve tackled, The Count of Monte Cristo is, by far, my favorite. Dumas has a way of saying in 50 words what most authors can say in 10, which is why the mere size of the book puts people off. But where other 19th century writers can be difficult to slog through, The Count of Monte Cristo advances the plot early and moves pretty quickly (for a book with 117 chapters). I love the dialogue between the characters, as well as their individual schemes. When I read it the first time, I was reading every spare minute, because I HAD to find out what happened next!

I’m also reading Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard (St. Martin’s Press). This book is over 1,100 pages, but when I finished the last one, I closed the book, turned it over, and opened it up to the beginning! This book was not long enough! Come along for a great ride as the last vestiges of humankind try to reclaim Earth from a race of nefarious, pangalactic miners, with a chokehold on 17 known universes! Oh... and try to forget that it was written by L. Ron Hubbard, or that John Travolta hacked it up with a blunt axe for the big screen.

What I’m giving: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss (HarperCollins Children’s Books). The creative and learned use of anapestic tetrameter, along with the brilliantly executed and masterful artwork, deftly juxtaposes the base frivolity of childhood with the then-growing atmosphere of neo-existentialism in post-war France.

Melissa Napolitano, Graphic Designer

What I’m reading: A book I recently read that I really enjoyed is called You, the 2014 novel by Caroline Kepnes (Atria). It’s a dark thriller and kind of a love story. What sets it apart from other thrillers I’ve read is it’s in the perspective of the stalker/murderer, who happens to actually be a likable guy that you tend to root for. It’s a real page-turner and I’ve definitely been recommending it to others. It was also made into a TV series on Lifetime, and the main character works at an independent bookstore in New York City. I thought that was cool!

What I’m giving: A book I plan to give as a gift is a memoir called My Thoughts Exactly by British pop star Lily Allen (Blink Publishing). My sister and I are both big fans of her music. Much like her music, Lily wasn’t afraid to express herself and open up on her life in detail in her memoir. In her book, she talks about a sexual assault encounter and how the music industry is rife with abuse. She has become an advocate in the #MeToo movement and I appreciate her passion to teach the next generation to be stronger and more resilient.

Daniel OBrien, Member Relationship Manager
What Im reading: Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman (University of California Press). With the death of George H.W. Bush the day before the 30th anniversary of World AIDS day, I decided to pick this one up, which has been on my list for a while. Schulman acts as a thoughtful, angry companion through the ravages of AIDS on the queer art communities of New York, and the cultural consequences of the mainstream consumerism that literally occupied the buildings of the AIDS dead. Gentrification of the Mind straddles worlds, between memoir and manifesto, living and dead, and the personal and political. And true to the avant-garde ethos it exalts, it rages against the erasure of the marginalized and oppressed. An inspiring read thus far. I’m also reading Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf Press). I first read Long Soldier’s poem “38” in the Mud City Journal quite a while before the collection’s publication. It floored me on every level: craft, narrative, pathos, etc. I just finished the full collection, and it did not let me down. This is a poet who knows language on such an intimate level.
What Im giving: How to Write An Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (Mariner Books). Chee’s essays are extraordinary, and I don’t use that word lightly. This is a nuanced, poignant, and oftentimes wrenching collection of essays navigating the author’s life as a queer activist, lover, and writer. What I think is particularly remarkable about this collection is though it is poised as a book about craft, it makes one realize that while healthy artistic habits and fierce mentors will help you on your way, it’s the willingness to be an active citizen of the world and to give and receive compassion and care that will make you an artist, even if only of your own life. I’ll also be giving Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick). This is, hands down, my pick for all the kids in my life. This is literally one of the most beautifully illustrated picture books I’ve ever had the pleasure of holding and, moreover, one of the most powerful stories of identity and acceptance. This is the book I wish I had in my life as a child, but I’m glad it’s here now. And, yes, it made me cry, proudly. 
Jill Perlstein, Meetings and Planning Officer
What I’m reading: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick). More than one person has recommended this book to me and I felt the time was right.
What I’m giving: My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper (Scribner). The person who will receive this book needs a good laugh, and I think Ellie Kemper is hilarious.

Maria Peroni, Advocacy and Public Policy Coordinator

What I’m reading: Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions) I had been putting off reading the final installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels because I didn’t want the series to end! I’m open to post-Ferrante recommendations because everything has paled in comparison since first reading My Brilliant Friend

What I’m giving: John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky (Hogarth). I’m gifting this one because its recipient and I had bonded over Boyne’s 2017 novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies (Hogarth). I’m looking forward to reading it myself, too.

Ryan Quinn, IndieCommerce Specialist

What I’m reading: I pretty much like to spend from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas reading Christmas romance reads. I read romance all year round but there’s just something extra fun about these this time of year (the cheesier the better!). I’m on my seventh one this season right now: Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan (Mills & Boon) — ahh, the warm fuzzy feelings…I can’t get enough!

What I’m giving: The first book in the Chicagoland Vampires series by Chloe Neill (Berkley) is going to a fellow reader who shares my love of fantasy, romance, and vampires. I started reading the series a few years ago when it came out and eagerly await each new book!

One of my friends who just started to enjoy baking is getting Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan (Rux Martin/HMH). I love her recipes and they’ve never failed me yet. Last, but certainly not least, I’m gifting a copy of We Have a Good Time...Don’t We? by Maeve Higgins (Hachette Ireland) to a friend who enjoys a book that makes you laugh because I just know she’s going to love it. It’s relatable and definitely gave me a laugh…or five.

Pete Reynolds, Project Manager

What I’m reading: I’m currently reading Donna Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend (Knopf). I really enjoyed The Secret History (Knopf) and The Goldfinch (Little, Brown), but for some reason I didn’t think I would enjoy The Little Friend. I was wrong! I’m loving every page of it, and I don’t want it to end.

What I’m giving: I will be giving Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter) to a couple of people. They’re both big fans of hers, so this new book is an easy gift choice!

Liz Roberts, Member Relationship Manager

What I’m reading: I’m currently reading Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Vintage). She tells a spellbinding story while effectively and poignantly situating it within the struggles and truths of the real world. I love her tenderness, political incisiveness, and sense of humor.

What I’m giving: I just gave my dear friend Ariel Dorfman’s new novel, Darwin’s Ghost (Seven Stories Press). We both love Dorfman and this friend studied with him, so I was glad to give him a copy before he knew it was on shelves!

Meg Smith, Membership and Marketing Officer

What I’m reading: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press) because I am going to see the show (tonight…it’s a long book so I won’t have it finished).

What I’m giving: The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles (Columbia University Press).

Jessica Stauffer, Program and Development Coordinator

What I’m reading: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury) and The Dreamblood Duology by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit). One epic fantasy at the office for my lunch break, one at home for bedtime reading, and no toting them back and forth!

What I’m giving: MEM by Bethany Morrow (The Unnamed Press). This beautiful debut (which was an Indies Introduce title that came out this summer) is for my brother who is a photographer/filmmaker. It reads like watching a European art film and I know he’s going to love it as much as I do.

Oren Teicher, Chief Executive Officer

What I’m reading: Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Unsheltered (Harper).

What I’m giving: My two must-read recommendations for this holiday season are Educated by Tara Westover (Random House) and Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow (Doubleday).

Lisa Winn, Education Manager

What I’m reading: I’m reading The Reef by Edith Wharton because I am always reading either Edith Wharton or Henry James. I’m reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (Bantam) because I read a lot of sci-fi and decided it was time to find the truth in the fiction.  

What I’m giving: I’m giving A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (William Morrow) to my mother, who will enjoy the quiet in this story.

Matt Zoni, Director of Development and Publisher Relations

What I’m reading: Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy With the Rolling Stones at Altamont by Saul Austerlitz (Thomas Dunne Books). Next up is probably The Library Book by Susan Orlean (S&S).

What I’m giving: National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Space by Catherine D. Hughes, illustrated by David A. Aguilar (National Geographic Children’s Books), for my six-year-old son because he still pores over the dinosaur book in this series, which helped make him an expert on that subject, and now he is equally obsessed with outer space. And I’m giving Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (Random House Books for Young Readers), to my three-year-old daughter because she asked for a unicorn for Christmas, and this book and the plush are the best Santa can do.