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Host: Scott LaMar

2016 Holiday Books

Written by Scott LaMar | Dec 1, 2016 3:00 AM
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What to look for on Smart Talk Thursday, December 1st, 2016:

It's early December so it must be time for Smart Talk's annual show focusing on books as gifts for the holidays or books you would like to read during the holiday season.

Books have always been a thoughtful and treasured gift.  Almost everyone enjoys and can appreciate a book as a present -- whether it is fiction, a novel, non-fiction, poetry, or a how-to book.  Maybe one of the classics.  We'll also have a few book suggestions for children or teenagers.

On Thursday's Smart Talk, we'll discuss the books that would make great gifts.  They may or may not be new or on the bestseller lists, but our panel will recommend and describe several titles to think about.

Joining us will be Catherine Lawrence, co-owner of the Mid Town Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg and a writer herself and Todd Dickinson, co-owner of Aaron's Books in Lititz

We'd like to hear your suggestions as well.  What books do you think your friends or loved-ones would enjoy or what books are on your wish list this year?

Todd Dickinson, owner of Aaron's Books in Lititz recommendations:

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Underground Railroad just won the National Book Award, so it may be an obvious pick, but the journey Whitehead offers us is truly special. He uses the story of a young slave trying to escape a brutal plantation to explore various aspects of African history. The slave ends up on a literal underground railroad that takes her through various southern states, travelling much as Gulliver did through allegory that is as real to her as her life on the plantation.


Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

The fledgling American space program faced numerous mathematical challenges that it didn't know how to address. Among its hidden stars was a group of talented African American women working at a NASA facility in Hampton, Virginia, deep in the segregated South. Shetterly tells their story in a moving narrative that appeals to fans of history and space exploration. A film based on the book will be in theaters in a few weeks.


Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton

This beautiful book provides a peek at some of the strangest and most mysterious locations on the planet. You can use it to help plan the most unusual family trip of your life or simply admire some of the places that you will never see. Maybe it's the Canadian museum that showcases world history through shoes, a pet-casket company that will also sell you a unit for your severed limb, a Greek snake festival, or a place in the Canary Islands where inhabitants communicate through whistling. Either way, Atlas Obscura shows that we live in a wild and unpredictable world.


Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Moore, widely considered the finest graphic novel writer ever for such work as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell, has finally published his million-word tribute to his home of Northampton in the Midlands of England. A deep and challenging read, Moore is telling multiple stories in varying styles, honoring such writers as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and William Blake. It's a work featuring angels, demons, ghosts, Oliver Cromwell, Buffalo Bill, and the theoretical physics of Albert Einstein.


Replica by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver has written acclaimed novels for readers from middle grade through adult. She returns with an innovative young adult novel that explores empathy and identity. It is a "flip-book" where two related stories are told at the same time, and the reader can alternate between them by flipping the book over and joining the other story.


Snow White by Matt Phelan

Matt Phelan is a master of children's graphic novels, using a few shades of watercolor to say more than most authors can in multiple chapters. Here he presents the Snow White story using 1920s New York City as the backdrop. With minimal text, the fairy tale comes alive in a new way. The seven dwarves appear as boys living in a Hooverville shantytown.


Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp

This is one of our favorite new picture books. Madeline lacks confidence in her reading abilities, until a helpful librarian introduces her to the library dog. She can read to the dog, and she comes to love books and reading. This is based on a growing and effective trend of children reading to specially-trained animals.


Catherine Lawrence, co-owner of Mid Town Scholar Bookstore in Harrburg recommendations:



By local illustrators:


1. It Is Not Time for Sleeping (A Bedtime Story)

By Lisa Graff (Philadelphia), Illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner LAUREN CASTILLO (Harrisburg)

A little boy and his dog, who are certain it is not time for sleeping. Lovely, colorful illustrations and a classic font 'letterpress text roman' give this new-release a classic-bedtime-story feel.


2. Real Cowboys

By Kate Hoefler, Illustrated by Boston Globe-Horn Book Award-Winner Jonathan Bean (Harrisburg)

"Real cowboys can be strong, and tough, and homesick at the same time. (...) Real cowboys are artists. They create. They dream. They make up stories for their friends, and horses, and dogs--stories about the world that are bigger than moving cattle to Stillwater or Red Town. They sit under skies so big, the stars take shape on the ground, and they wonder what's past the horizon." (With stars arrayed in the shapes of cattle and dogs)


  • Visit Lauren and Jonathan in their new open-studio at the Millworks artists-in-residence in Midtown Harrisburg


3. Ada Twist, Scientist

By Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts

In their series, which includes Iggy Peck, Architect; and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

Second-grader Miss Ada Marie Twist "had all the traits of a great scientist."

Named for Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace, she's an African-American girl whose household experiments with the family cat inspires her classmates and parents to get in the act of wondering, questioning, and hypothesizing.


4. Penguin Problems

By Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith

A young penguin's hard day, and the wisdom he gets from a walrus.





5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

By J. K. Rowling

Our best-selling title this holiday season. Set in 1920's New York. Historically inspired, imaginative, and transporting story.


6. Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children

By Ransom Riggs

Lyrical, thrilling fantasy, transporting you from modern day London to the underworld of Victorian England, with haunting vintage photographs interwoven in a dream-like story.


7. Still Life with Tornado

By A. S. King (award-winning Pennsylvanian Young-Adult writer)

Riveting first-person account of the tornado of a teenager's life when her parents divorce - but told from shifting times and points of view, with scenes interwoven from Sarah's growing up in Philadelphia to a family vacation in Mexico.





8. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right - A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide

National Book Award Finalist

By Arlie Russell Hochschild, Professor Emerita of Sociology at the Univ. of California, Berkeley

A compelling, readable story that traces Hochschild's experiences and conversations over five years of researching Tea Party supporters in Louisiana. She talks with "pipefitters, plant operators, an auto mechanic, a truck driver, telephone repairmen, accountants, salesmen, building contractors, a postal worker, a school custodian, and a gospel singer" and interweaves their personal stories with socioeconomic facts and figures, to give us insight into political choices on a personal level.



If reading fiction (as researchers have recently shown!) is about increasing our capacity for empathy with others, by introducing us to diverse characters, and exploring the human mind and heart, these recommendations are all very much in that vein.


9. the association of small bombs

Long-listed for the National Book Award

By Karan Mahajan (a New Dehli, Indian-born man who came to the US for college at Stanford and now lives in Austin, Texas)

Modern-day, post-colonial take on classic novels of terrorism like Joseph Conrad's A Secret Agent or Under Western Eyes, or Andrei Bely's Petersburg. What do we do with terrorists in our midst, when they are among us, when they are of-us? - That question is transformed by masterful storytelling into a human account of ordinary Indian men and women making their way in the world, families coming together and part, individuals with dreams and fears and faith and grief.

"The bombing, for which Mr. and Mrs. Khurana were not present, was a flat, percussive event that began under the bonnet of a parked white Maruti 800, though of course that detail, that detail about the car, could only be confirmed later. A good bombing begins everywhere at once."

Critical praise:

The author's "eagerness to go at the bomb from every angle suggests a voracious approach to fiction-making, a daring imaginative promiscuity (....) pitting the unhurried composure of his prose against the violence of the events it describes." - The New Yorker

"In flitting between the perspectives of terrorists and victims, parents and children, Hindus and Muslims, Mahajan has committed to a radical and extended act of empathy." - The Slate Book Review


10. The Underground Railroad

National Book Award Winner

By Colson Whitehead

A powerfully imagined and beautifully written story for our times, about facing impossible circumstances and what strength of spirit it takes to change your life.


11. Swing Time

By Zadie Smith

Two brown girls growing up in London.


12. Here Comes the Sun

By Nichole Dennis-Benn

Four enterprising and artistic Jamaican women, making their way in the world.


13. Moonglow

By Michael Chabon

A speculative autobiography of the author's grandfather.


14. Another Brooklyn

By National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson

Poetic and moving account of girls' lives, friendships and memories from 1970's Brooklyn.





15. The Portable Frederick Douglass - in a new Penguin Classics edition

Includes Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and My Bondage, My Freedom (1855) as well as fiction, speeches, and journalism.

With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on "What is an African American Classic?" and a literary and historical introduction by two Harvard professors, Gates and John Stauffer.


16. Citizen: An American Lyric

National Book Award Finalist

By Claudia Rankine

Prose poems/personal essays.


17. Between the World and Me

National Book Award Winner

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Moving between the big questions of American history and the construction of "race" to the intimate concerns a father has for his son.





18. Don Quixote

"The First Modern Novel"

By Miguel de Cervantes - in honor of the 400th anniversary of his death (1616/2016)


19. North and South

By Elizabeth Gaskell, the Bronte sisters' 19th-century biographer & novelist in her own right

A romantic tale with rich characterizations of mill-workers, union unrest, poverty and empire-building, faith and service, women's roles, and social justice. (Better than Dickens!)

If you like Jane Eyre... read this!


20. Poldark: Ross Poldark

By Winston Graham

For Masterpiece Theater fans, Graham's classic novels are available in handsome paperbacks. My writer-friends rave about this romantic saga, with Graham's sharply drawn characters and masterful storytelling.



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