This is a Special Thing! It's the first annual Word Savvy Book Giving Guide! I've read all of the books on this list, and I can assure you that some

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 9.28.34 PM

This is a Special Thing!

It's the first annual Word Savvy Book Giving Guide!

I've read all of the books on this list, and I can assure you that someone might appreciate them as gifts.

If you can't find the right recommendation below, will you do me a favor? Email me! I'll try to pick the perfect thing for the person you have in mind. Just click reply. This will make me feel useful and fulfilled.


Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 10.54.27 AM

Books for New Year's Resolutioners

Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert Full of freeing advice about living a creative life. Gilbert includes the stories and philosophies of artists and intellectuals who have, in fact, cultivated their creativity. I included this in my list of 4 Books to Jumpstart Your Novel. It'll work for any creative project.
The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds A collection and analysis of studies about exercise for the person in your life who wants to move more. Fun facts from the book: runners are NOT more likely to suffer knee injuries than non-runners. And, in terms of health benefits (not racing preparation, obvi), walking is every bit as good as running.
The Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes A mogul devotes one year of her life to saying yes to every request. I had some trouble with her premise - She gets better offers than I do. I'd be saying "yes" to more committee meetings and chaperoning sixth grade dances - but the idea of owning your choices resonates.

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 11.25.00 AM

Books for Millennials (and other youthful people)

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler Raw and grating, this is a year in the life of Tess, a 22 year-old NYC transplant. Danler paces the novel perfectly - elongating the the cringeworthy, druggy nights, while speeding through restaurant shifts with pithy, revealing one-liners. She immerses the reader in the smells and the sounds and the inescapable warfare of restaurant life and growing up.
Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois Based on the Amanda Knox case, this is the utterly engrossing story of a cavalier exchange student who may or may not have killed her near-perfect roommate. I couldn't put it down, even though I found the prose to be on the self-important side.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay Essays, which range in topic from bad television to competitive scrabble to sexual violence to performing gender and racism. Some are laugh-out-loud; some are excruciating. Lots of them stick with you.

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 11.32.18 AM

2016 Releases for Book Clubbers

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld Liz Bennet is a 38 year-old, white feminist writer. She's picking up the pieces for her family, a broke-yet-upper/middle-class bunch, while simultaneously sparring with Fitzwilliam Darcy, a brain surgeon in a Cleveland hospital. I was utterly charmed by this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I resented putting it down, even for scintillating conversation and important family events. Better than Bridget Jones and 100% habit forming.
Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen In a story that’s at once sprawling and hyper-local, Anna Quindlen renders an immensely likable main character with an epic problem. Miller’s Valley, the book’s eponymous setting, is set to be flooded in the name of water management, washing away the Millers' family home, their livelihood, their memories, and maybe a few of their secrets, too. Full review at Literary Quicksand.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett My favorite book this year. The story begins at Franny Keating’s christening party. In a weird and inevitable moment, a guest at that party, Bert Cousins, kisses Franny’s mother when the two are alone in the baby’s room. So begins the entanglement of four parents and two sets of siblings that lasts more than 50 years. These relationships invite an interrogation of the meaning of family and power. Who has “full citizenship,” as Franny puts it? Who decides? Full Review at Literary Quicksand.

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 6.37.09 AM

Books for Tweens

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin . Suzy and Franny’s best friendship suffers a painful, yet not atypical splintering in middle school. And then, Franny dies in a drowning accident before Suzy can repair anything. Suzy, an lovable oddball with iffy social skills, grieves her former friend in a particular way – by investigating her death using the scientific method. The author is a science writer, and the book is filled with fascinating nature and wildlife facts. Heartfelt and convincing.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Ten year-old Ada and six year-old Jamie are evacuated from London in 1939 in advance of the bombings. Ada has a club foot, an abusive mother, and no sense of her own self-worth. Enter Susan Smith, a grieving woman who lives in the channel-side village to which the kids evacuated. Susan doesn't want any children, but she has to take these. The rest is sad and magical.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia This is an important and funny story about three sisters and their Black Panther mother. The oldest sister, 11 year-old Delphine is our deadpan narrator. She chronicles activism and awakening in Oakland, 1968.

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 6.52.51 AM

Books for Teens

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks The youngest of four (and the only girl) starts attending the local high school after years of homeschooling. It's hard to make friends, her mother has left the family, and to top it all off, she's being haunted by 19th century ghost.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz One of my top three reads this year. Joan, a motherless farm girl who's treated abominably by her father, runs away to the city in 1911 at age 14. A gentile with a propensity for writing and reading, she is hired by a prominent Jewish family. Afraid of being sent away, she lies about her age on being hired by the Rosenbachs and makes all of the usual teenaged missteps and more. Full review at Literary Quicksand.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon I'd probably be recommending Yoon's latest release, The Sun is Also a Star, but I haven't read it yet. In Everything, Madeline is an eighteen year-old kid with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, a rare disease that renders its sufferers allergic to the world. Her mom, a physician, keeps her enclosed and safe. Things are going reasonably well for Madeline until she watches Olly, a handsome guy with his own problems, move in next door. Suddenly the world that was more or less enough, falls vastly short.

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 7.04.21 AM

Books for Nonfiction and News Lovers

The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker This memoir details the behind-the-bylines reality of war-zone reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The book was released to little fanfare in 2011, but reached the bestseller list this year as Tina Fey starred in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the movie adaptation. It's at once ridiculous – think: Bridget Jones-takes-Kabul – and poignant, an epistle on the failures of the global war on terror. My friend KK recommends reading this while also listening to the second season of Serial Podcast for an immersive experience. Full Review at Literary Quicksand.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown A lanky, self-conscious kid, Joe Rantz showed up at the Washington crew house in 1933, hoping for a spot in the freshman shell. So began a glorious, arduous, roller-coaster rowing career that led Rantz and eight other hard-scrabble guys to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Interspersed with the stories of Rantz, his crewmates, and his coaches, Brown paints the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. Brilliant. Full Review at LQ.
Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim This is a fascinating account of the author's experience at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the sons of North Korea's most powerful families. In order to secure and maintain her post, Kim has to feign Christianity, follow the exacting and oppressive directives of the "counterparts" - the North Korean supervisors of the teachers, take notes for her journalistic memoir in secret, and censor her every sentence when speaking to the students and her colleagues. Empathy-building, emotional, and informative.

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 7.25.46 AM

Books for English Majors (and other people who like text complexity and interesting sentences)

Are You My Mother? by Allison Bechdel This graphic memoir is the story of a mother-dauther relationship layered under the story of therapy and psychoanalysis around that relationship layered under literary and psychoanalytic theory. Super meta. Super smart. I mean, it's Bechdel.
Great House by Nicole Krauss This woman can really write. Here she presents intersecting stories about a big, heavy, looming desk and the people who've sat at it. Krauss's sentences enchanted and enveloped me. You can’t put Great House in the background – it’s as commanding as the desk. Really, this is a book to be read twice, once to get the gist and marvel at the Krauss’s skill, and a second time to reconstruct the narratives more clearly. Full review at Literary Quicksand.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead This is the story of Cora, a slave on the Randall Plantation in Georgia, who steals off toward freedom, as her mother did before her. She relies on the Underground Railroad, in this case an actual subway car and series of tunnels buried deep in the poisoned and bloody earth, to inch her way toward liberty. Whitehead is imaginative, skilled, and unrelentingly specific. Cora’s horror is our horror. Whitehead develops minor characters, too, assigning them both distinct and emblematic qualities that alternately bind readers in affinity and repel them. Whitehead won the National Book Award for this. I wrote a full review for LQ.

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 8.08.39 AM

Books for Readers Who Want a Good Cry

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin Today's tweens weren't yet born on on September 11, 2001, but the events of that morning have in many ways impacted their childhoods. Baskin's novel follows four middle schoolers and their connections to the attacks. It gutted me, frankly. My body remembered the shock and grief of one of the worst days. Well-plotted and deeply affecting.
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood My takeaway from this book is that "It's never too late." An odd eleven year-old Boy Scout befriends Ona Vitkus, a 104 year-old woman whom he convinces to both record memories ("shards" of her life) on tape AND to pursue a Guinness World Record (World's Oldest Licensed Driver). This is not a spoiler, as it happens right away: the eleven year-old dies of heart failure, and the 104 year-old befriends his sometimes-absent father, who takes over his scouting duties.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin A.J. is a prickly and particular loner mired in his own grief. Enter Maya, a child who needs him, and Ameila, a woman who loves him. Their drama - you can already imagine it, right? - plays out in a small bookstore that A.J. runs on Alice Island, Mass. It's about renewal and family and, of course, the saving power of literature. A great pick for a book lover who craves an emotional release.


That's It!

Did you find something for someone?

Need something else? Please do email me - just click reply!

Want to see everything I've read this year with star reviews and blurbs? Here's the spreadsheet.

Want to see everything I've reviewed this year for Literary Quicksand, the book blog I write for? That's here!

And, have any friends who might want to read the guide? I'd love it if you'd forward this to them!

Want your own weekly/monthly(ish) book reviews and other stuff?