by Emily Dietrich

Indie, Quirky, and Forgotten Books for the Reader on Your List Who Has Read Everything

book-giftI figure some of you may not want the most recent, expensive hardcover new releases for the readers on your holiday list. So here are some of my recommendations.

I love books, and I read a lot of them. Far from systematic, my book-choosing method depends on where I’m standing in the book store, what dream I had the night before, what problems my friends are having, a book reading I go to. It’s not the bestseller or the Best Books of the year list from a prestigious newspaper.


Trace by Lauret Savoy (Counterpoint Press, 2015) Poetic and political memoir centered on the geology of the United States. This shakes up your thinking—in a good way.

Reptile House by Robin McLean (BOA Editions, 2015) you’ve never read short stories like this before!

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (Vintage Book, 2015) Examines color bias within the African American community and

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas (Scribner, 2015) Her most recent memoir will make you feel better about everything.

So Last Year But So, SO Good

Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberta Urrea (Back Bay Books, 2005) Illuminating novel about Mexican history told in excellent prose and layered story telling.

We Are Water by Wally Lamb (Harper Perennial, 2014) Lamb offers insights into parenting and relationships, different ways to hurt people and to forgive them, too.

Love by Toni Morrison (Vintage Books, 2005) you’ll get what you want from Ms. Morrison

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz (Riverhead Books, 2007) If you don’t fall in love with Oscar and root for him all the way, you’ve got no heart!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Random House, 2000) Chabon writes masterpieces, and he has a new book out, but if you haven’t read this one, it’s time.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (Europa Editions, 2006) Not sure how a story about two introverted geniuses can be a thriller, too, but this is.

Graphic Memoirs

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) Now on the reading list of many college classes and a Broadway musical

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon Books, 2000) Iranian Satrapi shows us the Iraq she grew up in and left

Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic Graphix, 2010 and 2014) This set depicts teen angst delightfully

Stitches by David Small (McClelland and Stewart, 2010) This prolific illustrator and author of children’s works lets us in to his own past

Couch Tag by Jesse Reklaw (Fantagraphics Books, 2013) The story of a family’s journey through divorce and moves, adolescence, failure and love

Cecil and Jordan in New York Stories by Gabrielle Bell (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009) Two people trying to make it work

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me:A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney (Gotham Books, 2012) Forney’s voice and art pack a punch, as does her honesty about her struggle to get help for bipolar disorder

Some Lovely Novels

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (Saint Martin’s Griffin, 1994) Lyrical story of stoicism in China and Japan during illness and war (reviewed on this blog–see archives)

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee (Penguin Books, 2009) A regular woman gets swept up in history and finds her strength

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (Ballantine Book, 2013) An Asian-American orphan searches for his mother in Seattle during the Depression


The Last of the Good Girls: Shedding Convention, Coming Out Whole by Mary Ann Woodruff (2013) Woodruff’s beautiful prose reveals her journey toward coming out

Split: A Child, A Priest, and the Catholic Church: A Memoir by Mary Dispenza (2014) This unflinching memoir highlights faith and love in the face of abuse

Best Classic You’ve Never Heard Of

Vein of Iron by Ellen Glasgow (Harvest/HBJ Books, 1935) Glasgow brought me a new standard in integrity with her characters. Their quiet, strong wills stayed with me through some hard times in my life. I wish everyone I know had read it so I could refer to it.

Groundbreaking work that everyone is supposed to have read but most people can’t get through for the eccentric on your list

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967) Edition I read: (Harper Perennial, 1991) He does a whole thing with subverting the narrative chronology that made fiction rethink itself

Shameless Plug

The Angled Road  by Mount Holyoke College Puget Sound Writers (2016) This multi-genre collection takes its title and theme from Emily Dickinson’s poem “Experience Is the Angled Road.” $9.99 Proceeds support institutions that encourage women’s voices.

For Something Completely Different

The Librarian’s Almanaq by Roy Leban (Almanaq, 2015) This book is not read by a reader by done by solvers. It is to be ripped apart and reassembled for an hours-long puzzle session for 1-10 people (ideally 4-6) people, teen to adult.

Page Turners

Dying Breath by Wendy Corsi Staub (Zebra Book, 2008) Mystery

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult (Simon and Schuster, 2007) Explores vicissitudes of fertility issues amid divorce

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) Will the wedding ever work out?

The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor Books, 2014) I can never get enough Precious Ramotswe, the Botswana detective, and the sweet, wise, funny way she gets it all straightened out every time. Note: the author is not from Botswana.

Author: Emily

Emily Dietrich is a poet, novelist, and mystery writer.

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