I love receiving books as gifts. For many years, when I was repping for St. Martin’s/Holtzbrinck (now Macmillan US), I never received books. Perhaps friends and family thought I had access to any book I wanted, which was somewhat the case. Maybe they thought I didn't need more books than what I already had. And here’s what friends and family didn’t know: I spent my day reading what the office sent me to read, and it typically wasn’t what I would have chosen for myself. Sure, sometimes I was pleasantly surprised, which I could use to my advantage with accounts, but I loved it when someone put a book in my hand because they loved it or because they thought I would love it.
So, this year, it was a thrill to find books hiding beneath the gift wrap of birthday presents. And, next best part about getting books: I wasn’t familiar with any of them. They’re not on any of the countless lists I keep. I don’t recognize any from my favorite bookstores’ display tables, although each did come from such places. So, each gift book was a true surprise. Here’s my haul:
The Camel Bookmobile, by Masha Hamilton
My sister gave me this beautifully packaged novel. From the back cover, the following passage intrigued me: “Fiona Sweeney wants to do something that matters, and she chooses to make her mark in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya. By helping to start a traveling library, she hopes to bring the words of Homer, Hemingway, and Dr. Seuss to far-flung tiny communities where people live daily with drought, hunger, and disease…In the impoverished small community of Mididima, she finds herself caught in the middle of a volatile local struggle when the bookmobile’s presence sparks a dangerous feud between the proponents of modernization and those who fear the loss of traditional ways.” I like the exotic, dusty setting, the protagonist’s mission, and the sense of adventure. And, Kenya really does have a mobile library.
Real World, by Natsuo Kirin
My husband picked this one out. The flap copy describes the novel as feminist noir, by the Japanese author of eighteen novels (and four short-story collections and an essay collection). Only three of Kirin's novels have been published in English translation. This novel features four teenage girls, in "cram school" together, who are caught up in solving the murder of Toshi’s next-door neighbor. Toshi is “the dependable one” of the four. I love the Nancy Drew/girl-sleuth twist, and I consider it a treat to be introduced to Kirino’s hard-boiled fiction.
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, by Graham Robb
My husband selected this history book for me because he knows how much I adore France. Robb has written several biographies of French literary figures, each of which have been honors as NYT Editors’ Choices for best books of the year. In this history, he examines how France emerged out of the jumble of its departements, which the Robb exhaustively researches, but also explores on bicycle. I am such a sucker for France, history, and cycling—what’s not to love?
Now, where do I start?