“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” my hero Jorge Luis Borges wrote in “Poem of the Gifts.” So why not give someone close to you a little bit of Paradise this holiday season?
For your gift-giving and self-gifting pleasure, here is a varied selection of 45 new books to choose from, including choices for children and teens. In general, I picked books published since June, including some new books by Wisconsin authors. In each case, I’ve either read the book already or browsed it, or been impressed by a previous work from the same author, or had the new book recommended by a trusted source of information.
Thanks to colleague Chris Foran for contributing pop-culture book selections.
These picks are listed alphabetically by title, with the children’s set arranged in ascending order of recommended reader age.
“All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake” (Random House), by Tiya Miles. A Harvard historian uses the sack, prepared by an enslaved mother for a daughter being sent elsewhere, to tell the story of generations of women.
“American Christmas Stories” (Library of America), edited by Connie Willis. Willis, a master of holiday tales herself, rounds up Christmas stories by likely and surprising writers, including Mark Twain, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ed McBain and Sandra Cisneros.
“Around the World in 80 Books” (Penguin Press), by David Damrosch. A comparative literature scholar, grounded by COVID-19 and inspired by Jules Verne, reads books from around the globe, making unexpected connections between them.
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“Bad Mother(expletive): The Life and Movies of Samuel L. Jackson, the Coolest Man in Hollywood” (Hachette), by Gavin Edwards. Jackson is even cooler than you think, as verified in this breezy but detailed biography.
“Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge” (Columbia University Press), by Joseph McBride. McBride, a Milwaukee native and incisive film historian and critic, finds new insights into the life and movies of Wilder, combining analysis with interviews, including some he did with Wilder himself.
“A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries 2003-2020” (Little, Brown), by David Sedaris. Round two of the humorist’s journal entries, written after he became famous, but no less pointed, snarky and self-accusing. (Sedaris will perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket info, visit pabsttheatergroup.com.)
“Clark and Division” (Soho Crime), by Naomi Hirahara. In Hirahara’s novel, a young Japanese-American woman in 1944 Chicago, recently released from an internment camp, tries to solve the mystery of her sister’s death.
“Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Film in a White World” (Knopf), by Will Haygood. Haygood turns his insightful lens on depictions of Black life in American film, and on how art has imitated life imitating art through the changing, and sometimes unchanging, prism of race.
“Dogs on the Trail: A Year in the Life (Ecco), by Blair Braverman with Quince Mountain. A photo-rich account by the famed Wisconsin couple about dog mushing that explains what those sled dogs eat, how they train and life on the racing circuit.
“The Elements: A Visual History of Their Discovery” (University of Chicago Press), by Philip Ball. Using some 200 images, Ball describes how we discovered the building blocks of the universe — including some fake elements like phlogiston.
“Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP” (Hachette), by Mirin Fader. The origin story of how Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo went from poor, undocumented immigrant in Greece to pro basketball world champion.
“Hello, Transcriber” (Minotaur), by Hannah Morrissey. In a Wisconsin novelist’s suspense fiction debut, a police transcriber gets deeply and personally involved in a suspicious case. (Morrissey will converse with Tim Hennessy about her book at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave. Registration is required at boswellbooks.com.)
“Hip-Hop (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, and Illustrated” (Twelve), by Shea Serrano, illustrated by Arturo Torres. One of the kings of Twitter delivers smart, funny essays on his favorite music, accompanied by Torres’ distinctive artwork.
“History Makers: The Milwaukee Bucks Win Their First NBA Championship in 50 Years” (Pediment Publishing). Relive the thrills of the championship season through stories and photos by Journal Sentinel staff members.
“Inside Comedy: The Soul, Wit and Bite of Comedy and Comedians of the Last Five Decades” (Knopf), by David Steinberg. Comedian-turned-director Steinberg has worked with, or for, every notable comedic performer of the past half-century. He tells his story and theirs in this charming memoir, culled from more than 75 interviews.
“The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Phoenix Park Murders That Stunned Victorian England” (Atlantic Monthly Press), by Julie Kavanagh. True crime meets Irish history in Kavanagh’s account of the 1882 Phoenix Park murders in Dublin, which derailed the Irish drive for independence.
“The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat … Everything with Ranch” (William Morrow), by Charlie Berens. The “Manitowoc Minute” humorist dishes about hot dish, euchre, grilling, deer camp and sundry other bits of our culture.
“The Milwaukee River Greenway: A Wealth of Nature in the Heart of the City” (River Revitalization Foundation). by Eddee Daniel. In photos and words, Daniel explores and celebrates the stretch of river and related land from the former North Avenue dam to Silver Spring, nearly 8 miles and 878 acres of nature surrounded by city and suburban neighborhoods. Many community members contribute short essays and reflections to this collection.
“Mother Chicago: Truant Dreams and Specters Over the Gilded Age” (Feral House), by Martin Billheimer. A deep dive into the Windy City’s institutions for control of the destitute, including the Municipal Sanatorium and juvenile institutions.
“My Monticello” (Henry Holt), by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. Contemporary Black characters face racism past and present in Johnson’s sharply imagined fiction, culminating in the title story set at Thomas Jefferson’s home.
“North American Maps for Curious Minds: 100 New Ways to See the Continent” (The Experiment), by Matthew Bucklan and Victor Cizek, illustrated by Jack Dunningham. Maps that reveal facets of life on our continent in entertaining visual ways, such as the greatest dinosaur finds, locations of all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s publicly accessible buildings, and America’s shifting population centers of gravity. Bucklan lives in the Milwaukee area.
“Rust Belt Vegan: Recipes, Resources, and Stories” (Belt Publishing), edited by Meredith Pangrace. Some readers will want this book for the recipes, some for the “unpretentious shortcuts” that Pangrace promises, and some for the sheer crunchy wonder of the title concept.
“The Sentence” (HarperCollins), by Louise Erdrich. Set in 2020 in a bookstore akin to the one Erdrich owns in Minneapolis, an Ojibwe bookseller is haunted by the ghost of an annoying white customer in this novel — and by the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder and her own history.
“Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else” (Penguin Press), by Jordan Ellenberg. A University of Wisconsin math professor and friendly explainer, Ellenberg digs into the many roles geometry plays in life, from baseball to pandemics and gerrymandering.
“Shoulder Season” (St. Martin’s Press), by Christina Clancy. In Madison writer Clancy’s novel, a sheltered teen from East Troy gets in way over her head when she becomes a Playboy Club bunny in Lake Geneva in 1981.
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“Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood” (Knopf), by Mark Oppenheimer. In this even-handed but probing chronicle, Oppenheimer charts how the community responded in the year following the murder of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Toni Morrison’s Spiritual Vision: Faith, Folktales, and Feminism in Her Life and Literature” (Fortress Press), by Nadra Nittle. Nittle traces threads of Catholicism and African spirituality in Nobel Prize-winner Morrison’s novels.
“20th Century-Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio” (Running Press), by Scott Eyman. Eyman crafts a smart history of one of Hollywood’s biggest and most innovative studios in this concise book published under the Turner Classic Movies imprint.
“Voices of Milwaukee Bronzeville” (The History Press), by Sandra E. Jones. An informal, photo-laden history of the historic Black community around Walnut Street, with an emphasis on short profiles of people who lived there. Jones is a retired UW-Milwaukee professor of African and African Diaspora Studies.
“We Were Never Here” (Ballantine), by Andrea Bartz. In Brookfield native Bartz’s newest thriller, two close female friends who take adventure vacations together find out disturbing things about each other, some of which might be fatal.
“What Storm, What Thunder” (Tin House), by Myriam J.A. Chancy. Chancy drew on many conversations with survivors of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake for this harrowing novel about that disaster.
“The Witness for the Dead” (Tor), by Katherine Addison. Set in the same world as the Madison novelist’s fantasy “The Goblin Emperor,” “Witness” follows a troubled middle-aged cleric as he investigates several deaths in this class-stratified, racially complicated, polytheistic society, including the murder of an opera diva and the unexplained death and hasty burial of a young wife.
“Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of ‘The Sopranos’” (HarperCollins), by Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, with Philip Lerman. Imperioli and Schirripa, who played Christopher and Bobby respectively on TV’s most obsessed-over series, turn their popular “Talking Sopranos” podcast into a readable insiders’ look that should engage addicts and newbies alike.
“Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village” (Ten Speed Press), by Maureen Johnson, illustrated by Jay Cooper. Witty genre humor in an Edward Gorey vein.
“You’ve Got Red on You: How Shaun of the Dead Was Brought to Life” (1984 Publishing, due out Nov. 23), by Clark Collis. Journalist Collis takes a deep, entertaining dive into the making of the 2004 comedy-horror gem “Shaun of the Dead,” put together by auteur-in-the-making Edgar Wright and writer-comedian Simon Pegg.
For children and teens
“A House” (Greenwillow Books), written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. A picture book of simple statements and questions about a house, leading to an unhurried, interactive reading experience for child and adult. Henkes is a Madison writer. For readers 3 and older.
“The Fastest Girl on Earth! Meet Kitty O’Neil, Daredevil Driver” (Knopf), written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. She lost her hearing after a childhood illness, but that didn’t slow down O’Neil in her quest to set a women’s land-speed record. Robbins is a Madison writer. 4 to 8 years old.
“Lore of the Wild: Folklore and Wisdom from Nature” (Wide Eyed), by Claire Cock-Starkey, illustrated by Aitch. Short traditional folktales and nuggets of lore about animals, bugs, birds, plants, trees and nature. 6 to 12 years old.
“Too Small Tola” (Candlewick), by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu. Tola, who lives with her sister, brother and grandmother in a Lagos apartment, may be tiny. But her heart is big and her skill with counting mighty. 7 to 9 years old.
“Stuntboy, in the Meantime” (Atheneum/Dlouhy), by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raúl the Third. Portico Reeves, aka Stuntboy, tries to keep people in his largely Black apartment building safer and less stressed by pulling a bunch of stunts. 7 to 12 years old.
“Egg Marks the Spot” (Algonquin Young Readers), by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Odd couple Skunk and Badger, out for a distracting walk, try to protect a dinosaur egg from a treasure hunter. A sequel to the Hudson native’s “Skunk and Badger.” 8 to 12 years old.
“Pawcasso” (Henry Holt), written and illustrated by Remy Lai. When other kids assume the dog carrying a shopping basket belongs to lonely Jo Lin, hilarity and more than a few feelings follow. 8 to 12 years old.
“How to Think Like Frank Lloyd Wright: Insights, Inspiration, and Activities for Future Architects” (Downtown Bookworks), by Catherine Teegarden. This book on the legendary Wisconsin architect could cause some reader anguish: Do you keep gawking at the many photos and drawings, or dig in and do the many imagining, drawing and coloring exercises suggested? 10 years and older.
“A Snake Falls to Earth” (Levine Querido), by Darcie Little Badger. A Lipan Apache girl and a creature from the spirit world find their lives intertwining when they need each other’s help. 12 to 18 years old.
“Huda F Are You?” (Dial), written and illustrated by Huda Fahmy. In this smart and funny graphic novel, teenage Huda moves from a town where she sticks out because she wears a hijab, to Dearborn, where everyone is a hijabi girl. Trying to figure out who she is now puts her through some changes. For readers 12 and older, but many adults will love this book, too.