IPR's Holiday Book Guide

Dec 2, 2014

If book-buying is on your to-do list this season, Jan Weismiller and Paul Ingram of Prairie Lights Books are here to help.

They've compiled a list of their favorite releases from 2014, perfect for holiday gift giving. 

Jan's Picks


Collected Poems -- Mark Strand

"We are celebrating the life of Mark Strand all over the country and probably the world right now, because he died on Saturday. [...] Strand was educated at the Writers Workshop in the 1960s, and went on to become a Pulitzer Prize winner, a poet laureate of the United States, a MacArthur fellow, and a beloved poet."


Family Feeling -- Jean Ross Justice

"It's a novella in five stories and all of them have to do with family relationships and with multi-generational families and issues of end-of-life and aging and also memory. We have sold a lot of this book and we've had a lot of people come in the store and tell us, after they've read it, how much it meant to them. And one thing of the things people have said to me, which I find very interesting, people in middle age read it and come back and say 'This gave me so much confidence that my aging parents are absolutely fine, that despite ill health and various things they have a lot of self-awareness and optimism.'"

Clever Girl -- Tessa Hadley

"The title is somewhat ironic but not completely. It follows a woman's life from her girlhood in the 1960s through the present and she was given this name 'Clever Girl' as a young girl and then made decisions that a clever girl might not make. [...] It's very vivid in terms of scene setting; I don't really know how she remembered. I mean things came back to me that I never would have myself remembered about clothing and the way interiors looked."

The Hilltop --  Assaf Gavron

“It’s set in Israel, and it spans a couple of generations. The characters are middle-aged, farming. And so it gets into this very contemporary idea of local and sustainable farming..."

Lila --  Marilynne Robinson

“It is told from the point of view of the woman who was not central to Gilead, because she’s the young wife of the minister, Jonathan Ames. You have no sense, reading Gilead, of who she is through his eyes except that she’s young and that he respects her greatly and otherwise you really don’t know much about her. This is her story and it’s really remarkable.”


A History of the World in 12 Maps -- Jerry Brotton

“The final map is Google Earth as you might guess. […] It’s got wonderful plates in it.”

The Beatles Lyrics -- Hunter Davies

“He himself owns nine fragments of paper where the actual lyrics were written. […] And the others he tracked down. It’s amazing to read about the moments where these were all composed.”

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life -- Hermione Lee

“Hermione Lee is a very highly acclaimed biographer of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton. Penelope Fitzgerald is nowhere near as famous as most of her subjects but she’s equally engaging; she’s a wonderful novelist.”

Honorable Mentions:

Suspended Sentences -- Patrick Modiano

1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think -- Robert Arp

Thomas Cromwell -- Tracy Borman

Loitering New & Collected Essays -- Chrales D'Ambrosio

Relatively Indolent But Relentless -- Matt Freedman

Being Mortal -- Atul Gawande

Paul's Picks


A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing -- Eimear McBride

"It's kind of a stream-of-consciousness book. Don't be too frightened by that. It's fairly easy to read, and it's fairly lovely as a book.” 

The Children Act -- Ian McEwan

"The story is essentially about a woman who is a judge who works with children who are in bad shape. There is a sort of a secondary plot that goes through this about she and her husband who is having an affair. The two stories meld very well. The story goes very slowly but richly all the way through, and you know there will be something potent at the end."

Laidlaw -- William McIlvanney

“There are three novels in his series and the first one is called ‘Laidlaw,’ which is the name of the detective he talks about. He’s one of these really, really tough guys who is an alcoholic, that kind of tough guy. He has a very hard time in his life and it becomes clear almost immediately that he’s not going to have an easy time with his life.”

The Laughing Monsters -- Denis Johnson

“This is one of his darker books. […] The writing as usual is just perfect. Just about anyone’s going to get into it, at least who likes the sort of dark notions that we deal with.”

Hild -- Nicola Griffith

“I’ve found that virtually all English novelists whose first names are Nicola are fantastic. This is about 17th century Britain and nobody writes about that time. Smart people are buying it for the right reasons.”


Ever Yours: The Essential Letters -- Vincent Van Gogh

“Among the things it has, it has lots of pictures, lots of beautiful sketches that he has drawn over the years. It talks about a lot more than just his brother Theo. It talks about his difficult, difficult relationship with his father. It also has poetry he’s written.”

The Best American Infographics -- Nate Silver

“I didn’t really know what infographics were. They have to do with setting things together. They’re pictures essentially. […] If you’ve got someone in your group of friends who doesn’t ever read, this is the book, and it’s really good.”

What If? -- Randall Munroe

“Among the questions they ask is ‘If my printer could literally print out money, would it have that big of an effect on the world?’ ‘Which US state is actually flown over the most?’ This is really hard, but this guy does it. I really love the guy.”

Honorable Mentions:

The Book of Strange New Things -- Michel Faber

The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told -- Jean Thompson

Just Mercy -- Bryan Stevenson

Atlas of Indian Nations --  Anton Treuer