A holiday books list for your shopping season

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Holidays should be the festive stops of the year, occasions to pause and make sense of things. Books can also provide great relaxation, which is why they make great gifts. Long after the yuletide, a volume found under the tree can be a break in the rush.

That’s the idea behind the list of holiday books I present here after each Thanksgiving. These are not necessarily my “best of the year” titles. They’re books I’ve been enjoying lately and you might consider them as a gift for that special someone — or maybe even yourself.

Since our theme today is the useful pause, I’ll start with “The Comfort of Crows” by Margaret Renkle, a story about four seasons in her Nashville backyard. Many of us focus more on backyard nature when we’re at home during lockdown, but Renkle always does this kind of look. At the beginning, she tells readers to “stop what you’re doing, wherever you are.” It’s a call to pause our ambitions and savor the wonders nearby, and Renkel is such a beautiful writer that she makes beauty look as good as she sees it.

Another recent book in this tradition is “Broken,” about marine biologist Maddalena Berzi’s account of what she saw from her window when the plague protected her home. “Hold on to happy memories; they can save you when you need them,” she wisely advises. Another good entry in this category is “A Farm Life,” Darlene Beer Hofstott’s collection of essays about her rural Pennsylvania home. Hofstott lives far from my home in Louisiana, but it’s on her doorstep. Her focus on the trees, birds and plants beyond helped me see my own corner of the world more clearly.

Seeing Clearly Roger Rosenblatt’s “Cataract Blues” is a slightly poetic memoir about how surgery successfully restored his vision, giving him a new lease on life in old age. At 92, John McPhee knows a few things about aging. “Tabula Rosa” recounts the stories of his long career as a writer at The New Yorker. Although McPhee is known for his exhaustively reported and detailed magazine clippings, these memoirs are more casual and compact, making him an ideal touchstone for the star’s career. In “The Noise of the Typewriters,” another recent work by Lance Morrow reflects on his work at Time magazine and the broader wave of journalism he created in the 20th century. How nice to remember that the writer I first met in college is still writing flawless sentences.

“Flawless” best describes “little things like these,” Irish writer Claire Keegan’s story about a family faced with the difficult decision of sheltering or sheltering a daughter who is at heart. This heartwarming story is set at Christmas, but can be read anytime.

Good books, after all, defy season. Happy reading over the holidays – and throughout the coming year.

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