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The 2018 Iowa Public Radio Holiday Book Guide

Charity Nebbe/Iowa Public Radio
Books that are featured on this year's book guide list.

It's that time of year again! Make your list and check it twice, because here are some holiday book recommendations from some of Iowa's greatest bibliophiles. Jan Weismiller and Tim Budd from Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City and Hunter Gillum from Beaverdale Books in Des Moines share their top fiction and non-fiction picks of 2018.


Tim Budd’s Picks

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

An English novel about a man nearing his forties and coming to terms with his loneliness, grief, and memories. "The best novel I read this year -- a beautiful story of friendship and love, and learning to accept and embrace the experiences (both good & bad) of one's life."

There There by Tommy Orange (Double Recommendation)

A story following several Native Americans living in and around northern California as they converge on Oakland Coliseum for a national powwow. "This important first novel has a fierce, gritty style and characters we rarely get to meet in a book -- the last 60 pages are unforgettable."

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

In George III's London, a mild-mannered merchant receives an unusual cargo that thrusts him into a new social circle where he becomes infatuated with a beautiful courtesan. "Witty language and fascinating characters drive this delightful tale of love and obsession -- London in all its messy, bawdy sumptuousness!"

The Sadness of Beautiful Things by Simon Van Booy

The new collection of tales from the master craftsman Simon Van Booy, created from stories he's been told during his travels. "I never tire of reading and re-reading this author's work -- whether it be for the phenomenal skill of the writing or the stirring themes of connection and empathy that his characters discover in one another. Inspiring!"

The Hunger by Alma Katsu 

As if the Donner Party wasn't terrifying enough, this truly scary novel has the wagon train being stalked by a predatory creature. "This book gave me nightmares.  Please don't hold me responsible if you experience the same!"

Hunter Gillum’s Picks

Overstory by Richard Powers

In the beginning, the characters are introduced and their connection to trees is detailed. All of the characters then come together in the Pacific Northwest to protest the clear cutting of old growth forests. “I chose this title because trees are the main character in it, and Powers beautifully details our connection to them.”

There There by Tommy Orange (Double Recommendation) 

There are many Native voices present in this novel. It explores their connections to their heritage, and it all coalesces around a pow wow happening in Oakland, California. “I chose this novel because it is an astonishing debut, and Orange does a fantastic job of depicting each character's struggle to understand themselves.”

Come West and See by Maxim Loskutoff

Come West is a collection of short stories depicting a rural uprising happening in the west. “I chose this collection of short stories because I loved the depictions of isolation.”

Waiting for Tomorrow by Nathacha Appanah

This novel tells the story of a husband and wife who both develop a fascination with their newly hired nanny. “I chose this novel because the writing is beautiful.”

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

The unnamed protagonist in this novel has the goal of sleeping  as much as possible. “I choose this novel because I have never read a novel with a main character that is as unlikable as this, but remains readable.”

Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

This is a collection of short stories that deal with race, masculinity, and male friendships. “I chose this collection of short stories because of the picturesque quality of each individual story.”

Jan Weismiller’s Picks

Your Duck Is My Duck by Deborah Eisenberg

Electric stories by the author of Twilight of the Superheroes and All Around Atlantis. “The stories in Deborah Eisenberg’s 6th collection are funny, smart, heartfelt accounts of the increasingly crazy world we now occupy.”

The Lake on Fire by Rosellen Brown

Set in Chicago during the time of The Columbian Exposition, The Lake on Fire follows the life of Chaya-Libbe Shaderowsky, daughter of an immigrant family on a failing farm in Wisconsin who runs away to seek her fortune in Chicago. “Rosellen Brown is a master storyteller whose balance of the domestic and the historical has always been impeccable. Chaya-Libbe’s coming of age in the gilded era of Chicago is unforgettable.”

Little by Edward Carey

This historical novel set in France before and during the revolution is narrated by Madame Tussaud. “This incredibly personal and perceptive story of an eccentric artist during a time of upheaval both took me away from the troubled times we live in and shed a new light upon them. Edward Carey spent nearly a decade writing this mesmerizing tale."

French Exit by Patrick Dewitt  

French Exit is the new comedy of manners by the author of The Sisters Brothers, set in both Manhattan and Paris it focuses society matron Frances Price and her feckless son, Malcolm, as they face the loss of their fortune. “Patrick Dewitt’s dry humor is enchanting. My favorite part of French Exit is the cat, Small Frank, believed to be the reincarnation of Frances' husband.”


Tim Budd’s Picks

Innumerable Insects:  The Story of the Most Diverse and Myriad Animals on Earth by Michael S. Engel

Published in part by the American Museum of Natural History, this incredibly beautiful book offers a scientific overview of bugs from evolution to discovery, and features stunning illustrations from the museum's rare book collection.  "A book for the whole family -- children will love to look through the pictures and adults will read in wonder about these creeping, flying, abundant creatures that share our world."

The Escape Artists:  A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War by Neal Bascomb

This book follows the thrilling escape of nearly 30 British officers in World War I from a German POW camp designated just for prisoners with histories of multiple escape attempts. "I was captivated by the bravery, cleverness and ingenuity of these British Royal Flying Corps pilots as they try again and again to get outside the walls and into Holland."

Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox

In 1908, a German Jew convicted of murdering a Scottish woman appeals to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, for help in proving his innocence. "This book will be enjoyed by anyone interested in history, true crime and/or a good mystery -- an Edwardian tale that I found (with some alarm) to be very topical today."

Bestiary:  Animals in Art from The Ice Age to Our Age by Christopher Masters

Art historian Masters traces the depiction of animals -- both real & imaginary --  in art throughout the world, using images from the impressive collection of The British Museum. "There's a new delight on every page -- a book that will enthrall readers from ages five to 95."

Visualizing the Beatles: A Complete Graphic History of the World's Favorite Band by John Pring & Rob Thomas

Using maps, timelines, pie charts, you name it -- the history of the Fab Four told visually, album by album. "There are all sorts of interesting tidbits in this book -- I gave it to my cousin, a Beatles fanatic, and he thought it one of the best Beatles book ever!"

Hunter Gillum’s Picks

Recovering by Leslie Jamison

Jamison tells the story of her recovery while also telling the story of recovery generally. “I chose this book because I liked the look at the history of recovery and the deep dive into the depiction of an alcoholic author/artist.”

Library Book by Susan Orlean

Library Book tells the story of the L.A. Library fire of 1986. “I chose this because it starts off with a true crime vibe and then morphs into a history of the LA public library as well as a love letter to libraries.”

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is such a powerful memoir. Tara is raised in Idaho in a Mormon household, where she is isolated from the outside world. “I chose this book because I found it so impactful. Tara goes from skipping school to work in her father’s junk yard, then to Harvard and Cambridge.”

Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

Monk of Mokha tells the story of Mokhtar, a Yemeni American who was raised in San Francisco. He discovers that his home country of Yemen has some of the oldest known coffee plants, and he sets out to try to become a major exporter of Yemeni coffee. “I chose this book because I learned so much about coffee exports, and about Yemen.”

Jan Weismiller’s Picks

The Only Girl by Robin Green

Robin Green finished college in 1969 and went to work for Rolling Stone soon after. She was the first woman on the masthead of the magazine. Later, she received an MFA in fiction at The Iowa Writer’s Workshop and went on to be an executive producer and writer for The Sopranos. “This is a tough, honest look at the life of a strong woman writer who came of age in the late 60s and early 70s. I loved her vivid description and her perspective.”

Ninth Street Women: Five Women Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel 

Mary Gabriel, author of Love and Capital, a book on the marriage of Jenny and Karl Marx, has written a compulsively readable book on the lives of female abstract expressionists: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. The detailed, sensitive portrait is one not just of these five women but of the complicated era that birthed them. Ninth Street Women reads like a novel with behind-the-scenes dramas of these women, their work, and their marriages."

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David w. Blight

Frederick Douglass was perhaps the strongest African-American voice of the Civil War and its aftermath. Born into slavery, he escaped at the age of twenty and his legacy still lives. This exhaustive biography discusses not only his political life, but his complicated biography, including a marriage to a white woman. “This biography is what all biographies should be - a vibrant portrait that brings a historical figure and his concerns vividly to life."

Storm Lake: A Chronicle Of Change, Resilience And Hope From A Small Town Newspaper by Art Cullen 

Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times, received a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism in April 2017 for his reporting on water pollution in Des Moines. After the prize was awarded, Viking offered him a book deal and Storm Lake is the result. “To read Art Cullen is to love him. He details, with remarkable dexterity and humor, the history of agriculture and immigration in Iowa. Reading Storm Lake, one feels that with Art Cullen’s kind of common sense we can bring Iowa back on track.”

These Truths by Jill Lepore  

The title “These Truths” refers to Thomas Jefferson’s statement rests on three principles (truths): political equality, natural rights and the sovereignty of the people. “This one-volume history is the perfect gift for the history buff in your family who wants to understand the difficult history of the most optimistic concept of government the world has ever seen.”

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Dennis Reese was the mid-day host for Iowa Public Radio