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The Best Nonfiction Books To Give, Receive Or Read This Winter

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Lindsey Moon
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IPR
Beaverdale Books and Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City have many of the books on this list on their store shelves, as well as other gifts for the bookworms in your life.

In the words of Neil Gaiman, "books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside them." 

Each year Talk of Iowa generates lists for the best new books to give during the holiday season. This year, we're creating curated lists for adult fiction, nonfiction for both adults and kids, and young readers. 

These titles were chosen by Jan Weismiller and Tim Budd of Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City and Hunter Gillum of Beaverdale Books in Des Moines. 

Nonfiction For Adults

Furious Hours by Casey Cep

This book is equal parts true crime and literary biography. It tells the story of the case that Harper Lee was going to write about, and why she never did.

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Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
This is a memoir in essays. The author details her struggle with mental illness and the struggles that her peers face in treatment.

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Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
This is a mix of grief memoir and nature writing. The author talks about the grief from losing her father and nine years later her mother while mixing in her observations from nature.

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In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
This book is a memoir about same sex psychological abuse.  Machado analyzes this relationship from every angle and tries to decipher how events from that relationship shaped who she is today.  She also looks at the history of abuse in same sex relationships and how LGBTQ relationships are depicted in the media.

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The Body by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson's new book guides us through the human body - how it functions marvelously and how it also naturally fails.  This is a factual account of the body, and it unveils something miraculous.

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Matt Alvarez
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IPR

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison's star is on the rise.  As an essayist she is being compared to Joan Didion and even to Susan Sontag.  She is the author of a previous essay collection "The Empathy Exams,"  the novel "The Gin Closet," and a literary memoir called "A Reckoning."   This new collection of essays begins with a tale of 52 Blue, the loneliest whale in the world, and ends with an essay addressed to her unborn daughter. In between are personal essays about eloping and becoming a stepmother and researched essays about children with past-life memories and citizens of an online world called "Second Life."  It is very hard to put anything that Leslie Jamison writes down.

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The History of Philosophy by A.C. Grayling
This is a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in philosophy.  A.C. Grayling is a professor at St. Anne's College in Oxford and has written and edited over 30 books on philosophy.  This accessible and revelatory overview takes readers from worldviews before the age of the Buddha through theories of philosophy today.  He is able to bring to life historical and contemporary thinkers and give the reader a thrilling ability to share in his discoveries.

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Love Unknown: The Life and Worlds of Elizabeth Bishop by Thomas Travisano
Elizabeth Bishop's poetry becomes more known and more loved by the moment it seems.  And, as that happens, biographies proliferate.  Her life was supremely sad and yet her work transcends her experiences. Her father died when she was a baby and her mother was institutionalized for life shortly thereafter. Her life's trajectory through the early and mid twentieth century was one that repeated these early sorrows. Thomas Travisano has written a biography that exquisitely blends the life and the work.

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Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser
Susan Sontag was a towering American intellectual known for her writing, her racial thought and her pubic activism.  She wrote on art, politics, feminism, celebrity, medicine, and communism.  And yet she was always a polarizing figure.  Partly in that she belied that fidelity to high culture was an activism of it's own during a time when high culture was being heavily questioned.  Benjamin Moser's comprehensive biography fully examines her complex life and its relationship to our time.

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A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel
First published in 1944 and recently rediscovered, this memoir recounts the experiences of Frenkel when she's forced to abandon her business in Berlin until her eventual escape into Switzerland.  "There are so many parallels to today's migrant crisis this book seems somehow modern.  But it's the examples of the kindness of strangers that I found most moving."

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How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones
A brutally honest, superbly written memoir about coming into one's own as a young gay black man.  "I was spellbound by the absolute beauty of the writing in this book as the author illuminates the turning points in his relationships with his family, society and himself."

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Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds: 100 New Ways to See the World by Ian Wright
Using infographic-style maps, this book presents eye-opening trivia about geography, history, and culture around the world.  "Educational and very entertaining, this is a book for all ages -- you'll be looking at it for hours."

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The Mosquito:  A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard
The millennia-old relationship between man and his nemesis, the mosquito.  "I think it's better to read this during the off-season. It's too frightening to read in the summer.  (Anyone for camping?)  It will make you grateful for Iowa winters."

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How To:  Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe
Mr. Munroe, the author of the bestsellers "What If?" and "Thing Explainer," returns with a book of extreme scientific solutions to everyday problems.  "A fair portion of these ideas are really bad, but Munroe makes them fun and educational at the same time.  He writes, 'Maybe an idea is bad, but figuring out exactly why it's a bad idea can teach you a lot.' "

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Nonfiction For Youth

What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Diana Sudyka

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Reaching for the Moon: An Autobiography of a NASA Mathematician by Katherine Johnson

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Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin

This is about women who were early pilots and an air race across the U.S. Some of these people do not have good ends. The women in the book are brave and strong and mighty, and they’re awesome. They really had to overcome a lot to get into that pilot seat. One of them built their own plane!    

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Moth by Isabel Thomas

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Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle

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Beastly Puzzles: A Brain-Boggling Animal Guessing Game by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

This is kind of like a scientific "I Spy" book. Kids will really like trying to figure out what animal that is, and once they do figure it out, they’ll like reading why that makes it that animal.  

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Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier

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Lindsey Moon is IPR's Digital Producer