The Book Jam Blog
Read our latest reviews
At the end of each year here at The Book Jam, we post reading suggestions for the down-time in between the holiday rush and New Year’s Eve. We traditionally call this list “What To Read After The Relatives Have Left.” But this year, that doesn’t quite work. Those observing strict safety practices would feel oh so grateful to be in need of quiet after a slurry of visitors. And yet, there is still something about this hushed valley of time in December/those initial days of January that allows us to get lost in a great story. So we continue this list today, even if the title is a bit clunky. How about this year we call it “Books for the Hush of Late December/early January?” Whatever the title, we offer these suggestions it in the hopes that you are able to find calm as well as the space to curl up with a wonderful, transformative, and healing book. Happy 2021!
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (2020). At first glance, this story, one about a woman accompanying a friend with a terminal illness through the process of dying, might seem depressing - and yet, it never is. Instead it is witty, insightful, profound, quotidian, and compassionate. The narrator’s voice is conversational and intimate, which makes it easy to spend time with her and what might otherwise be difficult subjects. Nunez has a gift for exploring themes of companionship and meaning (for those who have not yet read her 2018 National Book Award winning The Friend: A Novel should know we also highly recommend this; after finishing it, I wanted to put it in the hands or everyone I knew). Ms. Nunez’s new book also explores the topic of our threatened environment, hope, and healing and moves readers from hospital rooms, college lecture halls, and to an airbnb where the friend wishes to spend her final days. There is even a talking cat who tells us its life story. In a year when it was often challenging to find books that seemed relevant or were able to hold a reader’s attention, this one strikes just the right chord. And the reader feels transformed by the end. ~Lisa Cadow
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (2020). Wow, can our former President write a well crafted sentence/paragraph/chapter/book. At over 700 pages you need a bit of time to settle in and enjoy; so we include it in this post about what to read during the "hush of late December/early January" even though it has been everywhere for awhile (and many of you may already own it, but have it in a stack, unread). We hope you can take some time, pick this up, settle into your favorite chair, and learn about what life as the United States President actually entails, and then discover how this particular person dealt with all that the Presidency offers. I, for one, was heartened by the pragmatic optimism infused throughout.~ Lisa Christie
More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth (2020). The critics talk about how this book is great for young adults as they begin their careers and lives away from their parents/guardians. I, as a 54 year old woman found it to just be a great book about life, told through the prism of Ms. Welteroth, who among other career accolades was the first Black editor of Teen Vogue. In her stories, you will find help claiming your space and assistance refuting biases; mostly you will be reminded that you are "more than enough". ~ Lisa Christie
So Hanukkah is almost over. Christmas is days away. Kwanza is pending. You need some gift inspiration and maybe you need a good book for yourself. The Book Jam has a few last minute ideas (and many other great choices in our past reviews). We hope they help. Mostly we hope you find peace and joy amidst all of the chaos. Happy Holidays.
Armchair Travel - Because we could ALL use a change of scenery
Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bill Buford (2020). If you know someone who has a) lived in France b) would like to live in France c) would like to live abroad with their family d) has lived abroad with their family e) loves to cook f) all of the above, then this would be a great book for them. What I really appreciate about this memoir is that it doesn’t “sugar coat” the experience of living in another country. It actually does an excellent job - with humor - of describing the challenges, fears, and frustrations of moving out of one’s comfort zone, even if it is to a place as lovely as France. The food facts and history are a bonus! And so is the fact that it’s set in Lyon, a city less know to readers than Paris, which adds grit and makes it more relatable somehow. At the time of this writing, there were three copies on the shelves at the Norwich Bookstore so it may still be possible to secure a copy for gifting this holiday season. P.S. This book is on many reviewers Top Books or 2020 lists. ~ Lisa Cadow
Mysteries -- Because this year, perhaps more than any other, we all need something in our lives that is solved in the end
Conviction by Denise Mina (2019). This thriller winds around a true crime podcast with ties to the main character - Anna. It then follows how her life implodes on one very average day when her husband announces he is leaving her for her best friend and her past comes rolling into that void. With help from an anorexic rock star and a bizarre road trip through the beauty of Scotland and Southern France, Anna tries to find the truth about her past and her present, and in the process save her life and the lives of those she cares about. AJ Finn picked this as a New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year. I say, give it to the "difficult to buy for" on your list, and then add an extra for yourself to just enjoy. If you like this one, or if your favorite bookseller does not currently have Conviction in stock, do not panic, Ms. Mina has many other novels, usually set in Scotland. Thus, like the first book in this set of reviews, her books also offer some armchair travel (for those of us living outside Scotland). Note: two of our favorite booksellers - Carin Pratt and Liza Bernard recommended this to me when I was in desperate need of a page turner. ~ Lisa Christie
Games - Because we all need to play
The New York Times Crosswords for a Long Weekend: 200 Easy to Hard Crossword Puzzles (2020). Some of us can imagine nothing better than receiving such a gift: an open invitation over the holidays to spend blissful, meditative moments (with a pencil or a pen?- that is the question) curled up next to the wood stove word-smithing and clue solving away. And in the hands of editor and puzzle master Will Shortz, solving these puzzles is bound to be a satisfying experience. If this book happens to be out of stock when you go to do your last minute gifting, don’t (clue: be constantly anxious, stress over) “FRET” there are many other New York Times crossword books (clue: readily available) “ON HAND” at the Norwich Bookstore. Happy Holiday Puzzling! ~ Lisa Cadow
Kids -- Because books are a perfect gift for anyone
Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice by Veronica Chambers (2019). Ms. Chamber has gathered a great collection of short biographies of important people who had the courage to change history. People profiled include Ghandi, Fannie Lou Hamer, Samuel Adams, and Archbishop Oscar Romero. This collection serves as a good reminder to us all that we may only be one person, but we all have power to change unfair and unjust things. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
If you are still at a loss, browse our recent holiday gift guide. Or call your favorite indie bookstore and see what they can recommend. They often carry puzzles and socks and great stationery -- those fit anyone.