Archived Reading Room

Start your holiday shopping at the bookstore

bookFor all of you who haven’t started your holiday shopping yet, for you who scorn Black Friday, who keep telling yourselves day after day that you will go buy gifts tomorrow (tomorrow: what a wonderful word!), for all of you who wake at dawn in a cold sweat knowing that you are down to the wire, the holidays can hover like dark clouds at midnight. Gift cards are the backup plan, but then you remember you gave your mother, your siblings, and Uncle Billy-Bob plastic for the Olive Garden for the last five years running. Suddenly your mouth is drier than a sack of Kibbles and Bits, and your hands are shaking the way they did that morning after Billy-Bob’s New Year’s party and you woke face down in his backyard bean patch without a clue as to how you got there.


No fears, literati. The solution to your shopping problem is simple: hie yourself off to your local bookstore, do a bit of browsing, and let the purchasing begin. Bookshops offer gifts for every taste — Billy Bob might really appreciate a bartender’s manual, that mousy niece who might just be a genius might love a leather journal, and you know your mother buys a garden calendar every year when the sales begin. Beat her to the punch and show her you care.

Now, you could order these same books online, but by shopping closer to home you help the local economy; keep your neighborhood bookshop in existence; and can handpick the books you want. So there you go. Stop your dithering and head out on your adventure. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started. Yes, it’s another list:

• Wayfaring Stranger (Simon & Schuster, 436 pages, $27.99) by James Lee Burke is a grand read for men young and old who like a story packed with conflict, violence, wit, and history. Burke gives us Weldon Holland, an oilman in Texas who as a boy took a shot at Bonnie and Clyde, who fought the Germans in World War II, and who returns home to find he must fight again for his survival among the wolves of the petroleum fields of Texas and the coyotes of Hollywood. Burke’s writing is as usual first rate, and the ending will surprise you.

Related Items

• Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year (Alfred A. Knopf, 251 pages, $25.95) is a memoir of working at a literary agency in Manhattan that has as one of its clients the author of The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. Here Rakoff shares with readers her account of life in a literary agency — and in Manhattan — and of her trials dealing with her boss and with Salinger. This is a fine account of what it means to find your way as a young adult, to grow in confidence as to your own gifts, and to choose those pathways best for your own development. 

• Any full edition of The Christmas Carol can make a wonderful gift, particularly if you tell the recipient — a woman, say, who is queen of your heart while you are but the scullery knave in hers — that you intend to read the story aloud to her. All of us know the story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim and the others, but how many people have actually read the book? Some critics regard Dickens as a writer to stand alongside Shakespeare, and some of those critics regard The Christmas Carol as his finest work. Read aloud, the words of this book become as savory on the tongue as that barbecue sauce served up by Uncle Billy-Bob for that previously mentioned party (Please, don’t tell me you forgot about the barbecue sauce).

• William Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Atheneum, $17.99) is ostensibly a children’s book, but don’t be fooled. Anyone who loves books will adore this volume. The London Times called it “one of the most influential titles of the early twenty-first century,” and you’ll see why when you see the sumptuous illustrations and ponder this book’s message. 

• Still stuck? Well, try this one: The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide to Good Living (HarperCollins Publishers, 2013, 288 pages, $27.99). Crammed into this plain blue volume are essays from “Garden & Gun,” the title of a magazine that could only come, of course, from the South. You’ll find over 100 articles on such subjects as ramps, barbecue sauces, bourbon, fishing for bass, holiday punch, Mardi Gras, and William Faulkner. This is a “feel-good” book whose wide range of topics offers something for everyone. For a fuller review, please see the next issue of the “Smoky Mountain Living Magazine.” 

• Journals make excellent gifts. For one thing, you are saying to the recipients that their thoughts are worth recording. Such a gift will compliment your friends and please any of those family members you just verbally labeled as idiots over the Thanksgiving turkey and dressing. For another, you can spend a good bit of time simply inhaling the leather on some of these blank books. They smell better than a new pair of dress shoes.

Well, there you go. Visit your local book emporium, purchase one of their holiday drinks, and have some fun browsing. Don’t forget to sniff those journals.

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. His two books, the novel Amanda Bell and a book of essays titled Learning As I Go: A Medley of Essays and Letters … are both available at local bookstores and at

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