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NHPR Reads: December 2023

Sara Plourde

This December, Sara and I decided to ask the NHPR staff to share what book they would love to give or receive as a holiday gift. The results did not disappoint! From cookbooks to manga, memoirs to mythology - there is something here for everyone on your list. Whether you decide to pick one up as a little treat for yourself or wrap one up for a loved one, we hope you enjoy. And as always, please send us your review if you decide to add any of these books to your library list at voices@nhpr.org. - Zoë 

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

This is the book I gift to everyone, the book I recommend to everyone. It is my desert island book. Hempel does not publish very often, and that might be one of the reasons that every one of her stories is a finely-crafted jewel, sparse and beautiful like a poem. In particular, the story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” breaks my heart every time; when I need to remind myself that I can feel deeply, I reread the closing lines, and it aches afresh. If you love short stories, try this. If you think you don’t…try this. -Sara Plourde

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

This is a book I gift to any new parents in my life. It’s a kids book, but I guarantee as an adult, you will love this book. It has whimsy and cute woodland creatures, and also some dark humor. I laugh every time I read it. -Genevieve Andress

The Three Questions by John Muth

While technically a children’s book, this story, based on one of Leo Tolstoy’s stories, is a beautiful allegory about appreciating what you have right now. It also has lovely watercolor illustrations. I have given this book to children and adults alike. - Christine Louis

Butt or Face? by Kari Lavelle

Butt or Face? is for kids ages 4-8 and provides a “cheeky” challenge – deciding if the close up picture is an animal’s face or its, umm, its bottom. Answers, full photos and fun animal facts are provided on the next page. This book is great for kids who love animals and nature, and parents who don’t take learning too seriously. - Michelle Gaudet

I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessi Klein

I’m gifting this book to a few fellow moms in my life this year because it’s the most relatable and enjoyable writing on new motherhood I’ve found since I became a mom three years ago. Jessi Klein (as you may know from her appearances on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and The Moth) is absolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard reading this book in bed at night, I worried I would wake up my husband and kiddo! All parents will feel so seen by this wonderful collection of personal essays. - Katie Colaneri

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

I’ve given this book to a couple of dozen 13-year-olds whom I’ve taught in religious school. The story of Dr. Paul Farmer, an infectious disease specialist who devotes his work to improving the health of forgotten people, is immensely inspiring. His creation of Partners in Health exemplifies what a life of service can accomplish. - Jim Schachter

Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder

I’ve given this gem to many of the kids in my life as it’s one of my daughter’s and my all time favorites. Tyler celebrates every kind of body with joyful, bright illustrations. It’s such a great way to show kids (and whoever is reading to them!) how important it is to see all skin tones, hair types and sizes as so, so cool! - Lauren Chooljian

D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire 

This is the very first book I can remember reading alone as a child. Still to this day, I keep a copy on my coffee table and am thrilled to see friends' eyes light up when they spot the iconic (50+ year old!) yellow cover. D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths is one of those books that I think every household should have and every child should read while their imagination is still free enough to believe in the magic of nymphs, Mount Olympus, and every myth in between. Gift this to any family in your life - I promise they’ll love it. - Zoë Kay

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

This quiet, non-fiction jewel details the author’s observations of a land snail who became her primary companion while she was bedridden with a mysterious illness. This is for lovers of nature writing, philosophers, and anyone who appreciates the miracle of small things. - Angela Menendez

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

I recommend this for those who like audiobooks. It’s a fantastic story where each of the boroughs of New York City become embodied by a person living in the borough. In this literary world, this is not a phenomenon that only NYC experiences but, of course, there’s something about this city. I haven’t finished the book yet, but there’s an entity that’s encroaching on habitants, possibly like a parasite, possibly other dimensional, it’s also trying to consume or take over the city. It certainly makes for a fantastic book if you like holding something physical in your hand but the sound design for the audiobook is immersive with music, sound effects, fantastic narration – it highlights the creepy vibes, confusion, and unfolding of the story. - Olivia Richardson

Foster by Claire Keegan

I haven’t given this one as a gift, but this story felt like a gift to me so I’m here to share it with you! This is the second novella I’ve read by Claire Keegan (my first was Small Things Like These, which I also highly recommend) and this one is just as exquisite. It’s a quick, but profound read with a story you’ll be thinking about for weeks, months, maybe years to come. Keegan’s writing is impossibly sharp and gorgeous, and she has a knack for picking just the right number of details, while leaving much to the reader’s imagination. - Katie Colaneri

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Anthology) by Douglas Adams

I have read this entire series over a dozen times since I first discovered it. I have a very well loved and yellowed paperback copy that I will frequently open and just dive in. No matter what page you start on, you’re guaranteed a laugh and the strange (yet familiar) worlds and personalities that Adams builds combine humor and intellect in equal measure. I often quote the first book when I find myself foggy-brained on a Thursday afternoon: “This must be Thursday,' said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. 'I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’” - Kara Nolting

Against All Grain by Danielle Walker

This one is for the foodie on your list. I originally bought this cookbook to have recipes on hand for family gatherings as I have an uncle with celiac disease. However, the recipes in this cookbook are so easy and versatile that I use it ALL THE TIME. Walker keeps her ingredient lists simple, so you won’t go broke buying a crazy list of items you’ll only use once . This cookbook came out almost a decade ago, but odds are if I get asked to share a recipe it originated here. - Michelle Gaudet

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is a classic book for all ages. The story of a magical journey of a shepherd boy and his search for treasure and his experiences along the way. Wonderful story about discovering your dreams and what lies within. A great gift and one that can be re-read and passed on. -Christine Maurer

The Eyes and the Impossible, by Dave Eggers

I’ve been passing my copy of this wonderful book to anybody who will read it. Its narrator and protagonist is a ‘free dog’ living in a large metropolitan park, with an infectious enthusiasm for life and a penchant for wild exaggeration. This is a great book to read as an emotional pick-me-up with your family, or by yourself. - Taylor Quimby

Mimi’s Tales of Terror by Junji Ito

Ito is one of the greatest manga artists of our time, with several of his works being adapted into films. His influences include classic horror manga artists Kazuo Umezz and Hideshi Hino, as well as authors Yasutaka Tsutsui and H.P. Lovecraft. He’s out with a new book this fall inspired from the famed collection of urban legends Shin Mimibukuro. This collection of nine scary stories is a must for any fan of manga or graphic art. - Michelle Gaudet

Julia, by Sandra Newman

This retelling of George Orwell’s 1984, authorized by the original author’s estate, examines the events of the classic dystopian novel from the perspective of its protagonist's love interest, Julia. While arguably even darker than the original, Newman injects a much-needed woman’s perspective to the world of Ingsoc, and also manages to bring some humor and hope into the fold as well. -Taylor Quimby

What My Bones Know, by Stephanie Foo

Stephanie Foo, former producer for This American Life, tells the story of the relentless abuse she suffered from her parents growing up (They constantly beat her and threatened her life, her mom even took a knife to her throat once, and they eventually abandoned her as a teen), and the journey she undertook as an adult to understand her past and heal from it. Part memoir, part journalistic reporting on mental health, and a dash of self-help, this book was a page turner. I found the reporting on the science of epigenetics particularly interesting, as well as the immigrant and transnational family dynamics threaded throughout the book. Plus there's a small unflattering glimpse into the This American Life workplace. —Felix Poon

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

At any one time, I have 5 or 6 copies of this paperback in my house, ready to give to someone when they’re in a big life transition, need some support, want to know they have a friend, etc. The holidays are a great excuse for any of those things. Dear Sugar was so much more than an advice column. Each bit of advice is both a story and a scream into the void in the best way. There’s nothing saccharine about advice like “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding. And dear one, you and I both were granted a mighty generous hand.” Bonus points if you include bookmarks for the columns in the book will most speak to the person you’re giving it to. - Christina Phillips

Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames: The D'Antin Manuscript by Louis D’Antin Van Rooten

I have bought this collection of poems so many times, only to keep giving it away to people near and dear to me. Van Rooten “discovered” these ancient poems in the early 1900s, and they’re in a form of rather archaic French, but he helpfully adds footnotes in English for any who feel a bit lost. These are the perfect poems to read aloud, especially Jacques s'apprête, Pis-terre, pis-terre, and the famous Un petit d'un petit. - Nick Capodice (avec un clin d’œil)

Buck, Buck, Moose by Hank Shaw

I was given this book by my father-in-law when I first began hunting a few years ago. Venison often gets a bad wrap for being “gamey.” But this recipe book, by American chef Hank Shaw, shows you how to properly butcher, store, grind, fry, slow cook, smoke and pretty much do anything else to make one of the world’smost sustainable meat sources absolutely delicious. The vindaloo recipe is a personal favorite of mine. I’ll be sending it as a present to any of my friends who get into hunting (Felix Poon, get ready for your copy). - Nate Hegyi

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

I’ve gifted this beautiful picture book to adults and kids. The text is a poem about the winter solstice, and the illustrations are magical. I love the book’s reminder of the cycle of darkness/light that so many humans have encountered over time. -Sarah Gibson

NHPR Reads is a blog series published on the second Thursday of the month dedicated to poetry, prose, and everything in between. Follow along for a staff-curated list of what we’re reading that month and read along with us!

Zoë Kay serves as the Marketing and Event Coordinator for the station. She is focused on working within and alongside the communities of New Hampshire to promote the mission of NHPR.
Sara has been a part of NHPR since 2011. Her work includes data visualizations, data journalism, original stories reported on the web, video, photos and illustrations. She is responsible for the station's visual style and print design, as well as the user experience of NHPR's digital platforms.
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