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December 8, 2022

’Tis Better to Give

We are kicking off this year’s Holiday Author Blog series with New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman. Her new novel, SAM, releases on January 3rd and poses the question: What happens to a girl’s sense of joy and belonging --- to her belief in herself --- as she becomes a woman? For Allegra, the holidays are all about giving. This means going to bookstores and finding the perfect book for each member of her family. Allegra is a self-proclaimed “book fairy” --- but even book fairies have secrets, and she has two confessions to make in her revealing blog post.


What’s more refreshing than browsing the new books table of the bookstore? I love to examine the fresh novels, biographies, travel books and luscious cookbooks --- and I particularly enjoy stumbling upon something I never knew I needed. Just the other day, while wandering through Brookline Booksmith, I found Christopher Herwig’s SOVIET BUS STOPS. Each page features a photograph of a Sputnik-era gem standing like an abandoned spaceship in the desert of a former Soviet Republic. Obviously a must buy.

Unfortunately, I purchase so many books that my shelves and tables (and chairs) are overflowing. With limited space and money, I can’t buy everything --- and yet I can’t stop shopping. What to do? Buy for others! With the holidays approaching, I purchase books for my sister, my children, my nephews, my dad and my grandson. I indulge my habit, and it’s all for a good cause. When shopping for myself, I enjoy aimless wandering. When shopping for others, I’m a hunter and a matchmaker searching for the perfect gift. I don’t always get it right, but when I do, I feel particularly proud. And when I find the right book for someone who does not read everything all the time, I get bonus points. Not to boast, but here are a few of my past triumphs.

I went looking for the perfect gift for my sports-obsessed 15-year-old nephew and bought him Buzz Bissinger’s FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. My nephew later told me that he read the book three times and wrote his college essay about it.

While shopping at Porter Square Books for my one-year-old grandchild, I discovered Roger Priddy’s SEE, TOUCH, FEEL: COLORS, which includes a soft yellow duck and a prickly brown gingerbread man. My grandson points to this book at bedtime and touches every page.

For my oldest son, a labor economist studying schools and libraries and their effects on children, I bought photographer Andrew Feiler’s A BETTER LIFE FOR THEIR CHILDREN: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America at Harvard Book Store.

At holiday time, I am a regular book fairy. However, I must make a confession. While it is better to give than to receive, I have a tendency to buy myself a few books while I’m at it. It’s just a paperback, I’ll say as I pick up Mary Hollingsworth’s THE CARDINAL’S HAT: Money, Ambition, and Everyday Life in the Court of a Borgia Prince. Or I rationalize, I’m going to give this to someone --- eventually. Or I end up buying a book for someone and then a copy for myself as well, as I did with Hermione Lee’s TOM STOPPARD: A Life. This was the perfect present for my dad, a huge Stoppard fan. But what can I say? I’m also a huge Stoppard fan. 

And now, my darkest secret. I’m guilty of pre-reading. I don’t do it often, but every once in a while, I sneak a peek at the beautiful books I buy others. A peek turns into a chapter or two, and then… Well, it’s a slippery slope. Books are so tempting with their glossy covers and their illustrations and their lovely typography. They are designed to invite you in.  Especially hardbacks. Especially books with creamy white paper and deckle edges. Especially secret histories, real or imaginary. The tale of three seventh-century monks establishing themselves on a desolate North Atlantic island in Emma Donoghue’s novel, HAVEN, or the slice-of-life story of a divorce in North Korea in Paek Nam-Nyong’s novel, FRIEND. I love untold stories, like that of the African American NASA pioneers in Margot Lee Shettlerly’s HIDDEN FIGURES.

My sister is a physician, so this year I bought her Olivia Campbell’s WOMEN IN WHITE COATS: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine. And I’m giving it to her…just as soon as I finish it.