Inspired by video of the First Family shopping in an independent bookstore, I hope everyone's planning some literary gifts this year, and that you'll do your best to buy from an indie if you can. Here is a short list of some old books that will be forever new, and may persuade even the most distracted reader to spend a few hours with the printed word.
1. Smoky the Cowhorse Will James wrote and illustrated in the early part of the 20th century. He was the real thing, both as a cowboy and a writer and artist. I'm told cowboys are all the rage at the moment, which just proves that everything old is eventually new again! I loved this book as a girl, and still do as an adult reader. It's the perfect gift for a horse-crazy young girl, I promise you!
2. Half Magic This Edward Eager series is now more than 50 years old, and still absolutely delightful. It's meant for the middle-grade reader—or the adult who loves to read to a middle-grader! Wonderful stories based on the premise of a magic coin that only grants half a wish at a time, these marvelous books will bring readers back again and again—even us grownups!
3. To Say Nothing of the Dog If you think you don't like science fiction, or historical novels, I hope you'll think again. This novel by the great Connie Willis, written in 1997, is a comedic time travel romp set at the turn of the 20th century. The best arbiter of this book, for me, was my mother, who doesn't care for science fiction at all. I gave it to her to read, and as she did, I could hear her whooping with laughter from her bedroom!
4. The Song of the Lark I love Willa Cather's tales, illustrating the American immigrant experience. This one especially touched me, as a country girl succeeds in becoming a great opera singer. If the musical theme doesn't appeal to you, the great Death Comes for the Archbishop surely will! There's no question that these are literary novels, but even after a hundred years, they hold up both in writing style and story.
5. Nine Coaches Waiting Mary Stewart was the grand mistress of the gothic romance, and this book, for me, is at the pinnacle of that genre. It's a page turner in the very best sense of the word, and every character comes alive, and makes the reader care what happens. The book dates from 1959, but it feels as intense today as it must have then.
I could go on and on, and drawing up this list makes me want to sit down and re-read these great books—again! Try your local used bookstore, or go to indiebound to find an independent bookstore. Alternatively, shop at the great indies Powell's or my own special favorite, the University Bookstore of Seattle.
A very happy holiday season to all of you, my readers and friends. I hope in these old but always new pages you'll find many happy hours, as I have done!