Books worth buying this holiday season


Holiday shopping season has arrived. I recognized this when I last went to the big mall, had to park at the top of the parking ramp, then watch parents pile shopping bags on baby strollers, once inside. This is not my favorite type of holiday shopping. In my family, Christmas and Hanukah shopping certainly includes the traditional “gift cards-clothing-luxuries you wouldn’t get for yourself” options. But, we also spend a lot of time selecting the perfect book for our loved ones.

If you’re interested in gifting books this season, an easy shortcut is to head to one of your local bookstores and ask the employees for their educated guesses. Bookstore employees have their attentions so carefully trained on the book industry that they are able to find many soon-to-be bestsellers. To start off my holiday shopping, I queried sellers at several of Uptown’s local independent bookstores to see what they would recommend for the upcoming season.

My first stop was Booksmart, the used and new bookstore that resides near the Uptown Theater on Hennepin Avenue. Walking into Booksmart feels like walking into a book version of Cheapo’s. There are bins set up with the recently acquired used books, which I often find myself rooting through.

The staff at Booksmart settled upon some very timely suggestions. First, they recommended, Our Dumb World: The Onion’s Atlas of the Planet Earth, 73rd Edition. This witty, ironic book is the perfect gift for an ennui-afflicted hipster or a Saturday Night Live loving pal. Their next suggestion was just as topical but not nearly as humorous. Alan Weisman’s, The World Without Us, speculates the aftermath of a disaster that wipes out humanity. This haunting and engrossing book would be perfect for the news junkie in your life. The staff’s last offering was The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Since the movie version starring Nicole Kidman is due in theaters December 7, this would make an excellent pre-Christmas gift for parents who need to catch up with their kids.

If you travel a mere block from Booksmart, you can visit Magers & Quinn Bookstore, also on Hennepin Avenue. While Booksmart has wide aisles and Spartan displays, Magers & Quinn feels more like an old library, full of possibilities for discovery. A shopper can certainly get lost for an hour or a day, perusing their selection of new, used and rare books.

The Magers & Quinn staff suggested new books from their autobiography section. First, they recommended the new autobiography, Clapton. While the press on this book has focused on Eric Clapton’s love affair with Pattie Boyd and his addictions, the book is also an excellent representation of music journalism. Next, the staff recommended the soon-tobe released (at press time) Steve Martin memoir, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. Many readers are anticipating this author’s account of his varied career. Finally, they mentioned Tom Brokaw’s, Boom!: Voices of the Sixties; Personal Reflections on the ‘60s and Today. Brokaw combines the personal reflections of a journalist’s early career within its historical context. Surely, a history buff (or one in the making) would appreciate Brokaw’s perspective on this tumultuous time period.

My final stop was a short car ride away to once upon a Crime. This hidden treasure resides on 26th Street in an unassuming store front. Once you walk inside, you feel transported to a friend’s personal library. The homey atmosphere is encouraged by the friendly staff and passionate regulars who populate the store. Once Upon a Crime is considered to be the center of the Minnesota mystery-loving community.

In expected fashion, the staff at Once Upon a Crime suggested all Minnesota authors. Their first selection was Resort to Murder, an anthology from Minnesota Crime Wave. This follow-up to 2005’s Silence of the Loons is sure to be just as popular, due to its mix of mystery writers and non-mystery writers trying out the genre for the first time. Next, they recommended Jess Lourey’s latest book, Knee High on the Fourth of July. Set in the middle of a Minnesota summer, the book about a dead body and missing fiberglass statue can teach an out-of-towner about Minnesota life and give them a good mystery to boot. Finally, they recommended a story set in the Minnesota Zoo, Death Roll by Michael Mallory and Marilyn Victor. A married couple, one a herpetologist and the other a zookeeper, investigate a murder in which a crocodile is the first suspect. This book would be a great gift for that Discovery Channel surfer who likes the bloody Shark Week a little too much.

In Uptown, we are lucky to have several local bookstores and a myriad of knowledgeable booksellers, all within walking distance. To learn more about these selections, or any other gift selections for the holiday season, visit or call Booksmart at 2914 Hennepin Avenue, 612.823.5612, Magers & Quinn at 3038 Hennepin Avenue, 612.822.4611, or once upon a Crime at 604 West 26th Street, 612.870.3785. Supporting these local businesses is a holiday gift of its own.

Jessica Fox-Wilson is a poet and writer who lives in the Wedge neighborhood. In between scribbling poems and spending time with her husband and cats, she blogs at 9to5poet.