N Magazine’s resident bookworm Tim Ehrenberg gives his ultimate winter reading list.
BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY by Qian Julie Wang
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “beautiful.” The story. The prose. The author. This is a memoir about an undocumented immigrant living in poverty in America after leaving China in 1994 with her parents. I loved the lyrical observations about everything from the books and TV shows of my own generation to the cuisine and adventures in New York City. This is a coming-of-age story about the American Dream, beautifully told through the senses of a memorable young girl, as a struggle to survive.
WISH YOU WERE HERE by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult always manages to tackle subjects that are of the moment: school shootings in Nineteen Minutes, systemic racism in Small Great Things and abortion in A Spark of Light. This November 30th, she tackles the COVID-19 pandemic in her new novel, Wish You Were Here, and I wish for it to be gifted to all this holiday season. It’s a deeply personal book for the author but a universal read, and as I turned each page, I examined my own thoughts and feelings about the pandemic. This book is a testament to what we all have faced these last two years and about the power of the human spirit through crisis. I thought about this book long after I finished it, and that’s a mark of a good read.
THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DU BOIS by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
The best holiday gifts are experiences, and reading The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is an experience. Being hailed as a kitchen table epic, it’s a little bit of everything from historical fiction to a contemporary novel about our own tumultuous era. I haven’t been this consumed in a story for a long time, and I could have followed Ailey Garfield, her family and her ancestors for another eight hundred pages. Don’t let the size of this book deter you from picking it up or wrapping it up this year. It reads like an epic poem and an extraordinary ode to the Black American experience, with all its oppression and cruelty, resilience and joy.
NANTUCKET NOCTURNE: A WINTER’S IDYLL by Steve Sheppard
The sequel to Tourist Town is on shelves now, and it will make you nocturnal as you stay up late to finish it. Steve Sheppard knows Nantucket, and through his characters you can also experience a winter on the Grey Lady. Nantucket Nocturne has it all: island history, buried treasure, secrets, crime, fog, insider knowledge, snappy dialogue and the most wonderful time of the year, scallop season. For all of those who wonder what it’s like to be on Nantucket in the offseason, shuck open this winter idyll.
Books make great stocking stuffers! Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan is a cozy magical book about C.S Lewis’ Narnia, but it’s also about the origin of all stories and where they come from. The Stranger in the Lifeboat by Mitch Albom is an inspirational novel about faith, no matter what you believe. As a Harry Potter fanatic, I will read anything J.K. Rowling publishes, but The Christmas Pig is especially noteworthy this holiday season. Read Island, for your youngest bookworms, is about an island made of books, complete with beautifully bookish illustrations and a rhyming adventure sure to become your child’s new favorite story.
ON ANIMALS by Susan Orlean
For nonfiction lovers, look no further than Susan Orlean’s On Animals. The author of The Library Book, Orlean returns to our shelves with a book for anyone who loves the creatures we share this world with. We meet chickens, rabbits, killer whales, pigeons and even lions and tigers and…well, not bears, but there are pandas in these pages. Orlean manages to amaze us with her stories and “gathers a lifetime of musings, meditations, and in-depth profiles about animals.”
NEVER by Ken Follett
I can never resist a new Ken Follett novel. While his historical fiction is my favorite, I was immediately taken with this political suspense epic imagining the globe-spanning happenings and characters that might trigger World War III. Join the first female U.S. president Pauline Green, spies, terrorists, world leaders, intelligence agents and government officials for one of the best thrillers of the year. You’ll be asking yourself from your favorite reading chair, could this really happen?