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It’s not easy to present the perfect one

I love to share my love of books, so I love to give books as gifts, especially at Christmas. Books make great gifts, right? Only if you are absolutely sure that the recipient has not read the book, has no beef with the author, isn’t on a don’t-kill-trees eco-binge or is so self-described crazy busy that they can’t find one measly minute of downtime in their day to pull up a couch and open a book.

It’s difficult. I mean, I’d never gift a book to someone I know doesn’t enjoy reading. But it’s also hard to give a book as a present to avid readers.

My dad likes mysteries and legal thrillers, but he’s read practically every one of them on the planet. After a few Christmases of “Thanks, this is a good one, the ending is really a surprise,” and the like, I gave up on that.

I knew a friend was devoted to a particular British detective series. A new release just in time for Christmas? Perfect for her! No, come to find out she refused to read anything further by that author since her favorite character had been killed off in the last book. She forgot to tell me, she said sheepishly.

Otherwise kind, polite, gracious people have reacted to my book gifts as if my ulterior motive is to stress them out. They’ve said a quick thanks, followed by “How am I going to find the time to read this?” and “I just de-cluttered! I don’t have any more room on my shelves!” and “I’m totally e-reader now, you know, for the environment?” You’re welcome!

But I still want to spread the book love. There are gift cards to bookstores, of course, and while I am extremely happy when I find one or two of those under the Christmas tree for me, I feel differently about giving them. My reader ego keeps nagging at me that I should be able to find that perfect book for that certain someone and it will change their life for the better or at least bring them a few hours of happiness.

So I keep trying. Sometimes I succeed.

One of the best “book” Christmas gifts I gave was to a longtime, faraway friend who always asks me for book recommendations. I compiled and emailed her a list of the best books I’d read that year and why she would like them, too. She was thrilled with it.

So in that spirit I asked staff and contributors of Maine Women Magazine what books they’d recommend and even give, in the physical sense, as gifts. Take note, and may you find under your tree at least one perfect book that will bring you tidings of great joy.

“Under the Udala Trees,” Chinelo Okparanta
Ijeoma is a girl coming of age in civil ​war-torn Nigeria. When her father dies, her mother sends Ijeoma away for her own safety. She meets another displaced girl and while they know they are not allowed to love—they cannot stop. Novels are most successful when they reach across time and culture to connect with all readers through universal truths. Okparanta does this while bringing us deeply into world of late 1960s Nigeria and laying bare the hardships of war and the injustice of anti-gay laws and taboos.
—Anna E. Jordan, contributor

“Walking in the Garden of Souls,” George Anderson and Andrew Barone
I recently reread this book after recommending it to my cousin, who was mourning the loss of her dog. I told her I had read that our pets “go to heaven” and will be there to welcome us when we cross over. George Anderson is a well-known medium who has helped families connect with their loved ones that have passed on, including the family members of Anne Frank. He says “the other side” is a spiritual plane he likens to a garden of light (souls). According to Anderson, our departed loved ones want to reassure us of a life beyond our physical one on earth. The book is thought-provoking and comforting at the same time. Whether you believe in the hereafter or not, the book offers some great life lessons for the here and now.
—Sue Miller, digital and social media

“You are a Badass,” Jen Sincero
I am not keen on self-help books, but I am a fan of positive mantras. So, when someone recommended I read “You Are a Badass,” I couldn’t resist. I mean, what’s more positive than “you are a badass” as a mantra? It’s no literary groundbreaking work, but it is a funny read with good reminders to love yo’self throughout.
—Emma Bouthillette, contributor

“11/22/63,” Stephen King
I needed a big book to read for long travel days toward the tail end of a cross-country road trip. I really liked the historical fiction aspect of this book about a time traveler who attempts to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like most of Stephen King’s books it is extremely well written and it was hard to put down.
—Lee Hews, publisher

“Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake,” Kathryn Miles (a Maine author)
We’ve had a devastating parade of natural disasters in recent months, so it might seem unnecessarily macabre to add to the list of devastation with a book about earthquakes in America. But while this book had me shaking in my boots (between the accounts of earthquakes past and the realities of future earthquakes in places we might not expect), I was enthralled by both the science and the storytelling. For readers who adore books by Mary Roche and Maine’s own Hannah Holmes, “Quakeland” is another book that brings hard science to life in a way that’s accessible for the non-scientist. And Miles has an amazing attention to detail and a smart sense of humor, too.
—Shannon Bryan, editor

“A Really Good Day,” Ayelet Waldman
Waldman is known for her sometimes comic, often insightful, always engaging honesty. In “A Really Good Day” she tells about her experiment with micro-dosing LSD to deal with her debilitating mood disorder. This quirky, appealing book is a paean to marriage, family and resilience by a courageous badass of the highest order.
—Candace Karu, contributor

“The Memory Painter,” Gwendolyn Womack
I really loved it, one of those magical reads that has you up until 2 a.m. and thinking about it long after the last page.
—Maggie Knowles, contributor

“Random Family,” Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
This journalist spent 10 years following a group of young people in the Bronx in the 1980s for this true story.
—Melanie Brooks, contributor

Amy Canfield is a writer, editor and bibliophile. She lives in South Portland and always finds time to read, both e-books and print, and her book shelves are more than cluttered.

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