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Books for the holidays: To give, and to get you through

The holiday shopping frenzy is in full swing! For the readers on your gift list, or for your own escape from the noise, check out these book recommendations by Sarah Lawson, Assistant Director, Virginia Center for the Book with Virginia Humanities.


It’s the time of year when you’re searching for the perfect gift for, well, everyone you know. Or at least everyone you like. Books are a great gift option for everyone, since they address a nearly infinite range of topics and genres, from serious nonfiction to seriously steamy romance and everything in between. Even better, books can also serve as a soothing antidote for your own holiday stress in the coming weeks. To help you sort through the countless books to consider for others as well as yourself, here are some recommended books by authors who will be appearing in the 2020 Virginia Festival of the Book:

For thrill-seekers: Die-hard mystery and thriller readers already know that one of the masters of the genre is Scottish writer Ian Rankin, author of In A House of Lies and dozens of other bestselling novels in the John Rebus series and others. Anyone who receives one of his books won’t be able to put it down until they’ve reached the end. For an even more exciting gift, pair a copy of one of Rankin’s books with a pair of tickets to see him at the 2020 Crime Wave Brunch on March 21 in Charlottesville.

For foodies: The Food We Eat, the Stories We Tell, edited by Elizabeth Engelhardt, is an anthology of stories and recipes that highlight contemporary Appalachian tables and offer new ways of understanding past, present, and future American food practices. Featuring work by poets, scholars, fiction writers, journalists, and food professionals, this book is great for anyone who appreciates traditional foodways, travel, Americana, or telling stories over the holiday dinner table.

For history buffs: There is plenty of award-winning historical nonfiction to choose from, but Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig is one that will be an enjoyable read even for those who don’t usually favor this genre. The first comprehensive biography worthy of this titanic figure, it also makes a great gift paired with tickets to see Eig at the 2020 Read & Lead Lunch on March 18 in Charlottesville.

Something for everyone: These days, there are plenty of adults who regularly read Young Adult fiction (aka YA) but even for those who are new to the genre, Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker is not to be missed. Loosely based on her own teenage life and diaries, this incredible debut novel will make readers stand up and cheer for a girl brave enough to live life on her own terms—and for themselves. It’s great for anyone who has ever struggled with depression and mental health, or known someone who has. Parker is also an award-winning poet with a new collection titled, Magical Negro, a profound and deceptively funny exploration of Black American womanhood. Everyone should read both of these books, regardless of existing proclivities.

Romance is in the air: The Dreamers series by Adriana Herrera follows four Afro-Latinx men from the South Bronx as they chase after their dreams and unapologetic happy endings. These books are a great change of pace from your typical bodice ripper and highlight Herrera’s knack for writing great characters. Book four in the series will hit the shelves in January, but there’s nothing stopping you from pre-ordering it as a gift for your future self.

Hopefully these books and writers will help you start brainstorming the perfect books to give or enjoy this holiday season. For more ideas, browse the 2020 Virginia Festival of the Book line-up at

One final suggestion: Buy local! Whenever possible, remember to support your local, independent booksellers! Not sure how to find one? Check out this helpful search tool from

Here’s wishing you joy-filled holidays surrounded by family, friends, and books!