A Read On The Holidays: Local Bookstore Employees On The Year’s Best Books

Sam Adams
13 min read
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As a child, my favorite thing about Christmas was cozying up to the fire with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate after I’d unwrapped my presents. (And no, I wasn’t born in a Charles Dickens novel.) But really, some of the best parts of the frenzied holiday season are those moments of tranquility where nothing but a warm blanket and a good read envelop you. To aid in helping your givees achieve literary bliss, the Alibi reached out to some experts. Staff from Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW, 344-8139) and Alamosa Books (8810 Holly NE, 797-7101) gave us their picks on the year’s top works. So whether you’re looking for apocalyptic vampire fiction ( The Passage ) or a kid’s book about kingdom-saving scullery maids ( The Silver Bowl ), these local booksellers are bound to bring some verve to your gifts.


Recommended by Susan Wasson, bookseller, Bookworks

The Language of Flowers is the story of a tough girl, who has had a tough life, who starts to soften a little around the edges as she learns the meanings of flowers. Who would have thought that a simple story could be as riveting and compelling as this? The writing is crisp, clear and jaw-dropping-beautiful.” (Ballantine Books, hardcover, $25)

Comedy In A Minor Key By Hans Keilson (Translated By Damion Searls)

Recommended by Joanne Matzenbacher, marketing specialist, Bookworks

“This is the story of a young Dutch couple, Wim and Marie, who agree to hide a Jew from the Nazis in their upstairs bedroom. The writing is sparse yet conveys exactly the absurdity of the situation, the war and the effort to maintain ‘normalcy’ when there was none to be had.” (Farrar, Strous and Giroux, hardcover, $22)

A Theory Of Great Men By Daniel Greenstone

Recommended by Karin Urban, bookseller, Bookworks

“This is a humane, humorous, fast-paced story, with well-rounded characters. It’s a must-read if you love basketball but enjoyable even if you do not. This is my favorite book of 2011.” (Academy Chicago Publishers, paperback, $17.95)

Reamde By Neal Stephenson

Recommended by Amy Lahti, marketing manager, Bookworks

“A tightly packed, sweeping thriller about virtual commerce in a virtual world and the real-world consequences that result from an online war for dominance.” (William Morrow, hardcover, $35)

The Passage By Justin Cronin

Recommended by Desiree Giraudo, out-of-store events coordinator, Bookworks

“Cronin approaches one of my favorite genres, apocalyptic fiction, with the same attention to detail and character development you would see in any great literary novel. Once I started reading this, I absolutely could not put it down.” (Ballantine Books, paperback, $16)

The Leftovers By Tom Perrotta

Recommended by Elizabeth Anker, owner / general manager, Alamosa Books

“So what happens after the Rapture? And who is left behind? Perrotta does a fantastic job answering these questions, blending harsh reality with irony and gentle humor.” (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, $25.99)

Swamplandia! By Karen Russell

Recommended by Sam Adams, arts editor, Weekly Alibi

Swamplandia! is a wildly imaginative story about a theme park family on a small island off the Florida Keys. It’s a wonder that a book so full of absurdist humor, frightening bestial violence and a child’s curious musings could deliver such an earnest and intricate metaphor for loss. My favorite book of the year—not for kids, though. (Knopf, hardcover, $24.95)


Recommended by Amy Lahti, marketing manager, Bookworks

“It’s not often that I use the word ‘spellbinding’ to describe a book, but
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is definitely worthy of that superlative. Author Mark Seal does an amazing job of weaving the story of a German teenager who traveled illegally to the U.S. and promptly embarked on a series of personal reinventions which resulted in his (successful!) impersonation of a member of the Rockefeller family.” (Viking Adult, hardcover, $26.95)

The Orchard By Theresa Weir

Recommended by Connie Griffin, kids’ book specialist, Bookworks

“This is a brave, beautiful memoir about a family running an apple orchard and the toll modern agriculture takes on the family’s health—physical and emotional. This book is touching, moving and incredibly important.” (Grand Central Publishing, hardcover, $24.99)

The New York Times Guide To Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference For The Curious Mind

Recommended by Danielle Foster, co-owner, Bookworks

“The authoritative reference work from the nation’s paper of record updated and revised with new material. Every home needs a copy of
The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge .” (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, $35)


Recommended by Richard Vargas, event coordinator, Alamosa Books

“Crossing borders and leaping through time to find the universal.”

(UNM Press, paperback, $21.95)

Spirit Birds They Told Me By Mary Oishi

Recommended by Richard Vargas

“Growing up as the outsider in highly conservative rural Pennsylvania. These poems illustrate what is meant by ‘American.’ ” (West End Press, paperback, $11.95)

Bolitas De Oro: Poems Of My Marble-Playing Days By Nasario Garcia

Recommended by Wyatt Wegrzyn, co-owner, Bookworks

“Nasario’s book of poems related to and inspired by his childhood is both unique and accessible to readers. Many of the poems are very evocative of New Mexico.” (UNM Press, hardcover, $24.95)

Sing: Poetry From The Indigenous Americas Edited By Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Recommended by Wyatt Wegrzyn

“This book contains work by local poet Joy Harjo, as well as other eminent poets and writers, including Louise Erdrich, Sherwin Bitsui and Simon Ortiz. This multilingual collection is a must for any poetry enthusiast.” (The University of Arizona Press, paperback, $29.95)

Every Thing On It By Shel Silverstein

Recommended by Chris Warner, night manager, Alamosa Books

“One of Silverstein’s best collections ever. Irreverent. Lyrical.”

(HarperCollins, hardcover, $19.99)

Kids / Young Adult Young Adult

Recommended by the Alamosa staff (their No. 1 pick overall)

“Possibly the most beautiful language ever! Fantasy as it is meant to be—pure storytelling, lots of magic, a world you want to inhabit.” (Doubleday, hardcover, $26.95)

Cleopatra Confesses By Carolyn Meyer

Recommended by Elizabeth Anker, owner / general manager, Alamosa Books

“Biographical fiction focusing on the mist-cloaked youth of one of the most iconic leaders in history. Very well researched!” (Simon & Schuster, hardcover, $16.99)

The Only Ones By Aaron Starmer

Recommended by Elizabeth Anker

“Exquisite folktale with a
Lord of the Flies feel. The Only Ones are a small group of young teens who are the leftovers after the world is suddenly and mysteriously emptied of all other inhabitants.” (Random House Children’s, hardcover, $17.99)

The Silver Bowl By Diane Stanley

Recommended by Tanya Wallace, night staff, Alamosa Books

“The classic tale of the young scullery maid who is more than she seems and who must rise up to save the kingdom. Told with excellent reference to historical detail.” (HarperCollins, hardcover, $16.99)

The Future Of Us By Jay Asher And Carolyn Mackler

Recommended by Elizabeth Anker

“It’s 1996, the early days of the Internet. Two best friends log on to AOL for the first time and are instantly transported to their personal Facebook pages 15 years in the future. One of the best looks at how everything we do has repercussions.” (Razorbill, hardcover, $18.99)


You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown

Recommended by the Alamosa staff

“The irrepressible Lucy Bear is back for another lesson in getting along. Just the cover will make you smile!” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, hardcover, $16.99)

Tuesdays At The Castle By Jessica Day George

Recommended by Elizabeth Anker, owner / general manager, Alamosa Books

“George has produced yet another rollicking fantasy featuring a girl who gets by on her wits. This time with a centuries-old castle on her side. Highly inventive!” (Bloomsbury USA Childrens, hardcover, $16.99)

The Flint Heart By Katherine & John Paterson (Illus. By John Rocco)

Recommended by Elizabeth Anker

“Would not be surprised if this is the first book to ever win both the Newbery and the Caldecott awards.” (Candlewick Press, hardcover, $19.99)

Secrets At Sea By Richard Peck

Recommended by Elizabeth Anker

“Award-winning Peck at his best. An American heiress goes husband hunting abroad and their family of mice goes along to take care of them. Happy endings for all! Lots of fun plays on language.” (Dial, hardcover, $16.99)

I Want My Hat Back By Jon Klassen

Recommended by Amy Lahti, marketing manager, Bookworks

“This is an incredibly simple story with a great, hilarious twist at the end. In a few short words, it teaches kids about politeness, persistence and the importance of remembering where you last saw your lost item, if you want to get it back.” (Candlewick Press, hardcover, $15.99)

Clementine And The Family Meeting By Sara Pennypacker And Marla Frazee

Recommended by Connie Griffin, kids’ book specialist, Bookworks

“For households where a new baby will be arriving in 2012, this is a fantastic book about how to prepare kids to make space at the table for another sibling.” (Hyperion Book CH, hardcover, $14.95)

Native American Night Before Christmas And Native American 12 Days Of Christmas By Gary Robinson (Author) And Jesse T. Hummingbird (Illustrator)

Recommended by the Bookworks staff

“These absolutely gorgeous books retell classic Christmas tales with a Native American flavor. The first book (
Night Before Christmas ) was a big hit in our store in 2010; the new book is coming out this year and will be just as popular. A great Christmas gift for children and adults alike.” (Clear Light Pub, hardcover, $19.95 each)

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