A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Enter A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Recommending a classic- even one as modern as this- is always a little dicey, because so many people are still scarred from being forced to read The Grapes of Wrath in high school. ("Dirt and Okies and hey let's talk about dirt some more.") So when I saw it on a list surrounded by Diana Gabaldon and John Green, I was impressed and thankful.
This classic is not dry in the least. It introduces characters you grow to care about and sympathize with and who will make you clutch at your hair when they take risks. Set in Brooklyn, beginning in the year 1912, you get to follow along as Francie grows up and lives a life that somehow feels both close to the one many of us live today yet also impossibly distant. Hailed as being autobiographical at least in part, it's also fascinating to read about many of the long-forgotten customs of turn-of-the-century Brooklynites; Betty Smith was born and raised in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, just as Francie was. Her love of her home shines through the novel in the incredible detail given to the setting, but make no mistake- this is not a view burnished with nostalgia, but rather a realistic portrayal, a story written by someone who loves Brooklyn despite its flaws. Engrossing and lovely, I couldn't stop talking about this for weeks after I read it.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The one oasis has been To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is the story for you if you like humor and time travel and historical fiction and irony and love stories that don't trigger your sensitive gag reflex. It's smart and sharp and sweet, and if you read it we can make jokes about cats and perfect our Victorian screamlets. If ever there were a crossroads where Historical Fiction, Humor, Mystery, Romance, and Science Fiction met, this book would be waiting for you there. The perfect light romp of a tale that won't leave you feeling as if IQ points were subtracted for having read it. I loved it.
Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins
I'd like to think that even those who aren't as, ahem, dedicated to Christmas songs as I am would find this book interesting and so delightful. I had no idea the story behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was so heartwarming, how many Advent hymns affected the church music of the day, not to mention how relieving it was to finally understand just what "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" actually means. I kept reading parts aloud to Derek, to which he responded with polite grunts of interest. What more of a recommendation do you need than that?