10 Best Books to Give for 2019
Book influencer and podcaster Robin Kall gives her picks — plus two great coffee table books
Is there any better gift than a really engrossing book? In my years of hosting the Reading with Robin radio show and podcast, I’ve been called both a “book pusher” and the “fairy book mother,” so I’ve learned a thing or two about finding the right books to give. Here are my picks for the best books of 2019 — you’ll probably want to snag a few for yourself as well.
1. Finding Chika by Mitch Albom
If you loved Tuesdays With Morrie, you’re going to love Finding Chika; this beautiful memoir is cut from the same cloth. Chika Jeune was born three days before the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010. She spent her infancy in extreme poverty, and when her mother died giving birth to a baby brother, Chika was brought to the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage that Albom and his wife, Janine, operate in Port Au Prince. Chika, with her spunky attitude, makes quite an impression on Mitch and Janine. When Chika is five they learn that she has a brain tumor. They take Chika to the US hoping to get her cured and back to Haiti, but what follows is not what anyone could have imagined. In the process Chika, Mitch, and Janine learn what it means to form a family — one that you won’t soon forget.
2. Love Poems For Married People by John Kenney
In this slim book of poems based on his famously popular New Yorker piece, Thurber Prize–winner John Kenney shares a clever and hilarious collection of love poems for, well, married people. The poems range from sidesplitting to heartfelt and everything in between. This collection is relatable, with spot-on observations; it’s like he’s got a window into your married world. This book makes the perfect stocking stuffer for anyone who’s ever been married, hopes to be married, or knows married people. Pair it with Love Poems for People with Children for even more hilarity and heart.
3. All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
The Tuchman family is called together after the patriarch, Victor, suffers a heart attack and is in a coma. Dutiful daughter Alex returns home hoping to finally get some clarity on why her father is the way he is and about the secrets her mother Barbra is hiding. Alex’s brother, Gary, conveniently keeps missing his flights to the home front and leaves Alex to fend for herself. What unfolds is hysterical and dark with just enough backstory to allow the reader to fill in the blanks. Death is inevitable and so is family drama, it would seem. This is Attenberg at her best!
4. The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
Twin sisters Lauren and Daphne have their own language from their earliest days as infants and continue to be obsessed with words throughout their lifetime. As inseparable as they are, each builds a professional life — albeit different ones — based on their love of language. Each sister sits in judgement of the other’s work. What once connected them so deeply eventually pulls them apart, and it’s hard to look away as they spar publicly and cleverly with their words. The reader will root for this pair to find their way back to each other. The Grammarians is funny and smart, the best possible combination.
5. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
This is one of those books you do not want to miss, and if you’re in charge of selecting a title for book club, this is an excellent choice. A love letter to the Syria they once knew, this unforgettable novel tells the immigrant story of a beekeeper, his wife, and what happens when the world as they know it no longer exists. It’s a story readers will relate and connect to as the themes are universal. Uri the beekeeper and Afran, his artist wife, brave uncertainty, harsh conditions, and a grasp on reality as they leave their country when it’s destroyed by war. Uri is making his way with a wife who has lost her sight and is navigating tough terrain toward an uncertain future in Britain. All the while this couple is grappling with their grief. The heart of this novel is embedded in every page.
6. When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan
Two years ago, Jeannie’s very full and busy life came to a standstill when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor. This incredibly busy mother of five had put “check into hearing loss” on the back burner while tending to her family’s needs. Thankfully, Jeannie and her family made it through to the other side, and in this deeply personal memoir Jeannie, with her signature wit and strength, shares the things that got her through. She called upon her faith, relied on the humor that sustains her family, and along the way decided what was important and how to live more in the present. This book is a joyous celebration of community and family.
7. Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, by Adrienne Brodeur
This memoir had me at page one; it was unputdownable. Wild Game tells the story of 14-year-old Adrienne who is woken up one night by her mother, Malabar, who shares that she has just been kissed by a friend of the family. And not just any kiss. From there an affair begins, with teenage Adrienne caught smack in the middle. Part confidante, part coconspirator, Brodeur writes this dramatic story with great insight and fills it with luscious scenery and food — it’s utterly intoxicating.
8. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Ethiopian-American novelist Maaza Mengiste tells an unforgettable story deeply embedded in the history of her home country. I have had the pleasure of hearing Maaza tell her own story and how it’s woven into this truly stunning novel. The Shadow King tells the story of Hirut, an orphan who works as a maid and is subjected to the degradation of the men who are in charge. One day she steps up to become a war hero, helping to defend Ethiopia against Mussolini’s invasion in 1935, a predecessor to World War II and a piece of history we do not hear much about. The Shadow King is a compulsive read that captures a historical moment from a fresh perspective. It speaks to timeless themes about women’s power and oppression and the cost of war.
9. The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Reading a debut novel is like meeting a new friend, the kind you know you’re going to want to spend a lot of time with. The Farm is a breeding ground for the ultra-wealthy, right in the center of the Hudson valley. Here at the Farm, marginalized women spend nine months living in the lap of luxury all the while serving as an incubator for a wealthy couple’s baby-to-be. Everything, and everyone, it would seem, has a price. The work is literally being farmed out. If you’re looking for a book to really get a conversation going, you’ve found it. A book for our times.
10. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
Talk about a book that will give you much to think about and even more to talk about — this book is like nothing you’ve ever read. It’s currently being developed into a TV series and written with such great heart you won’t want to talk to anyone, because you’ll be too busy reading. Did you ever wonder what your therapist is thinking as you dive deep into that misunderstanding you had with your best friend of 30 years? And why she couldn’t just give you the benefit of the doubt? In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb uses real (anonymous and altered) patient stories as well as her work with her own therapist to make the process more relatable. Gottlieb’s combination of honesty, tenderness, and humor makes this book not only an enjoyable read but an important one, as destigmatizing mental health issues continues to be timely and valuable.
Extra Credit: Two Fabulous Coffee Table Books
1. A Great Party by Bryan Rafanelli
Bryan Rafanelli has created some of the world’s most gorgeous and memorable parties, including Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. (Clinton also wrote the Foreword.) Not only is this book filled with spectacular photos and masterful storytelling, it also reminds the reader that being present for your guests is everything, and to make every occasion a celebration. What makes a party truly memorable is to have it be a reflection of who you are; this is where the magic begins.
2. The Unqualified Hostess: I Do It My Way So You Can Too! by Whoopi Goldberg
This book is so Whoopi! It’s colorful, fun, and filled with ideas that will make you feel like you, too, can have a meaningful and joyous party right in your own home. Have some old toys lying around? Why not create a centerpiece with them? Flowers growing outside your house? Cut ‘em down and bring them on in! Whoopi’s advice is accessible and approachable, just as you’d imagine Whoopi herself would be. She’ll make you feel like there is no right or wrong — however you put a party together is just right!
Robin Kall has always been an avid reader. From sneaking copies of Judy Blume from her childhood librarian to developing her own radio program, Reading With Robin, in 2002, Robin is a literary influencer and book pusher in her own right. Over the past 17 years Robin has built a devoted and passionate following both in her local Rhode Island, online, and wherever there are readers. In addition to her talk show, Robin has hosted countless “can’t miss” author events including her annual Evening With Authors and Summer with Robin, and the newly minted Cardigan Connection author series. Robin is a graduate of Binghamton University and lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their corgi, Benny Irving.