Consider this column your annual reminder that books make the best gifts. Among the month’s picks are a delectable collection of food stories, a new manifesto from life coach Jen Sincero and a novel that won one of the biggest literary prizes of the year.
“Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food,” by Ann Hood (Dec. 4)
She had me at Indiana Fried Chicken, but she might have you at her mother’s meatballs or her husband’s chicken stock. Hood, whose novels you probably already love (“The Knitting Circle,” “The Red Thread”) is married to food writer extraordinaire Michael Ruhlman (“Ratio,” “The Elements of Cooking”). These tales of ingredients, recipes and meals will lift your spirits.
“Milkman,” by Anna Burns (Dec. 4)
The recent Man Booker Prize winner takes place in Northern Ireland, where a teenage girl is in thrall to a mysterious and threatening IRA leader. Set in a 1970s neighborhood where even your groceries mark you (“The tea of allegiance. The tea of betrayal.”), you might think “The Crying Game” when you should be thinking “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.” “Milkman” may be one of this year’s funniest, most dynamic and original novels.
“North of Dawn,” by Nuruddin Farah (Dec. 4)
Farah examines how Somali husband and wife Mugdi and Gacalo cope when their jihadist son dies, leaving them to take in their widowed daughter-in-law and grandchildren in Norway. Caught between Scandinavian bigotry and Islamic fundamentalism, the family struggles to find a way forward. Farah (“Hiding in Plain Sight”) writes smart, surprising, elegant prose.
“Once Upon a River,” by Diane Setterfield (Dec. 4)
You’ve probably been waiting for a new book from Setterfield since you turned the final page in her 2006 “The Thirteenth Tale.” Her new one is centered on the River Thames and a mute child rescued from its depths who might belong to one of three families. It’s all a matter of storytelling: the stories we tell ourselves and each other during winter’s darkest days to keep light alive.
“Radiant Shimmering Light,” by Sarah Selecky (Dec. 4)
If you’ve ever fallen asleep during savasana in yoga class or gotten a headache from your essential-oil mix, Sarah Selecky’s hilarious debut novel about self-help gurus and the people who follow them is for you. When 40ish Lilian Quick is invited to her cousin Eleven Novak’s Manhattan “Temple” for instruction in a thinly veiled pyramid scheme, there’s plenty of laughs — but lots of truth, too.
“You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable,” by Jen Sincero (Dec. 4)
Some of you will be familiar with life coach and motivational speaker Jen Sincero’s “Badass” series. Why might another one be needed? Because instead of more of the same, “Badass Every Day” contains 100 exercises to assist you in transforming your life the way Sincero once transformed hers.
“This Is Cuba: An American Journalist Under Castro’s Shadow,” by David Ariosto (Dec. 11)
After photojournalist David Ariosto went to Cuba in 2009 for CNN, how could he not write a book? As Fidel Castro’s power waned, Cubans grappled with the aftermath, from scarce supplies to neighborhood informants. Ariosto’s perspective offers clues to why Cuba remains poised on modernity’s cusp.
“Joni: The Joni Mitchell Sessions,” by Norman Seeff (Dec. 18)
This beautiful volume of photographs debuts shortly after Mitchell’s 75th birthday. The singer and Seeff (who has also photographed iconic rockers Tina Turner, Ray Charles and Fleetwood Mac) collaborated on a dozen sessions across a decade, resulting in a rare record of an artist’s development and a woman’s evolution.
“In a House of Lies,” by Ian Rankin (Dec. 31)
Scottish inspector John Rebus returns, once again pulled out of retirement (as all the best detectives are) to consult on an old case he knows more than a little about. In Rankin’s now two dozen Rebus books, the author has allowed his protagonist to age. His country has aged, too, meaning we don’t get a sanitized Scotland, but a modern view, tartan warts and all.
“A Velocity of Being: Letters to A Young Reader,” by Maria Popova (Dec. 31)
If you’ve never visited Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings website, you’re in for more than a treat. Popova has forged her own kind of literary criticism, with hypertextual analysis combined with enthusiasm — just like her new anthology. Letters from celebrated cultural figures about books and reading are paired with visuals from talented artists. A must for the book nerd on your list.
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”