This Christmas season, more holiday book lovers are expected to shop at their local independent bookstore than they have in 20 years. Between 2009 and 2015, the American Booksellers of America reported a 35 percent jump in the number of independent booksellers.
“There’s nothing like talking about the books you love with your favorite bookseller,” said Michael Herrmann, owner of Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord.
From Portsmouth to Peterborough, independent book stores in the Granite State have knowledgeable owners and staff with gift ideas at the ready.
Our survey of top reads from local bookshops starts with nonfiction works by husband-and-wife authors Howard Mansfield and Sy Montgomery of Hancock, both of which were recommended by several local sellers.
You’ll also find a first lady, a legendary rocker and ruminations on a man who thought “There is nothing so powerful as truth.”
Now, where have I heard that before?
“The Habit of Turning the World Upside Down” by Howard Mansfield (of Hancock). Bauhan ($19.95)
A historical look at the development of property in New Hampshire up to current-day issues involving the rights of property owners.
“His short book is full of history and full of wisdom and may be the only book where you’ll find stories you never heard about George Washington and also the fight over the Northern Pass project,” says Herrmann.
“How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” by Sy Montgomery (of Hancock), Houghton Mifflin ($20)
This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals. Montgomery, a naturalist who has developed real friendship with these animals, uncovers truths revealed by their grace.
Sheafe Street Books in Portsmouth is celebrating nine years in its current location (yes, on Sheafe Street). Eric Kozick, who owns this cozy little store, says he’s been around books his entire life and offers these suggestions:
“Searching for the Stars on an Island in Maine” by Alan Lightman. Pantheon ($24.95)
A mesmerizing collection of essays that explores the connections between scientific ideas and the wider world. Some of the essays reflect on death, stars, truth and even ants.
“Devotion” by Patti Smith, Yale University ($9.95)
A nonfiction travel journal from New York to Paris that borrows from seemingly unrelated day-to-day events to become a fictional tale within the book.
“Port Smith” by various contributors. Plainspoke ($18)
A print journal of art, words, culture, place expressed by contributors from Seacoast New Hampshire and southern Maine.
“One of Us Is Lost” by Robert Dunn (of Portsmouth). Hobblebush Books ($18)
Robert Dunn spent much of his time in Portsmouth’s Market Square and on park benches around the city, talking with passersby, reciting his poems, and selling small books. He died in 2008 at 65.
This is a collection of his poems. “He was the poet laureate of Portsmouth from 1999-2001 and people remember him as the Penny Poet of Portsmouth,” said Eric Kozick.
“Always look on the Bright Side of life: A Sortabiography” by Eric Idle. Crown ($24)
Known for his many roles with Monty Python, Idle reflects on his life from childhood to fame, never missing a chance to name drop or sprinkle in expected moments of hilarity.
The Toadstool Bookshops, with locations in Peterborough, Keene and Milford, are the hub for books in the Monadnock region. Co-owner Will Williams opened the first shop in Peterborough in 1972. He shared his suggestions:
“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owner. Putnam ($26)
Good Reads calls this “an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder.”
“Bury the Lead” by Archer Mayor. Macmillan ($27.99)
Mayor, who is considered a ‘local author’ (he lives in Brattleboro, Vt.) delivers his 29th Vermont-based mystery featuring detective Joe Gunther, who this time is investigating a murder and arson possibly linked to ebola.
“The Broken Ornament” by Tony DiTerlizzi. Simon and Schuster ($17.99)
“Great pictures and a great ending,” said Williams. “There’s not a lot of classic Christmas stories, but this may become one.”
“Construction Site on Christmas Night” by Sherri Dusky Rinker. Chronicle Books ($16.99)
“Perfect for ages 3 to 6, with great pictures of trucks and machinery at work,” says Williams.
“Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster. The Second Generation of American Giants” by H.W. Brands. Doubleday ($30)
A University of Texas historian pens the complicated relationship of these three statesmen, their quest for the presidency and their denouncement of slavery.
Gibson’s Bookstore on Main Street in Concord, founded in 1898, is the largest independent bookstore in northern New England. Owner Michael Hermann, who is a champion of the “shop local” movement, shares a few of his favorites:
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama, Random House ($32.55)
“This is the memoir of the year, says Hermann. “At least 60 percent of the readers on your Christmas list will declare they want this book, and the rest will be secretly curious.”
“Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Collins ($29.99)
A timely look at families that are separated by over a century facing eerily similar issues in a tumbledown house in New Jersey. Current political issues are woven through the lives of the characters.
“Bobby” by Bobby Orr. Viking ($30)
The “Babe Ruth” of hockey shares his life story in photographs.
“The Snowy Nap” by Jan Brett, Penguin ($18.99)
“One of our favorite children’s authors has a new picture book and it is adorable,” says Hermann. “The story is about Hedgie, who doesn’t want to hibernate because he might miss all the excitement of winter”.
“Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight, Simon & Schuster ($37.50)
The definitive biography of one of American history’s most defining and fascinating figures. A Time Top 10 book of the year.
“A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety” by Donald Hall (of Wilmot). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($25)
Hall, who died last year, reflected on aging and death in this candid and often humorous memoir.
Two Seacoast authors are on the recommended list from Dan Chartrand, founder and owner of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter:
“Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy” by Mary Ann Esposito (of Durham). Peter Randall ($39.95)
Sums up what she has done through the years as host of one of public television’s longest running cooking shows. “The best of Esposito,” says Chartrand.
“Locked in: The Will to Survive and the Resolve to Live” by Victoria Arlen (of Exeter). Howard Books ($29.95)
Exeter’s Paralympic swimmer turned ESPN commentator, who made an amazing recovery from a condition that left her unable to use her legs throughout her teenage years, shares her never-before-published story — the pain, the struggle, the fight to live and thrive, and most importantly, the faith that carried her through.