Overshadowed But Still Awesome: Indie Booksellers Shine A Light On Four Great Reads

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • John Mesjak Founder and editor of, Independent sales representative

We're just two weeks away from Thanksgiving, and from a bookseller's perspective, we're also two weeks away from an even more important day: Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when all of America seems to lose their mind and spends the day engaged in a marathon shopping binge searching for holiday gifts for everyone in their circle of family, friends and coworkers.

Publishers count on fourth quarter book buying (and in particular, the weeks encompassing Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas) the way movie studios count on the weeks between Memorial Day and Independence Day. These weeks are make-or-break for their big books of the fall, and this imminent explosion of wild book buying explains the Price Wars madness that has engulfed some big box retailers and their online kin these past few weeks.

But those dozen titles and their extremely low big box prices (covered on the HuffPost extremely well) are not the only books that you might consider giving as gifts this fall.  I asked some of the independent booksellers that I work with, and that I am friends with, to see what other books they're loving this fall.  

In short, I asked each of them to choose a book that, for whatever reason, is overshadowed but still awesome.

Martin Schmutterer, assistant manager at Common Good Books in St. Paul, MN (on Twitter @commongoodbooks) says:

Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (Farrar Straus Giroux) is a rarity: a refresher course in political philosophy that is balanced, accessible, relevant and a pleasure to read. I'd recommend it to almost anyone, regardless of their politics. Sandel doesn't simplify Kant or Bentham; he makes their ideas, and the questions engendered, come alive in the present. At a time when Glenn Beck litters the bestseller lists with sham "common sense," Sandel's book stands in relief. It doesn't tell you what to think, it helps you think better.

Rich Rennicks, bookseller at Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, NC (on Twitter @RichRennicks) chose Sarah Hall's How To Paint A Dead Man (Harper Perennial):

I was amazed that Sarah Hall's How to Paint a Dead Man didn't win the Booker Prize and isn't being celebrated as one of the most remarkable works of fiction of the year.  Hall's writing is incredibly beautiful.  The events she puts her characters through may be sometimes harrowing, but the whole adds up to an intensely thought-provoking and ultimately joyful meditation on the big questions: how to be a good person, how to live your life, and how to cope with tragedy.  This is the kind of perspective-changing fiction that I'd think any literary book clubs would savor.  I take comfort in remembering that classics like The Great Gatsby weren't appreciated until years later, and I suspect How to Paint a Dead Man will be read and discussed long after this year's bestsellers are forgotten.

Katherine Fergason, manager and children's book buyer at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore

on Martha's Vineyard (on Twitter @KatherineBoG), picked perhaps the highest profile book of the four, Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist (Simon & Schuster):

The Anthologist is the story of a poet in the middle of a rough patch working on the introduction to an anthology of poetry.  We end up with an ode to poetry: discussing rhyme, meter, the great poets of the past and present, why poetry is crucial to our lives.  Which probably sounds like a big old yawn, but it's actually one of the big-snorting-laughter funniest books I've read in a while.  Love.

Anne Wilde, bookseller at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, WI, chose Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper (Delacorte Press):

If you love animals—cats in particular—you’ll love this book. Homer’s Odyssey is the story of an abandoned, blind little kitten, a woman who didn’t think she had room for another animal or enough love to give, and their remarkable journey together. I loved this book and I think it’s even better than (the also remarkable) Dewey.

If I may close with a pick of my own, I have to follow through on a vow that I made recently: to shout from the rooftops (virtually speaking, as I'm terrified of my steeply-pitched roofline) about a hugely readable, emotionally wrenching YA science fiction novel that came out in paperback this summer - it's my favorite handselling pick this fall from any of the publishers that I represent.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press) is the first book in a trilogy about the last boy in a remote village on a colony planet where a years-long battle with the native species of sentient bipeds has left both humans and aliens devastated.  A virus unleashed by the aliens in the final year of the war has killed all the women in Todd's village, and left all the surviving men and boys able to hear each others' every thought.  Despite growing up with The Noise echoing in his brain at all times, Todd has been raised by two adoptive uncles to near-adulthood.  On the eve of his coming-of-age ceremony, he makes a shocking discovery outside the village and must flee for his life.  Only as he encounters the outside world for the first time does he learn the true extent of the choices the humans have made during their years on the planet.  The Knife Of Never Letting Go is truly Science Fiction for Anyone - anyone who was thrilled by the adventure in The Hunger Games, anyone who was blown away by the secrets revealed in Ender's Game.

I welcome your own suggestions for non-bestselling, overshadowed great gifts for readers in the comments.