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Boswell Book Company's top titles to gift in 2021

Well-read girl at home. Night exciting reading
Artem Rastorguev
Stock Adobe
Well-read girl at home. Night exciting reading

As the holidays continue to draw closer, perhaps you’ve been looking for an idea of what to give the readers in your life. Well, here at Lake Effect we have our own annual books to gift conversation with Daniel Goldin of Boswell Book Company.

In addition to sharing some of his favorite titles, Goldin also shares what trends have been driving books and bookstores this past year — from the supply chain to social media.

"This year does not seem like every other year — we’re coming off our COVID lists, the store has browsers again but we still have people ordering online. There’s always issues with books being available, but this year is definitely marked by supply chain panic," he notes.


With smaller presses, books being imported from Asia, and only one four-color book printer left in the United States, Goldin notes that books are no exception to the supply chain problems we've been experiencing.

The Midwest Survival Guide by Charlie Berens

The Midnight Survival Guide Book Cover
Charlie Berns
Charlie Berns
The Midnight Survival Guide Book Cover

"It's been tough [to get the book. Charlie Berens] is a local guy, huge platform that's working in a big way," notes Goldin. "His fans love the book, but it's four-color pressed so it's hard to re-print so good luck to everybody."

READ: Comedian Charlie Berens' 'The Midwest Survival Guide' explores what it means to be a Midwesterner

Another book Goldin knew would bring some supply issues is "Giannis" by Mirin Fader. A great sports biography, he said they stocked up on the book when it first came out, but Boswell will likely run out of copies before Christmas.


"I remember when we were in the thick of [the coronavirus pandemic] and there were a lot of pundits saying, 'Nobody wants to read this, we all want escapism, we want anything but this.' And the truth is that as the books are coming out they're actually doing pretty well — people are actually interested," notes Goldin.

Jodie Picoult
Jodie Picoult
Wish You Were Here

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

The book follows a group of friends holed up in a country house to wait out the pandemic. The characters are challenged over six months in isolation, forcing each to reevaluate whom they love and what matters most.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

The novel follows Diana O’Toole, whose life seems to be perfectly on track. However, the pandemic hits the night before leaving for a romantic getaway to the Galápagos with her boyfriend to celebrate her 30th birthday. Her boyfriend has to stay behind to work at the hospital, but Diana goes to the island only to be stranded under quarantine until the borders reopen.

"This is Jodi Picoult's take [on the pandemic]. She really didn't expect to write this, but she had nothing to do except walk for a year," says Goldin. "It's kind of delves into issues, it's got a little twist that you'll never see coming."


The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah Jones

1619 Project & Born On The Water Book Cover
Nikole Hannah Jones
Nikole Hannah Jones
1619 Project and Born On The Water

"Based on the New York Times series of articles that Nicole Hannah Jones created and edited with them, the book draws from all those pieces. There's also a kid's version called '1619 Project: Born on the Water,' which Jones wrote with the wonderful children's book writer Renee Watson shortly after the George Floyd protests," says Goldin.

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

Beginning in the author's hometown of New Orleans, Smith leads a tour of monuments and landmarks to show how the legacy of slavery has been key in shaping the United State's collective history for centuries. It also explores how many stories are hidden in plain sight in places that are honest about the past and those that aren't.

"Smith approaches things from almost a travel narrative where he visits the Whitney Plantation, Monticello, the Juneteenth Day celebration on Galveston Island, Angola Prison, and a walking tour of lower New York where this sort of innocence of New York and slavery is 'history rewritten' according to Smith. The mayor at the time had actually vowed to secede with the South because New York was so connected to the slave trade," says Goldin.


The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Grohl was first known as the drummer for Nirvana and went on to become the founder, lead singer, guitarist and main songwriter for the Foo Fighters. His book covers everything from growing up outside of Washington, DC, traveling as a musician at 18 and everything that followed.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying In H Mart Book Cover
Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner
Crying In H Mart Book Cover

Michelle Zauner is best known for performing music under the name Japanese Breakfast, but her book explores what it was like to be raised by a white American father and a Korean mother in the Pacific Northwest. Zauner longed for independence and moved across the country to attend college and try to launch her music career, but returned home in her early 20s to help care for her mother through the final, painful months of cancer treatments. Zauner explores her journey growing apart from and then returning to her mother and the aftermath of her death in this memoir.

READ: 'Crying In H Mart' Explores Michelle Zauner's Relationship With Food, Family & Grief

"Some music books are working, but they're not always what people expect. [For example,] two big successes have actually been Dave Grohl's 'The Storyteller' and Michelle Zauner's 'Crying In H Mart.' Whereas we're not doing as well with The Beatles, we're doing okay, but...they're not exactly the story that the followers want to read," says Goldin.


BookTok is the top trending book recommendations from a community of users on the app TikTok. Over the past year, the videos users post reviewing and recommending books has exploded in popularity, and in turn have made older books bestsellers or even bring new authors into the spotlight.

Goldin's BookTok recommendation is Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

"[BookTok's] fiction list is completely dominated of paperback, especially by 'BookTok' where people read the books and cry," he says. With everything from literary books to more commercial hybrids, it's a trend Goldin says a lot of bookstores didn't see coming, but have certainly adapted to.


The Five Wounds Book Cover
Kirstin Valdez Quade
Kirstin Valdez Quade
The Five Wounds

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

"The book we’re doing very well with is 'Finding the Mother Tree,' by Suzanne Simard, which made the top 10 of the Wall Street Journal. She’s one of the scientists whose work influenced 'The Overstory,' spending her lifetime looking at tree-to-tree communication," says Goldin.


The Five Wounds by Kristin Quaid

Recent Center for First Fiction Prize winner, the book follows a working family in a small town in New Mexico. "It's multi-generational, kind of a funny, warm, read... It's one year in [this family's] life from Easter to Easter," Goldin explains. "It's a book that is literally but very accessible. Somebody who likes Ann Patchett or 'The Great Believers' by Rebecca Makkai would love this book and I hope people discover it because [Quaid] is a wonderful writer."

If you're looking for more books to read for yourself or to give as a gift, here's Daniel Goldin's full book list:

  • "The Midwest Survival Guide" by Charlie Behrens
  • "Our Country Friends" by Gary Shteyngart
  • "Wish You Were Here" by Jodi Picoult
  • "The Sentence" by Louise Erdrich
  • "The 1619 Project" by Nikole Hannah-Jones
  • "The 1619 Project: Blood on the Water" by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson
  • "How the Word Is Passed" by Clint Smith
  • "Billie Eilish" by Billie Eilish
  • "The Storyteller" by Dave Grohl
  • "Crying in H Mart" by Michelle Zauner
  • "Lyrics" by Paul McCartney
  • "Renegades" by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen
  • "The Beatles: Get Back"
  • "Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller
  • "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig
  • "It Ends with Us" by Colleen Hoover
  • "Finding the Mother Tree" by Suzanne Simard
  • "Under a White Sky" by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • "The Overstory" by Richard Powers
  • "Giannis" by Mirin Fader
  • "Hell of a Book" by Jason Mott
  • "The Promise" by Damon Galgut
  • "Shuggie Bain" by Douglas Stewart
  • "Interior Chinatown" by Charles Yu
  • "The Night Watchman" by Louise Erdrich
  • "The Five Wounds" by Kirstin Valdez Quade
  • "Velvet Was the Night" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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