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  • Writer's picturePatti Callahan Henry

Book gift guide: Tips from independent Alabama shops—Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Books make an excellent Christmas gift option – at least if you aren’t overwhelmed by the multitude of choices. A couple of independent Alabama bookstores have offered some help with that.

From Page & Palette, an established institution in Fairhope, employees Stephanie Crowe and Anderson McKean offered a mix of bestsellers, staff picks and Alabama-specific history. Angela Trigg, owner of The Haunted Book Shop in downtown Mobile – a newer store but one whose name pays tribute to local literary and family history – provided a similar roster with some quirky twists.

It should come as no surprise that there was some overlap. Trigg (shown) and Crowe singled out Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing” as a novel that has inspired a passionate reaction from customers.

“This has been super-popular all year,” said Trigg, who had at least one signed copy of the regular hardback, plus a deluxe edition, in stock. “People are saying it’s their favorite book ever.”

“That has been a huge, huge success,” said Crowe.

Crowe said “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern has likewise been seized upon by customers, in part because it is the author’s first in seven years. “It’s a wonderful, fabulous story and I love it myself,” she said. As of Thursday it was also in the Top 5 store bestsellers displayed in the front window of Trigg’s shop.

On a local level, both Trigg and Crowe said that John Sledge's "The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History" was a recent favorite among Lower Alabama readers, many of whom seemed to take it as a companion volume to Jack E. Davis' Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea." Both also mentioned Watt Key's memoir "Bay Boy" as a popular book.

University of Alabama Press

On a broader statewide level, Crowe said strong sellers at Page & Palette have been the photography collection “My Alabama” by John Dersham and the bicentennial-themed “Alabama Creates: 200 Years of Art and Artists,” edited by Elliot Knight. (The store had signed copies of each, she said.)

Thomas Nelson

Other bestselling fiction shortlisted by Page & Palette’s Crowe: “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” a “fabulous” book in which Alabama author Patti Callahan uses a historical fiction approach to bring to life the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman; and the World War II story “Dragonfly” by Leila Meacham, “a huge hit with staff.

Crowe said that top nonfiction recommendations included “A Woman of No Importance,” Sonia Purnell’s account of an American woman who worked for the French resistance in World War II; “Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy” by Cassandra King Conroy, wife of the late author; and “Chasing the Bear” by Lars Anderson, a dual biography that compares the Crimson Tide’s two most successful coaches. Trigg said that this time a year ago, Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” was flying off the shelves. Now there’s a companion piece, a guided journal with the same title.

At The Haunted Book Shop, idiosyncratic organization and handwritten Post-It notes guide visitors to some unorthodox choices. A couple of shelves of books related to beverages include novelties such as “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist” and “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita.” A beer tome, “The Ultimate Scratch & Sniff Guide to Loving Beer,” was posted with a note asking browsers to please not scratch “the sniffy parts.”

Another such note identified “A Hero Born” as a personal recommendation of Haunted Book Shop employee Alex McLeod, who described it as “The Chinese equivalent to Lord of the Rings, an epic fantasy in 13th century China with martial arts serving as magic!” First published by author Jin Yong in the 1950s, it has taken off in the West after being translated into English for the first time.

The Haunted Book Shop’s inventory reflects Trigg’s love of genre fiction such as science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery and romance, with a table of gift editions suitable for fans of anything from Tolkein to “Game of Thrones,” just to pick fantasy. She’s also built a display of top genre award-winners, so if you want to give someone an award-winning sci-fi book from the year of their birth, it’s easy to find.

For younger readers, Page & Palette’s Anderson McKean offered several selections. For Young Adult readers, a top pick was “The Conference of the Birds,” the “highly anticipated fifth novel in the beloved, bestselling ‘Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children’ series.” Better yet, Riggs will be visiting Page & Palette on Jan. 17, and tickets to that event are available; ticket purchases include a copy of the book. Another YA recommendation: “The Fountains of Silence” by Ruta Sepetys, described as “a gripping, extraordinary portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.”

Middle-grade recommendations from Page & Palette include “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation” by Stuart Gibbs and “Pages & Co.: The Book Wanderers” by Anna James. Top children’s suggestions include “Last Stop on the Reindeer Express” by Maudie Powell-Tuck and “The Crayons' Christmas” by Drew Dewalt and Oliver Jeffers.

Trigg said children’s books are a particularly strong category for The Haunted Book Shop, and a particularly quirky one. “I Need a New Butt” by Dawn McMillan has been a hot item, she said, thanks to its giggle-inducing humor. There’s also a sequel.

For links and the entire article see: Book gift guide: Tips from independent Alabama shops

By Lawrence Specker | Dec 14, 2019


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Dec 27, 2022
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