A Capella Books staffer Matt Nixon discusses the gift of reading for the holidays

Matt Nixon, a bookseller at A Capella Books, an Inman Park-based bookstore, shared some reading recommendations to give as holiday gifts to loved ones. (Pixabay)

Indie bookstores are unique for the love that goes into their very existence. A Capella Books in the Inman Park area is a little store that plays a big role in the local literary scene, and their staff reflects the enthusiasm for reading that serves book lovers so well. Matt Nixon is a bookseller at A Capella Books, and he shared some reading recommendations to give as holiday gifts to loved ones.

Nixon’s book recommendations:

Same Bed, Different Dreams” Ed Park (Nixon’s favorite book of the year)

Synopsis: Audacious. Thrilling in its audacity. “Same Bed, Different Dreams” is one of those books that the marketing copy and the blurbs do no justice to what makes the book so exceptional. It’s a history of modern (i.e., late-19th/20th century) Korea. It’s also an alternate history of Korea in that same time period. It’s a satire of publishing and of high tech. It’s a wild tale of various connections and threads (President McKinley assassin, esoteric 60’s sci-fi, Ronald Regan’s appearance on the 50’s game show “I’ve Got a Secret” with panelist Betsy Palmer, who had an affair with James Dean AND appeared in the original Friday the 13th, which was championed by a Sci-Fi/Horror magazine founded by church of the Korea expat Sun Myung Moon: all connected) that come together to make an extraordinary novel told in three intertwining narratives. Dive in, get lost but know that you’re in good hands. It all comes together. Thrilling!

Wellness” by Nathan Hill

 Synopsis: A great, big, meaty novel of ideas AND a deep and astute study of a relationship and marriage. Jack and Elizabeth meet as college students in 1990s Chicago. Wellness charts their relationship over 20 years: first flush of love and connection; building careers; financial striving and career setbacks; parenthood and its struggles; growing distance and dissolution. It’s also about the creation of art, capitalism and generational wealth, gentrification, the online reputational economy, the placebo effect, and other weighty topics. It is storytelling that is as broad and expansive as a Kansas plain and deep, precise and excavatory as the very best character studies … and pulls them both off exceptionally. As revelatory about matters of the heart and relationships as it is about how we each locate (and position) ourselves in the world–and how they both evolve with age.

“Kala” by Colin Walsh

Synopsis: It’s a wonderfully incisive and emotionally true character study of a group of friends, high schoolers in a coastal Irish tourist town. One of those friends, the titular Kala, disappears at age 15. Approximately 15 years laters, three of those friends are brought back together in their hometown by the discovery of Kala’s body. Here’s the thing: this emotionally resonant character study (told alternately from those three friends’ points of view) about 2/3 of the way turns into a gripping thriller! This is either a terrific thriller that has exceptionally well-drawn characters, or it’s a wonderfully astute and human story of friendship, small town, loss, regret and healing that has a central mystery that builds to a crackling conclusion. Either way, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. I didn’t find a false note in the whole thing.

“Speech Team” by Tim Murphy

Synopsis:Want to relive the the pain, awkwardness, isolation and transformative–yet temporary–friendships that make up the high school experience? The speech team is for you! And you get to relive it from the rearview mirror, as an adult. One of a group of high school friends/speech team colleagues commits suicide some 20 years after high school, leaving behind a Facebook message with a cryptic allusion to the speech team teacher. This brings four of the remaining group members together and they all find that their teacher affected them in…complicated ways. Every character beat is true in this thorny examination of the things in youth that make us who we are, the scars they leave and how we heal.

“The Path to Paradise: A Francis Ford Coppola Story” by Sam Wasson

Synopsis: One of the premier chroniclers of Hollywood history and film, Wasson here sets his sights on the complicated, Quixotic director and producer Francis Ford Coppola. In excavatory detail, Wasson charts his upbringing and rise in Hollywood through the highs of “The Conversation” and The Godfather films, through the well-known “personal Vietnam” of Apocalypse Now and beyond. But what really makes “The Path to Paradise” so resonant is the recounting of Coppola’s many failed attempts to build an idyllic film community for creators, American Zoetrope. In some finely drawing of the complicated, difficult, manic and instinctive Coppola, Wasson reveals and celebrates the nobility of the creative act. I was shocked at how moved I was by Coppola’s story as depicted by Wasson.

Lois’ favorite book of the year– “Künstlers in Paradise” by Cathleen Schine

Synopsis: It’s about a Vienesse family who immigrated to Los Angeles before World War II. It centers around the 11-year-old daughter, Mamie, who’s a violinist. The book follows her life through age 93, and in flashbacks, the reader meets film stars, including Greta Garbo, Arnold Schoenberg, and Thomas Mann. The reader experiences the impressions of L.A. as a paradise to those who barely escaped war-torn Europe, but the sunny setting doesn’t replace the darkness in their lives.

One of Reitzes’ favorite parts of the book is when it looks at the relationship between Mamie and her 23-year-old grandson, who lives with her in Venice Beach during COVID-19. She thoroughly enjoyed the intergenerational aspect of the book.

“A Kiss Before Dying” by Ira Levin

Synopsis: Dark, twisting, shocking, audacious and unbelievable fun. This is Ira Levin’s (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives,” etc.) debut novel from 1953, and it is a wild, unexpected, nasty little ride. It’s about a couple–a man and a woman. The man is plotting to kill the woman because he finds out that she’s pregnant. The first act ends with him finishing her off, but you have to check out the book to find out where the storyline goes from there.

“The Quiet Tenant” by Clemence Michallon

Synopsis: Not that we need another story about a young woman kidnapped and imprisoned in a man’s shed/basement, but I was consistently surprised and rewarded by the skills, complexity, humanity and thrill of “The Quiet Tenant”. Told from multiple women’s points of view, “The Quiet Tenant” is the story of a woman kidnapped and imprisoned by a model citizen, and father, of his small town. The narratives are all told in the voice of the various women, including the kidnapped and the perpetrator’s daughter. A thriller that is more resonant and women-centered than most of this type of book.

I Loved You in Another Life” by David Arnold

Synopsis: This is a great opportunity to sing the praises of David Arnold, who writes wry, bittersweet and winning YA fiction about teenagers facing realistic, difficult, but ordinary circumstances: absent, neglectful parents, first loves, depression, loneliness, etc. I Loved You in Another Life is vintage David Arnold with a light touch of the fantastical. High School senior Evan Taft has a 7-year-old brother he adores and a newly single mother after his Dad left for another woman. His mother’s breast cancer diagnosis sends his post-high school plans into doubt. Shosh Bell was a local theater and performance legend whose plans to attend theater school at USC get abandoned when her sister is killed by a drunk driver. Will fate (or something else) bring Shosh and Evan together. And will they help each other heal? The heartbreaking, poignant, romantic, and utterly charming novel, “I Loved You in Another Life,” should appeal to any reader who is young or remembers what it feels like to be young.

“North Woods” by Daniel Mason

 Synopsis: Generation after generation live and die in the North Woods. Daniel Mason tells these stories in lush, panoramic detail, focusing especially on the land and the things that change and endure, generation after generation. Southern plantation escapees, an apple entrepreneur and his twin spinster daughters, a romantic painter with a secret, an industrialist who falls prey to a shady medium, an amateur historian…generation after generation pass through the North Woods and Mason paints this redolent, expansive canvas in the finest of detailed brushstrokes.