Well-woven words will always hold value, regardless of whether they are assembled in a publication you can touch, page by page, or scrolled on a digital device.
We are reading a lot during this pandemic year, if the number of “holds” on library books is any indication. My latest search, for the bestselling novel “Anxious People” by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, had a discouraging 551 holds on 84 copies in southcentral Wisconsin libraries.
That’s an estimated six-month wait, far beyond my book club’s deadline for dissecting this title, which we chose because of our fondness for “A Man Called Ove” and “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” earlier works by the author.
Two of my friends, who don’t know each other, went out of their way to rave about Backman’s new release. I succumbed to buying it online, along with a couple of books in Nick Bruel’s “Bad Kitty” series for kids.
I don’t have grandchildren but appreciate the deep, months-long dive that a 500-member social group for women – Who’s New in Madison – is taking to assist Madison Reading Project. The nonprofit has given more than 163,000 books to 81,000 low-income children since 2014 and welcomes donations. madisonreadingproject.com
All this is my prelude to a look at good books written by writers closer to home. Let’s start with a roundup of Midwest Travel Journalists Association authors, at mtja.us/books.
We travel the world but live in the Midwest U.S. and tend to specialize in backyard getaways, presented with a trained, insider view.
I’ll wager that the relevance of road trips will remain popular in 2021, as long as COVID is a concern, so check out these options, to take you from Alabama to Wisconsin. Add books about international destinations – Germany, Ireland – and themed travel books about Abe Lincoln, spiritual travels, ecotravel, trips for lovers of literature and the Midwest’s best RV/tent campgrounds.
Some MTJA members dabble in other writing genres too. Todd Wessell of Illinois presents “The One and Only,” a bio of notable but underappreciated athlete Chic Harley. Susan Kraus of Kansas writes a series of psychological thrillers that begins with “Fall from Grace.”
I double as a food writer, so I become aware of new cookbooks and this year am most smitten by Shauna Sever’s beautiful “Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland” ($30, Running Press).
So many cookbook authors strain to impress or astound with recipes that are either so fussy or experimental. They exhaust or turn off the average home cook. Not this one: Between two hard covers is an abundance of beloved, traditional recipes – enough for “Midwest Made” to endure as a lasting anthology of Heartland baking heritage.
Scotch-a-roos. Buckeye bars. Belgian pie. Dutch letters. Paczki. Potica. English muffin bread. Homemade cherry pie filling. All are here.
Beautiful food photography turns this into a good coffee-table book too. I’d say conversation icebreaker, but who’s entertaining this year?
Jeanette Hurt of Milwaukee navigates us to home turf with “Wisconsin Cocktails” ($30, University of Wisconsin Press), which exceeds expectations because research stretches far beyond how to mix a stiff drink.
The book is a blend of cocktail recipes, history and nuances that distinguish imbibers in the Badger State from others. Old fashioneds? Sure. Ice cream drinks? Uh-huh.
The Tom and Jerry earns its own chapter. So does the Bloody Mary. Expect a mix of the traditional (brandy slush, cherry bounce), the new (nods to Wisconsin-made liquor) and creative bar drinks that don’t contain alcohol. uwpress.wisc.edu
In-person chats with authors at bookstores are rare during this pandemic year, but virtual events are fun substitutes.
Two award-winning Wisconsin natives – children’s book author Kevin Henkes and novelist Jane Hamilton – share conversation at 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4. The writers of bestsellers (“Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse,” “The Book of Ruth,” respectively) are coming together online because of Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, and InkLink Books, East Troy. Register for the Zoom event at boswellbooks.com or inklinkbooks.com.
Boswell’s owner, Daniel Goldin, suggests good books for holiday gifts during an 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, event arranged with Friends of Shorewood Public Library. Register at shorewoodlibrary.org.
Reps from Boswell and Oconomowoc’s Books and Company – booksco.com – interview Lily King (“Writers and Lovers,” “Euphoria”) online at 2 p.m. Dec. 9.
Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee – arranging virtual conversations with Elaine Sciolino (“The Seine: The River That Made Paris”) at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10; Erin Brockovich (“Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis”), 7 p.m. Dec. 16; Lee Goldberg (“Bone Canyon”), 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7; Nick Petrie (“The Breaker”), 7 p.m. Jan. 12; and Holroyde (“The Effort”), 7 p.m. Jan. 13. boswellbooks.com
Mystery to Me, Madison – presents Bookseller Happy House, 4 p.m. Dec. 3 and 17, for talk about favorite books of the year and titles coming out in 2021; virtual visit with Nick Petrie (“The Breaker”), 7 p.m. Jan. 14. mysterytomebooks.com
River Dog Book Company, Sullivan – welcoming Lynne Truss (“Murder by Milk Bottle”) in conversation with Barbara Ross (“Sealed Off”) at 3 p.m. Dec. 5; staging a virtual launch party for “Starla Jean,” author Elana Arnold and illustrator A.N. Kang at 1 p.m. Jan. 23. riverdogbookco.com
Woodland Pattern Book Center, Milwaukee – The 17 th annual Poetry Marathon and Benefit features 240 poets in 24 hours, beginning at 10 a.m. Jan. 30, featuring pre-recorded performances. Register to read or sponsor a poet at woodlandpattern.org.
What else? Browse online at your favorite book shop – especially the independently owned enterprises.