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The transportive, immersive and broadening power of books can only be described as nothing short of magic. Among the pages of a freshly cracked novel you can live experiences that are not your own, and with the right incendiary prose you can be moved to action. There’s a reason some books have been banned at certain Orwellian times in history.
Books can also be one of the best ways to unwind and visit another reality without any kind of repercussions, and there’s really no time to read like the winter holiday, when the indoors are just beckoning for you to stay inside, cozy up and get lost in a great story.
For Madeline Shier, a staff member and book buyer for Powell’s, the world’s largest independent bookstore nestled in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon, “A book is a lot of things in one. When you give someone a book, you’re giving them an activity for a rainy day or a long train ride, an escape pod out of their life and into someone else’s.”
If you’re on the lookout for your next “escape pod” or just want to relax during the coming post-holiday downtime, we gathered some literary winners into the list below. To help us with these picks, we turned to the book buying experts at Powell’s as well as fellow book lovers from the Canceled Plans Facebook page.
An endearing novel about the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us
Sustained by vivid characters and the fascinating backdrop of a Parisian apartment building, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" tells of a secretly cultured concierge and a jaded 12-year-old genius whose paths cross in interesting ways as their hidden lives are exposed for the reader. -- Recommended by Kris Stiegler, Canceled PlansGet it from Thriftbooks for $15.35.
A New York Times bestseller that's both a dazzling and feel-good read
"The Midnight Library" isn't like any library that you have ever heard of. It exists at the edge of the universe and contains an infinite number of books, each one telling of a different version of your existence had you made a different choice at any point of your life. Our protagonist does just that, and we follow her journey on quest to discover a more fulfilling life. --Recommended by Jim Amster, Canceled PlansGet it from Amazon for $13.29.
An illuminating series of essays that provide a more hopeful take on the climate crisis
"I read a lot of books about climate change. They can be depressing, infuriating and induce apathy over action. 'All We Can Save' is truly the most inspirational book I've read on our climate emergency. The book is full of essays, poetry and art by a wonderful variety of women who share their passion, creativity, ideas and hope as they fight for the future. What fantastic collection." -- Recommended by Lesley A., Powells.comGet it from Amazon for $13.60.
A classic and suspenseful noir story
"James M. Cain’s novel, 'Double Indemnity,' is a lightning-fast, tension-laced read full of pulpy goodness, exploring themes of obsession and the corruption of the soul through Cain’s everyman-gone-wrong, Walter Huff. The end of the book — completely different from the film, by the way — is a great example of how deftly Cain works poetry into his hard-boiled simplicity. Quintessentially noir and quintessentially American, it is, above all, just a damn good time." -- Recommended by Gigi L., Powells.comGet it from Amazon for $9.59.
A visceral and vulnerable portrait of trans-hood
"It's no surprise that there is a lack of diversity in publishing, which is why the #ownvoices
movement is paramount in giving authors from underrepresented and marginalized groups a platform to stand on and, finally, some recognition. Enter Torrey Peters' debut novel 'Detransition, Baby,' a beautiful and poignant book about identity, love, motherhood and the heartbreaking realities of being trans. There is a reason this book is so critically acclaimed: it's incredible and Torrey Peters is a badass." -- Recommended by Michelle L., Powells.comGet it from Amazon for $13.88.
An important story about what it means to be Black, told in a way you've never seen before
"This title isn’t out until Jan. 11, but it’s worth a preorder, for yourself or as a gift. Told in 10 gut-punching, vivid, heartfelt sentences and three hundred evocative, heartbreaking, hope-bringing pages of illustrations, Reynolds and Griffin’s 'Ain't Burned All That Bright' is an ambitious meditation on a Black teen trying to catch his breath in the midst of current [and ongoing] historical, and institutional events is a masterpiece." -- Recommended by Madeline Shier, Powell'sGet it from Barnes & Noble for $16.99.
An unlikely feminist novel that's reminiscent of America's Salem witch trials
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm of 1620, "The Mercies" takes place when a ruthless storm has just ravaged a small Norwegian town, wiping out all the men and leaving fertile ground for the women to become independent. This all becomes threatened when a sinister man arrives from Scotland, sent to rid the town of alleged unholiness and burn witches at the stake. -- Recommended by Kristi McWhorter, Canceled PlansGet it from Amazon for $13.89.
A Pulitzer Prize winner that illuminates the ways people try to be good to one another
The Nazis have just occupied France, and a 12-year-old blind girl whose father works at the Museum of Natural History is forced to flee with a dangerous and valuable item in her possession. At the same time, an orphaned German boy with an incredible talent for building and fixing radios has been enlisted by the Nazis to help track down the Resistance. "All the Light That We Cannot See" merges these two children's paths as the wreckage of World War II carries on. -- Recommended by Kris Stiegler, Canceled PlansGet it from Thriftbooks for $16.42.
A richly constructed world with indigenous roots
"Little Badger’s sophomore novel, 'A Snake Falls To Earth,' draws again on her Lipan Apache heritage and identity. Convinced that there was more history than story in her great-great-grandmother’s deathbed tales, Nina goes digging into Lipan myth. Meanwhile, cottonmouth kid Oli [denizen of the land of spirits and monsters] is on his own for the first time. When catastrophe strikes, their worlds collide. The perfect read to get lost in on a gray or stormy day." -- Recommended by Madeline Shier, Powell'sGet it from Barnes & Noble for $18.99.
A novel that transports you to the Golden Age of Hollywood
At the age of 75, a reclusive former Hollywood starlet has decided to divulge her life to a unknown magazine reporter, Monique Grant. It's a life of glamour, ambition, scandal and yes, her seven husbands. Beyond that, "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" is about the unique intersection of both Grant and Hugo's lives and their unexpected friendship. -- Recommended by Jenn Riddell and Kristi McWhorter, Canceled PlansGet it from Amazon for $13.25.
A fantastical and bestselling trilogy that's like Harry Potter for adults
À la Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, this three-part series combines a passionate vampiric love story, a young scholar and a descendant of witches to create what the NPR
called "'Twilight' for the intellectually restless." The "All Souls Trilogy" is a character driven story, brimming with magic and already in possession of a loyal cult following. -- Recommended by Anne Lorimer Smallman, Canceled PlansGet it from Amazon for $33.93.
A dark tale with a Hitchcockian twist
Eileen' is about what it means to look back on our foundational moments, about how memories are deceivingly amorphous, about the complexity of female friendship and desire, and about how poverty and violence seep out to stain everything in their proximity. Eileen is a character you may not like, but she's someone whose story will make you think and feel deeply, succeeding in the way that only the greatest stories do." - Recommended by Cosima C., Powells.com
Get it from Amazon for $13.99.
A New York Times bestseller that underscores the beauty of human connection
This Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick had one member of the Canceled Plans Facebook group wishing she could find another like it. "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" introduces an eccentric heroine who struggles socially and develops a heart warming friendship with the bumbling IT guy in her office and an elderly gentleman named Sammy. This book allows its readers to have a compassionate understanding about what it's like to be on the autism spectrum. -- Recommended by Nicole Turnball, Canceled PlansGet it from Amazon for $12.78.
A satire of the human heart that won a bevy of literary awards
With a Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Notable Book designation and a Washington Post Top 10 Book award under its belt, "Less" is a relatable and humorous story about a struggling novelist who decides to travel the world as a way to avoid the wedding of his ex-boyfriend of the past nine years. --Recommended by Kris Stiegler, Canceled PlansGet it from Amazon for $10.92.
A personal narrative that teaches us resilience in the face of hardship
This intimate glimpse of author Katherine May's life shows her living through a difficult time, her active acceptance of sadness and the human ability to endure. "Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times" is a kind of guiding philosophy for understanding hardships and transforming them into something better. -- Recommended by Teresa Sexton, Canceled PlansGet it from Amazon for $12.10.
An enchanting illustrated book for the imaginative
"This book feels like wandering into a fairy tale. It sparks the same emotion I get stepping outside into a quiet, frozen morning after the year’s first nighttime snow. Gorgeous illustrations are entwined with fantastical, meditative, poetic bits of storytelling in what I can best describe as a picture book for all ages. Morris’s newest work is a perfect piece of inspiration for the creative in your life." -- Recommended by Madeline Shier, Powell'sGet it from Thriftbooks for $17.97.