Around the Bookstore: Gift-giving

A new book (or a classic) is a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays.


It is with disbelief, almost absolute, I realize we are facing the holidays, or, as I often joke in notes to friends, the Holidaze. Somehow, 2023 has disappeared into the record books, and in another blink of an eye, I will be hoisting a flute of champagne to 2024.

It is beginning, now a slow stream that will grow a little each day until we hit a steady pace as we head toward Christmas, a stream of people choosing presents, prepping them to place under this year’s tree.

People’s spirits seem to be lifting with the approaching holidays, a very nice thing as we live in a world bombarding us with very bad news. It feels good to see smiles on people’s faces as they find a book or a gift, as the bookstore has more than books. It lifts my spirits when someone turns to me and says, “I know [fill in the blank] will love this.”

In this slower-paced time, customers linger longer, chat more than in the summer, discussing what they’re going to be doing at the holidays, how they like what they’re reading, what’s new on the shelves. Some come by to say their farewells, finally off to wherever they live in the off-season.

There’s been a rush on Rebecca Yarros’ “Iron Flame,” her follow-up to the blockbuster “Fourth Wing,” the story of a female dragon warrior caught up in a world of intrigue. A printing mishap made the book even more difficult to get, so supplies became very limited.

Mitch Albom, of “Tuesdays with Morrie” fame, decided to write his Holocaust novel, and it is out, “The Little Liar.” We have some signed first editions, if you’re interested. Albom felt it time to explore the Holocaust, and the book’s release is poignantly timed because of events in the Middle East.

In the time since I last wrote this column, I’ve celebrated one more birthday, wondering how in the heck this has happened again. Last year’s birthday seemed just a moment ago; now I’m a year older.

It was a fun day. I worked at the bookstore, while my phone pinged with well wishes coming in, some from people who surprised me with their remembering. A few customers who knew dropped by to wish me happy birthday, which got the word spreading, so by the time I closed the door, I felt quite special as I went off to dinner with friends at L’Etoile, which was also quite special.

I am piling up books from the store to send off to family and friends for Christmas.

A fly-fishing friend will be gifted with Janet Messineo’s “Casting into the Light.” “Poems from the Pond” will go to my sister and my friend of longest standing, a woman I’ve known since we were 3, both who will enjoy the poetry of Peggy Freydberg, who made 107 before leaving us, poems weaving beauty, insight, pragmatism, all flavored by an Island life.

Lionel, my great Australian friend who has been by my side since he dropped onto America’s shores in 1999, is getting “Let’s Eat Paris!” by Francois-Regis Gaudry, celebrating the marvelous gastronomical experiences of a city we both love.

Christmas decorations have made the store festive and celebratory; it’s a joy to turn on the lights in the morning, put on some Christmas music, and let the day play its way. Sometimes I feel quite Dickensian, like some character in one of his books during an English Christmas.

Which reminds me to remind you to think of classics as gifts this holiday season. There is nothing like a classic novel, whether Dickens or Austen or Fitzgerald, to remind us that the human experience is not limited to our own time — the joys and pains we feel have been felt since the beginning of storytelling, back to Homer, whose “Iliad” is out in a new edition translated by Emily Wilson, with rave reviews for her work.

Holidays are times to embrace our friends, family, our loved ones, to celebrate the great writers who have gifted us with their words and insights, and to give those books which have meant much to us to those who mean so much to us.

Mathew Tombers is manager of Edgartown Books and an advocate for all things literary.