Books: Last-minute gift ideas, a literary road trip and more

Books Editor

I know there are some people done with their holiday shopping; I am not one of them. If you, like me, still have some gifts to get, this newsletter may be able to help you. (Your friends and family like books, right?) I’m L.A. Times books editor Carolyn Kellogg with this week’s newsletter.


I’ve shared this before, but if you’re looking for just the right book for someone, we have got you covered. Here are our best nonfiction books of 2017; the best fiction of the year; recommended books for little kids, middle-graders and teens; delightful audiobooks; fun books for stuffing in stockings; and gorgeous coffee table books.


In Connecticut, there are three writers’ houses that you can visit in a single day: Mark Twain’s, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s and Noah Webster’s. Each has a different vibe and tackles, in a different way, the question of how we intersect with literary history — but I have a family connection to only one of them. Join me on my literary road trip.



The big nonfiction review this week is “American Wolf: The True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West,” by Nate Blakeslee, about what happened after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, and a star wolf, 0-six.

“The ecosystem reshaped by wolves is arguably a more ‘real’ West than that of the lazy-elk days before reintroduction,” writes reviewer Willy Blackmore. “But both nostalgia and politics influence what you see to be as a more authentic and ideal vision of the northern Rockies — and America’s wild spaces on the whole.”

And in fiction this week, Dustin Illingworth reviews Sam Shepard’s posthumous novel, “Spy of the First Person”: “Occupying a kind of permanent West, his spare and often surreal portraits dismantled the bankrupt mythologies propping up the American dream. In Shepard’s work, what is most wanted — family, home, identity — is most unmoored, prone to drift and distortion…. ‘Spy of the First Person,’ is an eloquent, if necessarily brief, valediction.”


Two books notably popped back up onto our bestseller lists this week, undoubtedly because they make great gifts. The first is “Lincoln in the Bardo,” the 2017 novel by George Saunders; the second is the 2016 book “Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders,” a celebratory catalog of 700 eclectic places that provides both armchair travel and a long list of destinations.

At the top of our lists, the No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in fiction is the science fiction novel “Artemis” by Andy Weir for the third week in a row.

The No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in nonfiction is “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson. The book is now in its eighth week on our list.

See all the books on our bestseller lists here.


Clifford Irving died Tuesday at age 87. Irving perpetrated one of the greatest literary hoaxes of the last century, writing a (fabricated) autobiography of Howard Hughes — counting on the fact that Hughes was too much of a recluse by the early 1970s to challenge his tale. Irving’s ability to delight in the entire process made it seem like a great yarn. “It became an adventure,” he told The Times in 2007.

Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was born in the Philippines, will publish a book, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” with Dey Street. Vargas disclosed his immigration status in 2011 and has chronicled immigration issues in print and film.

Jose Antonio Vargas
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times )