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Give Books: Four San Francisco Booksellers Share Their Holiday Picks

Last week we kicked off our Give Books campaign by asking some well-loved bloggers to share the Chronicle titles on their holiday wishlists. This week, we take you on a tour of San Francisco’s independent bookstores to find out which books (not just Chronicle’s) make great gifts.

It’s amazing how much you’ll learn talking to people who surround themselves with books. I now know that three out of five booksellers have a thing for scotch, Three-card Monte isn’t about finding the queen, and it’s a good idea to give books to your hairdresser or beautician. Apparently people have beauticians. See? I didn’t know that.

Celia Sack is the owner of Omnivore Books on Food, which she opened in late 2008.

What’s the best gift you ever received?
The best gift I ever received was a Swiss Army knife for my 10th birthday. The pure glee I felt! (God, such a lesbian, even then!).

What is your favorite Chronicle title?
That’s tough! My favorite that I’ve used is Tori Richie’s Braises and Stews. And Ruta Kahate’s 5 Spices, 50 Dishes – that book rocks my dinner table every time. For recent titles, Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Roots, by Diane Morgan.

Why give books?
Books are the best gift to give because they show such thoughtfulness. Either you give a book that has been your favorite to someone you care about, or you give them a book they’ve always wanted. Or maybe you know they love to buy Scotch, so you search out a special antiquarian book on the subject – whatever you give, it shows you care about the other person’s interests.

Which five books are you recommending this holiday?
The five books I’m recommending (in no particular order): Faviken, Jerusalem, Roots, Bouchon Bakery, and Japanese Farm Food.

Shannon Grant is the Senior Children’s Buyer for Books Inc., where she has worked for 12 years.

What’s the best gift you ever received?
The best gift I’ve ever received was a spa day with my sister. I guess because I work in books, I never get books!

What is your favorite Chronicle title?
I have lots of Chronicle favorites, but if I had to pick one I’d say Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Why give books?
When you give someone a book you’re not just giving them an object, you’re giving them a story, new ideas, new words, and new worlds, and that’s just special.

Which five books are you recommending this holiday?
Unusual Creatures by Michael Hearst: For kids who love animals, science, trivia, the weird and the wacky, also sure to delight the adults in their life just as much.

Gods & Warriors by Michelle Paver: For the 10-12 year old in your life who’s raced through all of the Percy Jackson books and is dying for more.

Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee: Looking for a charming and hilarious canine caper for a 3-6 year old? Two-time Caldecott Honor winner Frazee delivers a gem.

I Can Do It Myself & Now I Am Big by Stephen Krensky, I am obsessed with the retro artwork in these sweet and empowering board books, perfect for babies and toddlers gaining their independence.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: I want to put this into the hands of every person over the age of 9. It’s a beautiful and heart-warming novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Kevin Ryan is the new book buyer and co-owner of Green Apple Books. He’s worked there since 1990, and been an owner since the late ‘90’s.

What’s the best gift you ever received?
Without a doubt the best gift I ever got was a subscription to a scotch-of-the-month club. That was a few years ago, but I’m still enjoying the generosity of that one.

What is your favorite Chronicle title?
My favorite Chronicle title is Press Here. It makes me wish my kids were young again so that they could climb on my lap and I could watch them discover it.

Why give books?
A well-chosen book is the most personal gift you can give someone. Depending on the book, you could be asking someone to invest 20 or 30 (or more) hours of their own time reading it. It is actually a very intimate gift.

Which five books are you recommending this holiday?
For your dogwalker, it would be Underwater Dogs. Turns out dogs go pretty batshit when asked to retrieve an object from under water.

For a spouse, it has to be Jerusalem by Ottolenghi. A cookbook that can be read, cooked from, drooled over. A gift to be shared.

For your nephews and nieces: Good News, Bad News, by Jeff Mack. One of those rare kids books (basically wordless) that can be enjoyed by the youngest of readers, but also by older kids.

For your father-in-law: Sutton by J.R. Moehringer. Very enjoyable fictional account of the life of a famous bank robber.

For your beautician: Where’d You Go Bernadette. Hilarious, thoughtful, and yes, unputdownable.

Amy Stephenson
 is the events coordinator
 at The Booksmith, and the emcee of BookSwap.

What’s the best gift you ever received?
The best came last year. Crazily, my sister-in-law’s husband won ONE MILLION DOLLARS on a scratch-off lottery ticket. She wanted to do something awesome for her brother and me, so she bought us a 5-day trip to Hawaii. We’d never done anything like that (we didn’t even have a honeymoon), so it was a big deal.

Close runner up, though, when I was going through a rough patch, my friend came to the bookstore one night when I was closing, double parked outside, ran in, and handed me a flask that said “We go together like drunk and disorderly” on it, and then ran back out. It was filled with my favorite bourbon. Small gesture, but it went a long, long way.

What is your favorite Chronicle title?
I’m over the moon for All My Friends Are Dead (and its sequel). On a more serious note, Roots is so beautiful I can hardly stand to be in the same building with it.

Why give books?
When you’re giving someone a book, you’re not only giving them a beautiful object, you’re giving them an ongoing relationship. If it’s a cookbook, they’ll use it over and over and eat delicious meals that maybe they share with family and friends. If it’s a novel, they’ll read it, and have an experience of seeing the world through someone else’s experiences and perceptions that will stay with them. If it’s a jokey book, like All My Friends Are Dead, they’ll show it to other people and laugh at it over and over again. I got my hairdresser a copy of God’s Gift: Over 100 Studs, Stallions, and Dreamboats from the 70s and 80s, and it was sitting there on her shelf for a year, and I know she showed it to every single new client. It helped her get to know people. I like that about books.

Which five books are you recommending this holiday?
I don’t know if this is a genre of person unique to me, but for the weird, offbeat person in your life, Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection. It’s just stunning. Great coffee table book for anyone with a keen visual sense.

For the humanities major in your life, or any folks who read a whole lot, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Jump into Sloan’s quirky and jaunty secret society, and have Deep Thoughts about access to information, and also have lots of fun and geek out about bookstores.

For the cardsharp in your life, Fooling Houdini. It’s a cultural history of magic and its bizarre sub-sub-subculture, and I loved every word of it. It’s the Moonwalking With Einstein of this year. Did you know that Three-card Monte isn’t about actually fooling people (everyone knows it’s a sham), but instead about creating an environment in which you can’t NOT bet?

For the cheerful skeptic in your life, The Book of Harold. Harold is a bleary, middle-aged dude who works in the cubicle next to you. One day, you invite him to your Christmas party, and he kills your dog and breaks your TV, and then proclaims he’s the son of God. He’s a jerk, you wouldn’t want to have a beer with him, but you somehow find yourself following him on a pilgrimage to Texas. Brilliant, sensitive, laugh-by-yourself-on-the-bus funny.

And finally: This Is Not My Hat. The long-awaited (not really) sequel to Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back is perfect for parents to read with kids. Kids will love the pictures and the story; parents will love the unreliable narrator and dark humor. It’s got levels, is what I’m trying to say. Buy them as a set, read them forever, love them.

As you gear up for holiday shopping this weekend, eschew the 5am madness and drop by your local bookstore at a decent hour. Ask them what they’d recommend for the people on your list, and you just might be surprised at what you’ll learn.

Guinevere de la Mare
Senior Community Manager

Guinevere de la Mare

Guinevere de la Mare is a writer and editor based in San Francisco. She was the senior community manager at Chronicle Books from 2009-2014.

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