The Tipsy Librarian: Holiday Book Buying Guide


Here in New Orleans, we’re all about lighting up the holiday season. Merchants and residents have jammed strings of lights into every outlet that works (that’s about 50% in our uninsulated post-Civil War shotguns, if you’re curious). Along with electric lights, New Orleans celebrates with bonfire season, a tradition that started in the 1700’s that involves the time-honored tradition of lighting large piles of wood, bamboo, and sometimes fireworks along the curvy Mississippi. Some say the fires helped visiting relatives steer their little boats through the narrow inlets; others say the fires clear debris while simultaneously warn children away from the water.

But, seriously, we all know that practicality is not this city’s forte, and it’s just great fun to light fires. If you’re in my neck of the woods this holiday season, I recommend you partake in a Christmas Eve Reveillon dinner at one of a dozen fine French Quarter restaurants, attend a bonfire party in plantation country, and toast your loved ones with Huey Long’s favorite Sazerac cocktail in the selfsame Sazerac Bar.

If you can’t come to my city this holiday season because you are trapped Somewhere Else, The Tipsy Librarian recommends you celebrate in the next-best way: light fires in your loved ones’ brains by giving them books as gifts.

Here are a few of my very favorite books published this year, with customized recommendations for the variety of readers on your holiday book buying gift list. As an added lagniappe (that’s New Orleans for “bonus”) I’ve included recommended beverage pairings with each. You’re welcome.

Tampa, by Alissa Nutting

This is for the person on your list who likes to be shocked, and, in turn, likes to shock others with shocking things. This might be your token Renegade friend, your avant garde experimental performing poet friend, the friend who nurtures a school teacher fetish, or the literal feminist who likes to take gender equality to its logical conclusion in twisted scenarios of sexual power. Tampa is a page-turning, cynical romp through the eyes of an age-obsessed female school teacher who wishes she could date her students…and does.

Pairs well with: Cheap vodka with 1-5 dashes of blue curacao



A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

This 400+ pager is for the thoughtful, compassionate environmentalist slash philosophizing humanist slash wanna be Buddhist slash frustrated writer. It is also perfect for anyone who loves to get lost in a different time period when they crack open a book. This is a thoroughly absorbing tale, told through a found diary that washed up on the coast of British Columbia and the narrator, who is a frustrated novelist. It’s one of those books that upon completion, make you feel just a little bit healed of life’s existential wounds. Plus, it was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize this year.

Pairs well with: Nigori sake, or a Pinot from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia



Vintage Attraction, by Charles Blackstone

Buy this book immediately for your oenophile friend, or wanna-be wine lover. Also, any frustrated teacher of intro college English needs this vocabulary-packed, sympathetic look at an adjunct’s embattled lifestyle. Why? Because it’s a wine-soaked love story where the late-blooming school teacher falls head over cork for a local celebrity, because it incorporates words like “coruscating” and “susurrate” correctly, and because Americans need more wine–why shouldn’t it come in the form of Greek varietals?

Pairs well with: Xinomavro, or Biblia Chora Areti White. Your wine shop doesn’t speak Greek?  Sink into this delicious escape with a heady California red Zinfandel.



Kabu Kabu, by Nnedi Okorafor

This is for your science fiction fan, your fantasy geek reader, your Game of Thrones fan–who needs to branch out a little. This is for your friend who loves chaos and destruction and is always talking about how arrogant human beings are for seeking control of nature. This is for the friend who applies the Bechdel test to movies, and laments the lack of strong female protagonists in stories. This is for everyone.

Pairs well with: Guinness



Wedlocked, by Jay Ponteri

This is for your deep thinking friend who might be having doubts about his marriage in the form of insatiable crushes on baristas, and needs to hear that others have had those doubts, too, and needs to find solace in the fact that it’s natural to feel desire for people other than your wife from time to time. Especially appropriate for those who grew up listening to Nirvana, Archers of Loaf, Stone Roses,and Superchunk.

Pairs well with: Double macchiato, piping hot, followed smartly on its heels by a shot of rye whisky



Alison Barker

Alison Barker

Freelance Writer at Nola Studiola
Alison Barker, or Ms. Barker to the legions of young minds she’s shaped during fourteen years as a primary, middle school and college teacher, is a writer and critic who currently lives in New Orleans. Her work has appeared in Switchback, Monkeybicycle, Fwriction: Review, Ravenna Press’ Anemone Sidecar, Front Porch, Columbia Journal of Art and Literature, dislocate. Fiction, nonfiction, and theater reviews appear in Bitch, Paste Magazine, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Reader, Rain Taxi, Bookslut, and soon in Los Angeles Review of Books. She enjoys new places and faces, indefatigably drawing connections between people, places, ideas, and good coffee.
Alison Barker
Alison Barker
Alison Barker


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