This year’s top reads to give as holiday gifts


The holiday season is upon us, and it’s time to start prepping gifts for friends, family, coworkers and beyond. For avid readers, there are a few standout books in a range of genres that have been published this year that recipients will likely crack open as soon as the gift exchange is over — if they can wait that long. Some of the books are pretty long, however, so just don’t try to stuff them in a stocking.


“Magic: The Life of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson”

$40, hardcover

I’m not positive that we need another 800-page biography of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who parlayed his basketball career with the Los Angeles Lakers into a billion-dollar enterprise, but why not. The new book by Roland Lazenby, who has written several books on the Lakers and one tome on Michael Jordan, delves into this superstar player who could see the floor better than anyone who ever played the game. Fortunately, folks in the Lansing area got to watch this wonder grow up playing some amazing games. Faceoffs with his cross-town rivals were legendary — people still talk about watching him play at Jenison Field House against Eastern High School’s Jay Vincent.


“Tom Lake”

$30, hardcover

“Tom Lake,” by Ann Patchett, has been on The New York Times’ best-sellers’ list for months, and her fans can’t get enough of her melodious writing. What locals will like about her new book is that it’s set in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protagonist was once an amateur summer-stock performer who spent a summerlong tryst with a young actor who went on to become a megastar. She eventually settled down and married a cherry grower in the Traverse City area. Her three children are sheltering in place with her during COVID, and she decides to tell them the amazing story of the summer love affair. There are some surprises that will keep you guessing right through to the end.


“Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America”

$29, hardcover

“Girls and Their Monsters,” by Audrey Farley, is a very bleak book, but it deserves to be read — especially by Lansing residents, who may have heard about the book’s subject, the Morlok quadruplets. The girls dominated the news and life in Lansing from the ‘30s to the ‘50s. Farley’s book reveals that the quadruplets lived in an abusive household, were sexually assaulted and were all diagnosed with schizophrenia. Most of these problems were hidden from the public eye.


“The Woman in Me”

$32.99, hardcover

“The Woman in Me” is the tell-all memoir of Britney Spears, who was a dominant force in pop music in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. There are numerous cringeworthy moments — especially when she details the conservatorship run by her abusive father. Much of the book’s content has been covered in gossip, movie and music magazines, but just in case you’ve forgotten, it’s now all in one place. For those who are relatively clueless about Spears, some of her antics will leave you shaking your head. That said, her book has been at the top of The New York Times’ best-sellers’ list for a few weeks.


“The All-American”

$16.99, paperback

In “The All American,” former Lansing resident Susie Finkbeiner tells a wonderful tall tale of women’s baseball, apple pie, soda-shop dates and Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare of the 1950s. The author has hit it out of the park with her fictional account of a confusing era in American history.

The book revolves around the four members of the Harding family, who appear to be living the American Dream. Bertha wants to play for the Sweet Peas, a professional women’s baseball team. Her sister, Flossie, is an avid reader with a bright future. Their dad is a famous writer, and their mother holds down the home front, but it all comes crashing down around them when their father is accused of being a Communist.


“An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford”

$50, hardcover

“An Ordinary Man,” by Richard Norton Smith — another 850-page behemoth — is the most complete biography of Gerald R. Ford, the only United States president to hail from Michigan. It makes for interesting political reading — especially nowadays, when social media bombards us every minute with bombastic political stories. Without question, Ford led the country during some interesting times, and it’s still debated whether pardoning Nixon and draft dodgers cost him the 1976 presidential election.


“Everything Is Just Beginning”

$17.99, paperback

Lansing author Erin Bartels’ sixth book, “Everything Is Just Beginning,” tugs at the heart in all the right places.

It’s a rags-to-riches, rise-to-fame plot as Michael, a young man who lives in a trailer with his estranged father’s twin brother, finds his soulmate, Natalie, when he stumbles into a New Year’s Eve party in a nearby gated community.

But the book isn’t just a fluffy love story; it confronts death and dying and a complicated father-son relationship. It also explores the challenges of making it in the music industry and exactly what that means to Michael and Natalie’s relationship.


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