Each year I do a best-books column at the end of December, but in looking through the books I read this year, I noticed a theme and thought I’d change the concept a little.
The theme: Most of the books I would have put on a best-of list this year are Kansas-related.
The concept change: There’s still a week until Christmas, and books make great gifts, particularly for hard-to-buy-for people. So why not make the best-of list into a good-gift list?
In that spirit, here are some suggestions for good book gifts for Kansans:
“Rode” by Thomas Fox Averill (University of New Mexico Press, 204 pages, $24.95) tells the story of a man and his horse, a man who is forced by a false accusation of murder to leave the girl he loves and head west on his faithful horse. His journey takes him across the Mississippi to Mexico and back, and in his story we see the story of early Americans: making a new life, kindling a hope for freedom and justice, forging the bonds of friendship and family alongside an independence of spirit.
“Doc” by Mary Doria Russell (Random House, 389 pages, $26) is a fictional account of the life of Doc Holliday. Set largely in Dodge City, “Doc” captures the atmosphere of the wild frontier as well as the complexity of the people who inhabited it. “Doc” has plenty of grit and gunfighting, but also shows the more refined, genteel side of a man whose name ever associated with one moment of violence.
“Osa and Martin: For the Love of Adventure” by Kelly Enright (Lyons Press, 210 pages, $24.95) is a fascinating new biography of Chanute explorers Osa and Martin Johnson. As well as chronicling their pioneering adventures around the world in the early 20th century, the book details the special partnership the two shared, as well as their feelings about what they were seeing and doing and tidbits about day-to-day safari life.
“Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War” by Tony Horwitz (Henry Holt, 292 pages, $29) takes a look at John Brown’s life and path to abolitionism, exploring his turn to violence in Bleeding Kansas that ultimately led to the fateful raid on Harpers Ferry. Horwitz traveled the same route the raiders took to gain more insight into the story of this still-controversial figure.
"Wander the Kansas Flint Hills in Words and Images" by Stephen Perry (Back Roads Press, $17.95) is a beautiful little gem that combines watercolor prints and short essays/musing on the stunning, uniquely Kansas landscapes of the Flint Hills.
“Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems” edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (Woodley Press, 196 pages, $15) collects poems celebrating Kansas’ 150-year history, poems that reflect the state and its people in different times, seasons and places.