Day 6

Holiday reads: The Day 6 guide for books to gift this season

Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne offers her recommendations for books to gift this holiday season. With fiction, non-fiction, cookbooks and kids books, Toyne has you covered for the best books to give — or keep as a present for yourself.

Books columnist Becky Toyne has recommendations for all the readers on your list

With fiction, non-fiction, cookbooks and kids books, Toyne has you covered for the best books to give — or keep as a present for yourself. (Alex SG/Shutterstock)

It's been a weird year. For some there has been solitude, while others have also felt the strain of stress, anxiety and the emotions that come with living through a global pandemic.

And though arenas, malls and other social spaces may be closed in areas of the country, there is a safe activity for anyone of any age: reading.

Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne admits that there have been periods over the past year when she has not felt like reading.

"It has been a really difficult year for reading for me this year," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury. "I don't remember another time in my adult life that I have started and not managed to finish so many books."

With that in mind, Toyne curated her annual gift list with books that are lighter in tone, hopeful and fun — and includes books for all ages.

Like Rum-Drunk Angels by Tyler Enfield (fiction)

Goose Lane Editions

The novel is a Western featuring 14-year-old protagonist Francis Blackstone.

Toyne describes Blackstone as "very precocious, very brazen … sort of young enough that he doesn't really have any kind of sense of his own mortality yet, so he has an awful lot of swagger. But he has an old soul and an old heart."

He's also in love with a young woman who is out of his league, so he needs to make a fortune to try and win her hand. His solution: gather a few friends together and travel the country robbing trains.

"They're incredibly good at it, partly because they have such charisma. They're very polite train robbers. They don't kill anybody. They kind of make a big show while they take all the all the money and jewels from people, to the point that they become national celebrities," explained Toyne.

She says the book made her laugh and also cry at one point.

"It is the kind of novel that I would say buy it for the person that you bought Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers for nine years ago."

Indians on Vacation by Thomas King (fiction)

HarperCollins Publishers (HarperCollins Publishers)

CBC Radio fans will be familiar with Thomas King from his role with the Dead Dog Cafe, and from his previous books including The Inconvenient Indian.

In Indians on Vacation, King tells the story of Bird and Mimi, a middle-aged couple who travel to Europe. 

"They're on the trail of Mimi's Uncle Leroy, who disappeared around a century ago taking his family's medicine bundle with him. [He] was never seen again and was only heard from again in the form of an occasional postcard that he would send home from a different European capital," explained Toyne.

She says part of the appeal of the book, at a time when travel is restricted due to the pandemic, was being able to live vicariously through Mimi and Bird and travel through Europe's capital cities. 

But beyond the search for Mimi's uncle, the story is also about the relationship between Mimi and Bird.

"The book is really about the relationship between two people who have been together for decades and have this kind of easy relationship, but sort of interesting and funny back and forth dialogue where they are so comfortable with one another, while sometimes also not really saying anything to each other at all," said Toyne.

"It was a fast read — a funny read — [with] zippy dialogue. Really great fun."

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (non-fiction)

(Little, Brown and Company)

Dutch historian Rutger Bregman's book is essentially an argument for, or tribute to, humanity's better nature.

"His idea with this book is that humankind is not, as we sometimes think, kind of inherently violent, but actually humans are inherently kind, as the title suggests," said Toyne.

"He takes a story that we might be very familiar with, that suggests that humans inherently just sort of want to kill each other, and finds an alternative take on it."

As an example, Bregman finds a real-life version of the shipwrecked situation in Lord of the Flies. But instead of the boys turning wild and becoming savages, Bregman's example shows the boys pulling together and collaborating with one another to survive the situation.

"I thought that that was really helpful and hopeful to me, in this year, to read something about how humans are good and we are kind and we can succeed by working together," said Toyne.

She adds the book is very conversational and recommends it for someone who likes Malcolm Gladwell. 

kiin by Nuit Regular – Cookbook

(Penguin Random House )

Nuit Regular owns several restaurants in Toronto, one of which is called kiin, which means 'eat' in Thai.

"This is northern Thai food. It is just delicious, mouthwatering looking food," said Toyne.

Toyne describes herself as a competent cook, but not a fancy cook. 

"I'm the kind of person who does enjoy a cookbook that has really great photography so I can flick through, find something that looks amazing and then say, 'OK, do I think that I can make that,'" she explained.

"This is definitely that book. The photography is great."

You Matter by Christian Robinson (children's literature)

(Simon & Schuster)

Christian Robinson is a children's book illustrator, and You Matter is his first book as both author and illustrator.

"This book really, really struck me as soon as I started to read it, because in the words, it is a fairly simple story about whoever you are, whether you're the biggest or the smallest or the first or the last or the slowest or the fastest ... you matter and you're important. But what the pictures tell is a much bigger story," said Toyne.

The illustrations parallel the written story, showing the beginning of life on earth, of dinosaurs and of earth rebuilding to the point that humans can now go into space.

Toyne says she loved the illustrations, but also liked the book's hopeful message.

"It really is a sort of a story about how everybody is important and everybody matters, but also how big stuff happens —  and has always happened — and you cannot control it," she said. 

"But if you look at the bigger picture, the world keeps turning and it's still here. And I found that a very hopeful message."

Written and produced by Laurie Allan.

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