Last But Not Least: Books To Give This Season Weekend Edition's Books Editor Barrie Hardymon tells Rachel Martin what books she should buy for everyone still left on her holiday shopping list.

Last But Not Least: Books To Give This Season

Last But Not Least: Books To Give This Season

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Weekend Edition's Books Editor Barrie Hardymon tells Rachel Martin what books she should buy for everyone still left on her holiday shopping list.


If you're still struggling with your holiday shopping, no shame. But you do realize it's crunch time, right? Hanukkah's over. Christmas is this week, and you're probably going to have to shell out for some two-day shipping to make your mom happy. Now, here's an idea that you've heard on this program and others of its ilk a lot because, you know, it's NPR. But what about a book? They're easy to ship and to wrap. You can go behemoth retailer or shop right around the corner. All you need is someone to steer you to the right book for the right person. Who better to do that than our own books editor, Barrie Hardymon? She joins me here in our studio. Hi, Barrie.


MARTIN: So we do a lot of books on this show. But there are a couple that we didn't get a chance to feature over the past year. This is where you come in. Where do you want to start?

HARDYMON: I want to start with Philippa Gregory. People who know me know that's where I always want to start. But this is a very special book from her. She is the historical fiction queen who is also responsible for "The Other Boleyn Girl," which is the multi-selling moviemaking book that everyone loves. This book is called "The Taming Of The Queen." I know that feels very bodice-y (ph) but it's not.

MARTIN: In a good way, though.

HARDYMON: In a good way. No, no, no, I'm not against bodice-y. But this is actually - this is a book about Catherine Parr, who is the last wife of Henry VIII. She is the sixth wife. She is the one who survived him. He was a well-known psychopath. Now, Catherine Parr was the first woman to publish under her own name in English in England. So she was actually this sort of feminist icon. But the way that she survived this man who was incredibly capricious and cruel and odd and probably clinically insane is so fascinating. And what Philippa Gregory does is she supposes an interaction between them that is extremely upsetting and, you know, we have no idea if it actually happened. But it gives you this idea of how she might have survived and what it cost her. This is the book for your mom, your sister, your colleague who sends you awesome links from Jezebel and The Toast. Get this one; wrap it up.

MARTIN: All right. I'm a fan of nonfiction and so are many of my family members. What you got in that department?

HARDYMON: Well, I'm going to recommend a book by Tracy K. Smith who is the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who wrote "Life On Mars" that won the Pulitzer a couple years ago. This is her memoir. It's sort of the beginning of her life 'cause she's a very young woman still. And it is both her sort of coming to terms with being a black woman in America, but also what I found just so touching, her relationship with her mother who died of cancer. And this memoir is just one of these things that I think I would give to anybody who has borne a loss recently or who is plumbing the depths of their own relationships with their parents. It's just a gorgeous book. It's also sort of a beautiful book, too. The cover is lovely.

MARTIN: All right, so a poet writing a memoir is one thing, but you also recommend just straight-up poetry.

HARDYMON: Straight-up poetry, guys.

MARTIN: Really?

HARDYMON: That's right. Just do it.

MARTIN: Give a book of poems.

HARDYMON: Well, here's the thing. Here's my theory on this. I know that it sounds a little bit, you know, like the kind of thing you'd do in high school when you were, like, really in love with Jordan Catalano, however...

MARTIN: (Laughter) For example.

HARDYMON: (Laughter) For example. But here's the great thing about poetry. The language of poetry is so rich. It is - I'm so sorry to use this terribly well-worn cliche - but it is the language of the heart. It is cheaper than therapy. If you are the person that gives somebody the way to access emotions that they didn't know they had, which is what poetry does. It's like putting the needle in your vein to emotion. If you can do that, then you look good.

MARTIN: You win.

HARDYMON: Yeah, you win.

MARTIN: That's a good gift.

HARDYMON: Yeah, so for this one, I'm going to recommend - I know this book has gotten a lot of attention this year - but I loved Yona Harvey's "Hemming The Water," a beautiful book about, you know, multigenerational forms of motherhood, objects. Really made me think about how I stand in my own sort of matrilineal progress. It's - her language is just so gorgeous. And you'll want to go back over stanza and stanza. It's musical. It feels like you want to read it out loud. It's just gorgeous. And it's, as I said, cheaper than therapy or so I've heard.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Barrie Hardymon with all kinds of book recommendations for everyone on your Christmas list. You can see her list online if you go to and look at our book concierge list. Barrie, thanks so much.

HARDYMON: You're very welcome. You'll probably find a slim book of poetry under your desk, Rachel.

MARTIN: Perfect.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.