AARP chose its 10 favorite books of 2023. Find out which books made the cut.
As co-founder of A Mighty Blaze, I virtually interview authors and showcase their books. And, over the years I’ve reviewed books for The Boston Globe, New York Times, AARP and People. I’ve always loved to read.
Grade school found me loving books about feisty girls like Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Now, in my sixth decade, I have an insatiable need for books that make me feel, teach me something and are gorgeously written. There is no more perfect holiday gift than giving a book you love to someone you love.
Here are five of my picks, with comments from the authors given to me during our interviews. (Of course, comments on my book come from my own reflections.)
Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel
By Shahnaz Habib
Remember when travel was fun? When airplanes even had leg room and appetizing food? Airplane Mode helps you remember the past and the future of air travel. Filled with first-class travel writing from the unique point of view of Shahnaz Habib, an Indian Muslim woman, the book is a delicious history of travel, from early pilgrimages to luxury safaris.
Along the way, Habib explores who gets to travel and why, and how travel writing feeds our wanderlust. Whether your gift recipient is an armchair traveler or a frequent flier, Airplane Mode can make anyone’s imagination take flight.
"Tis the season for flight delays and crowded trains and long road trips! Writing Airplane Mode has helped me see in perspective all the pains of travel. I hope the book reminds the curious reader that travel is not just an individual pursuit but a collective enterprise. When we travel during the holidays, we are in solidarity with millions of travelers, and tuning into that solidarity is so key to finding joy in travel." — Shahnaz Habib, author of Airplane Mode
Flower Color Guide
By Taylor Putnam
When it comes to gift books, say it with flowers — especially with the perennial favorite, The Flower Color Guide. The brainchild of Putnam & Putnam, New York City’s leading floral design studio, with clients including Dior, Cartier and Martha Stewart Living, the guide features 400 different varieties of flowers. Captured on camera in show-stopping beauty, the flowers are pictured, one per page, arranged by color from a pure white azalea to a black calla lily. Each photograph is a work of art in itself. Included in the book is an appendix with tips on flower care and suggestions for seasonal color schemes and arrangements. Like fresh flowers, this book makes the perfect pick for a gift.
“The idea for Flower Color Guide came about in the early days of our flower company Putnam & Putnam when we first started doing events. We were seeking seasonal flowers to pitch to clients and felt there was no great resource of all available flowers and what time of year they were in season. We started documenting hundreds of individual stems in our studio. The book has been translated into ten different languages and has brought us across the globe teaching floral design. This book is great for anyone with a basic interest in flowers. Designers, painters and even tattoo artists have used our book as a reference guide for their creations.” — Taylor Putnam, author of Flower Color Guide
The Upstairs Delicatessen
By Dwight Garner
For the gastronome or bibliophile in your life, you couldn’t serve up a more delectable read than The New York Times book critic Dwight Garner’s hilariously thoughtful memoir, chronicling his life through books and eating. With chapter titles such as Breakfast, Lunch to Dinner, he takes us on his food journey from childhood mayonnaise-soaked sandwiches to a martini as “perfect as a sonnet," all paired with special ingredients. A bonus in the book are culinary experiences shared by a range of literary stars, like Toni Morrison and Joan Didion. Garner also gives tips on how to shop, throw a dinner party and more. Like good coffee or fine wine, this is a book that sparks conversation even as it whets your appetite for incredible food.
“When I was a kid, I liked to read while eating ham and cheese sandwiches, piles of chips, and a cold drink made from red powder mix. These days, I’ll take decent cheese and olives, and a dry martini. I like to imagine readers doing the same while reading my book.” — Dwight Garner, Book Critic, The New York Times
Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane
By Jeff Tamarkin
For the 1960s aficionado on your gift list, this spellbinding oral history of Jefferson Airplane, the pioneering San Francisco band that rocked generations, is essential giving. Music editor and historian Tamarkin spent years interviewing band members, brilliantly dissecting the complex relationships, from fashion model-turned-rock-queen Grace Slick (remember “White Rabbit”) and soulful vocalist Marty Balin to master guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and more. Power-packed with original interviews (you’ll feel as if the members are talking right to you), this book is a revitalizing ride of nostalgia, sure to transport any lucky recipient back to the energy and excitement of the era.
“The book began when I was 14 year old and I heard White Rabbit for the first time — so different from my suburban existence. And to my delight, it’s still selling 20 years later, even appearing in the gift shop of MOMA in Manhattan last year!” — Jeff Tamarkin, rock historian, editor and writer
With or Without You
By Caroline Leavitt
In this work of fiction, after almost 20 years together, 40-something Stella and Simon are starting to run into problems. An up-and-coming rock musician when they first met, Simon has been clinging to dreams of fame and yearns to go on the road, leaving Stella behind. But when she falls into a coma, he has to choose between stardom and his wife — and when she wakes a different person, with an incredible artistic talent of her own, the two of them must examine what it is that they really want for each other — and for themselves.
“I cannot resist recommending my book, a novel depicting a contemporary story of what happens to relationships as the people in them change in one cataclysmic swoop. I also loved exploring midlife love, and what better holiday message than the last line of the book: Listen. Any moment, something amazing can happen.” — Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author
Along with my favorites, discover more favorite reads by joining Book of the Month, a curator of bestselling and new hardcover books. Books you select are delivered to your home, and AARP members get their first book for $5, and future picks for $16.99.
Photo credits: Courtesy Taylor Putnam; Atria Books; Algonquin Books.
What book made the biggest impact on your life? Let us know in the comments below.