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Books are always a great idea for gifts for seniors

There's little time left, but because books make great last-minute gifts, I consulted a few retired friends for suggestions to add to my own.

There was a surprise. I didn't expect to find authors with Appalachian connections topping the list, even from a friend in Dallas.

A retired college professor, Jacque Lytle, wrote in an email, "I think I can make a recommendation for the older among us, especially women."

Jacque had just suggested this book at a meeting of her local American Association of University Women. Her choice was "Half Broke Horses" by Jeanette Walls. Walls' first book, of course, was the best-selling "The Glass Castle," about the sometimes shocking, factual recollections of her youth in the coalfields of West Virginia.

The second book, also a best-seller, focuses on her grandmother, an amazing woman who was helping her father break horses by the time she was 6. Born in 1901, she left home at 15 to teach, riding 500 miles on a pony to get a job. She became a pilot, a rancher, survived tornadoes, floods, the Great Depression and personal tragedies, all of which, Jacque wrote, "certainly make me feel a bit wimpy."

Nor was Jacque the only one to recommend books by Walls. Mason County resident Hilda Austin recommends books by Walls as well as by another author with Appalachian ties, Barbara Kingsolver.

"Kingsolver writes in such a diverse and intense way that you can't put the book down!" Hilda said in an email. "I have read all of Barbara Kingsolver's books and can't wait for her new one, too."

Wait no more. Kingsolver's new book, "Flight Behavior," is on the shelves now.

Honestly, I've never been a fan of Kingsolver's fiction until now. "Flight Behavior" changed that. I didn't want to put it down.

Her undereducated 28-year-old "hillbilly" in Tennessee manages to translate complicated scientific discussion of climate change into down-to-earth, meaningful English.

But back to friend Hilda, whose retirement part-time position is as executive director of the Mason County Area Chamber of Commerce. She had another surprise for me.

"As far as my 'pick' for a senior citizen's selection, one of my past favorites is 'Wish You Well' by David Baldacci," she said in an email.  "It's out of the norm for Mr. B. to veer from writing suspense novels. This one is different in that it's a kind of history lesson of a hard life living in the mountains."

Still another Appalachian novel, this one recommended by an older library patron whose name I failed to get, is a mystery set in a fictional southern West Virginia town. "A Killing in the Hills" is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and state native Julia Keller. Although she no longer lives here, Keller writes knowingly about both the prejudices and the prescription drug problems of the Mountain State.

I read all of the above except the Baldacci novel, but I'm not familiar with either book suggested by another friend, retired lawyer Mary Ellen Craig of Reston, Va.

The first she suggested, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford, focuses on the love and friendship of a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl during the World War II internment of the Japanese.

Mary Ellen's second recommendation for senior citizens is "River of Doubt" by Candice Millard. It is the non-fictional account of the exploration of the Amazon River basins in Brazil, a journey shared by President Theodore Roosevelt. The expedition changed the map of the Western Hemisphere, the New York Times reported.

There's another non-fiction book I've already written about that tops my own list of recommendations.

It's the volume, or in my case, the electronic book, that gave me back mobility of my hands. Written by a consulting pharmacist in his early '70s, Armon Neal's "Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?" isn't necessarily a book that has to be read from the first page to the last.

But the information I learned was how our bodies change as we age in terms of how we absorb medications - or in my case, vitamin B12. Using an altered form of the supplement, one my body better absorbs, alleviated the nighttime and morning pain and near paralysis of my hands.

Would that all Christmas and New Year reading be so rewarding.

Wishing you and yours happy holidays.

Contact writer Evadna Bartlett at


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