Season's Readings: Author Stephen Kiernan Dispenses Book Recs | Live Culture

Season's Readings: Author Stephen Kiernan Dispenses Book Recs


  • File/Courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan
  • Stephen P. Kiernan
A local, seasonal tradition kicked off this week in Charlotte, but people can (and do) participate from around the country.

The online event is a kind of literary "Dear Abby." It takes place on author Stephen Kiernan’s Facebook page, where he offers recommendations to holiday shoppers seeking his advice about books for people on their gift lists.

Those in need of help drop a descriptor or two about the recipient in the comments section of Kiernan’s post. He responds with a suggested book title as if he were Santa Claus, the Magic 8-Ball and Marian the Librarian rolled into one.

A novelist who lives in Charlotte, Kiernan said he reads 75 to 100 books a year, “So I usually have opinions, stuff that I’ve liked.” For years, he’s offered informal advice to friends who call for a book recommendation. Four years ago, he decided to expand the service to a larger pool of people: He has 4,950 Facebook friends.

“I just did it one year and people responded,” Kiernan told Seven Days. “They dig it.”

On Thursday, the first day of this year’s communal reading list, the post had 128 comments.

One woman left this clue for Kiernan: “An affluent, retired vice admiral who is elderly and quirky.”

The admiral can expect to receive A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols, which Kiernan described as a “[f]antastic story about the first solo around the world sailing race.”

A Chittenden County woman expressed her delight that Kiernan was once again available for shopping help. “YES! I’ve been waiting for this!” she wrote, before making her pitch for a 10-year-old boy who “Loves history, battles of war, jokes and soccer!”

Kiernan suggested The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady by Gerald Morris,  “a retelling of the Arthurian legend for kids, full of silly humor and lots of chivalry.”

The post itself makes for good reading,  sprinkled with juicy tidbits about strangers who might be similar to someone in your own gift-giving circle.

Kiernan doesn't plug his own books (his  most recent is Universe of Two), but he does encourage people to shop at  local, independent bookstores. On occasion, users chime in with their own recs, or riff on finding a book for a person who doesn’t like to read. Members of this latter group, Kiernan thinks, simply haven’t been given the right book to read.
“Everyone likes stories,” he said. “We communicate in stories and we make sense [of things] in stories. So I always think, What’s a story that will really hook this person, and please them?”

One plea came from a woman seeking a book for “[a]n old lover I haven’t seen in 50 years. My heart is with him but he has a full life. And, a wife.”

From Kiernan came this reply: “Well my condolences to you. I would suggest Love in the Time of Cholera.”  The novel is by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The oldest present-getter on Kiernan’s 2020 list (so far) is a 101-year-old woman who was described by her daughter this way: “doesn’t like ANY ‘sex, drugs or rock and roll’ but is happy with Anne of Green Gables or Winnie the Pooh. Loves gardening, English royalty.”

The pick from Kiernan: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,  a novel by Rachel Joyce. "She'll love it," Kiernan assured.

Kiernan is fast, but answering the requests takes most of a day, he said. He plans to offer the service two more times this season, including posting a second round early next week. He’ll also be on WDEV at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, December 11, taking calls from listeners and dispensing book tips.

At the station, he won’t be able to avail himself of the thousands of books in his house that he sometimes turns to when he’s stumped.

“They’re not on fancy shelves,” he said. “They’re all over my basement. Sometimes, I have to get up … and look at covers for a while.”

But he always comes up with a title, whether it’s for a "jaded" 22-year-old who doesn't like to read, a woman who “has everything and reads everything,” or a dog.

"Wise guy," Kiernan wrote to the man wanting a book for his dog, before suggesting The Call of the Wild. The 1903 novel by Jack London “is a book you’d enjoy reading to him, because it’s about a great dog.”

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