Need holiday gift ideas? Boswell Books’ Daniel Goldin has you covered

Meg Kissinger's 'While You Were Out' and Peter Bellerby's 'The Globemakers' among list of recommendations

Book covers of Daniel Goldin's 2023 book recommendations. 
Book covers of Daniel Goldin’s 2023 book recommendations. 

Daniel Goldin admittedly doesn’t read many memoirs, so he shocked himself a bit when he realized five of his top 20 picks for gift ideas this year fell into that category.

In a recent interview on WPR’s “The Larry Meiller Show,” Goldin of Milwaukee-based Boswell Book Company shared his reasons for finding some of these memoirs — plus biographies, essay compilations and novels — among his top 20 list for best holiday gifts.

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For the cinephile, “Hitchcock’s Blondes: The Unforgettable Women Behind the Legendary Director’s Dark Obsession” by Laurence Leamer may be a page-turner, told through the perspective of some of Alfred Hitchcock’s most legendary actresses, who apparently either were blonde or dyed their hair blonde at some point in their careers.

“It is an eye-opening book, because he was, especially in the context of today’s culture … probably a difficult and problematic person sometimes,” Goldin said. “But honestly, it really depended on the actress. I was also fascinated (by) the way sometimes they just had great experiences and sometimes he was just brutal.”

Another nonfiction favorite on Goldin’s list is Curtis Chin’s memoir, “Everything I Learned I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant” about growing up as a gay Chinese-American kid in 1980s’ Detroit.

Some other memoirs to consider might be “Being Henry: The Fonz…and Beyond,” by Henry Winkler. For something blistering, though a little closer to home, maybe former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Kissinger’s “While You Were Out” will fit the bill.

But there’s plenty more on the list, from historical nonfiction to children’s picture books. Here’s a recap of five of Goldin’s top picks:

‘The Globemakers’

Every year, it seems, the subject of maps tops the list of Boswell Book Company customers’ favorite books.

This full-color book that retails for $30 is about author Peter Bellerby looking to buy a globe for his 80-year-old father — one that was old-fashioned, artisan, handmade — and not being able to find one.

Bellerby decides to start his own globe business, which turns out to be more difficult than he imagined.

It’s got all the complications of a man seeking the perfect gift for his traditionalist, practical and difficult-to-please father, made spicy by all the historical, mathematical and political calculations that color the world of mapmaking.

‘The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession’

Although Goldin’s buyer placed this one in the true crime section, Goldin said he quibbled over that after reading “The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime and a Dangerous Obsession” by Michael Finkel.

“I said, ‘I think this is more for the art reader,’” Goldin said, noting the book follows the who and how of the story of a young man who stole $2 billion worth of art.

Art thief Stéphane Breitwieser and his girlfriend accomplished the heist by visiting small museums and historical sites, taking less protected items that were easier to steal.

“The art was all stored in the little apartment that he had upstairs from his mother, who didn’t know what was going on, and when she found it, she tried to get it out of there and inadvertently destroyed a bunch of it,” Goldin said.

Goldin said art museum volunteers or docents “go crazy” for this book, which he said is an easy read.

“I can say it satisfies readers from 16 to 62 because those are the youngest and the oldest people in the store who read it recommended it,” he said.

‘Owner of a Lonely Heart, by Beth Nguyen’

Author Beth Nguyen is a Madisonian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in creative writing.

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” isn’t her first published book, but it’s different because of the way it’s written as a memoir in essays.

“Each segment kind of dances around the central story,” Goldin said.

That story tells of a woman who, as a child, escaped Vietnam with her father. He didn’t tell the young girl’s mother where they were going, leaving her behind. The mother eventually escaped to the Boston area, and 20 years later, mother and daughter reconnected.

“So this is sort of the reckoning on top of everything else,” Goldin said. “It’s her story and her mother’s story, and as she becomes a mother herself, her attempt to reconcile with her own mother.”

‘Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close’

Women’s pants, notoriously, have relatively tiny, useless pockets.

But why?

Well, Hannah Carlson, who teaches dress history and material culture at the Rhode Island School of Design, dives into the history of women’s pockets and what they tells us about our own cultures, values, identity, politics and much more.

“This is for if you have someone in your family who likes women’s history, but maybe you want to have something that’s not going to cause an argument at the dinner table,” Goldin said.


Wombat is a fun picture book by Philip Bunting, whom Goldin describes as someone who’s hoping to make wombats America’s new favorite marsupial.

He reads:

“Wombat. Twobats. Threebats. Morebats.

Littlebat. Middlebat. Whopperbat. Top hat.

Squarebat. Roundbat. Longbat. Splatbat.

“Happybat. Grumpybat. Doormat. Fruit bat.”

“It goes on. Every one has a funny illustration. It works really well as a picture book. We’re selling it very well, especially when I recite it to people,” Goldin quipped.

He said the book will likely be available as a board book next year.

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