OLLI Illinois members respond to the question:  "What book do you think would make a good gift?"

"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!"
- Neil Gaiman

Mark Alan

Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus makes a wonderful gift. The illustrations are beautiful and the story is simple. Hope for the Flowers reminds me to keep it simple and remember what's important as I navigate the seas of life.


Brenda Berg

A new photo book was published this month (10/14/14): You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station by Chris Hadfield. According to Amazon, "You Are Here represents one (idealized) orbit of the ISS. The planetary photo tour--surprising, playful, thought-provoking and visually delightful--is also punctuated with fun." It would make a great gift.


Christine Catanzarite

The Hollywood Sign, by cultural critic Leo Braudy, is my favorite kind of book to give as a gift: it engages with an immediately recognizable subject but ends up being a broader meditation on many different ideas and concepts. This story of the humble beginnings of the now-iconic Hollywood sign (it was originally erected as an advertisement for an L.A. real estate development called Hollywoodland) traces the rise of the film industry from silent to sound, the development of architecture and urban planning in Los Angeles, and the many battles that have been fought over the preservation of the sign and the land that anchors it. It's a fascinating tale with more plot twists and interesting characters than any movie made in the city that it represents!   


Frank Chadwick

One of my favorite fun books to give is Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics by Heather Busch and Burton Silver. Not only is it a delightful, hilarious send-up of academic art criticism, it is lavishly illustrated with pictures of the feline "artists" and their wonderful creations. The pictures alone are worth it. An added bonus is reading reviews of the book online. Invariably the lower-rating reviewers clearly have not sprung to the fact that this is a satire--the writing is that convincingly straight-faced all the way through. Jonathan Swift would be very proud.

Linda Coleman

It's the 50th anniversary of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. A perfect time to revisit this little wonder -- or to share it with someone who has yet to meet her!


Sandra Cuza

Two books that are wonderful, in my opinion, are (non-fiction) Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo and The Round House by Louise Erdrich.


Dick Ensrud

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.


Rich Fiese

Biology geeks like me might enjoy Frankenstein's Cat by Emily Anthes. It covers everything from genetically modified fish that glow in the dark to prosthetic tails for injured dolphins.

Joyce Francisco

Jan Karon has written a charming, moving, warm series of novels collectively known as The Mitford Years and The Father Tim Novels.  They concern an Episcopal priest in a country church in western North Carolina and his interactions with the members of his congregation, as well as stories of his personal life.  The reader gets to know all these characters intimately and laughs at their jokes and cries at their pain without feeling preached at.  There are ten novels in The Mitford Years series and two in The Father Tim series. They should be read in order, and the latest in The Mitford Years series comes after the two Father Tim novels.


Mic Greenberg

I have always loved reading and rereading Nevil Shute's Trustee from the Toolroom (1960).

Marne Helgesen

Absolutely the best new book around and by a local writer. This biographically accurate book is for all ages and races, and the illustrations, by a California artist, are spectacular: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson.


Connie Hosier

Donna Tartt's third novel, The Goldfinch is a mystery, a love story, and an art fraud epic kind of tale that will get you hooked and offer respite from too much food or too many relatives. You'll look forward to curling up with this one before you turn the lights out for the night during the holidays.

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Important Dates 

December 2014 
1 - Spring Course Schedule Announced 
9 - Spring Course Registration Begins 
19 - Late-Fall Study Group Session Ends 


January 2015 

26 - Spring Semester Begins

March 2015 

20 - Spring Semester Ends


Gift Ideas

Flavorwire: 21 books that make great gifts 


Oprah: 10 Books that make great gifts 


Coffee Table book gift ideas from the New York Times


Random House's suggestions for books for the different people on your gift list.


Holiday Gift Guide For Music Fans


For the family historian - the best genealogy fiction   


Author Videos
Watch your favorite authors speak about books as gifts at Books Make Great Gifts.

Perfect for the mystery lovers on your gift list,  check out these suggestions for  holiday themed mysteries for all seasons.

Just for fun
Can you guess these famous novels by their SECOND lines?
100 Years Ago
What do the Dubliners, Count Dracula, Oz, Sherlock Holmes, Spoon River, Father Brown, Peter Cottontail, Dr. Montessori, Bambi, psychoanalysis, and Tom Swift have in common? They were what we were reading about 100 years ago. Check this list of the most popular 200 books published in 1914 by Goodreads contributers for ideas on gift giving.

"Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. " 

John Green,
The Fault in Our Stars


The OLLI Bookshelf is a spin-off from the OLLI e-News that began in December of 2012. Each issue features OLLI Illinois member responses to a different question about books.


e-News Committee: Cheri Sullivan (Chair), Frank Chadwick, Connie Hosier, Bonnie Hudson, Eileen Kohen, Barbara Meyer (Technical Coordinator).


Bonnie Hudson

Books I love to give as gifts...The Earth at Our Doorstep: Contemporary Writers Celebrate the Landscapes of Home by Annie Stine (editor). Twenty-six contemporary writers share their thoughts and feelings about the places they live.  Authors include ones from many different genres and the geographies are extensive, from living on an island to the mountains and the plains of Dakota. As these writers share their home territories with us, I felt like I was often reading poetry. The short essays grabbed my imagination and my heart. Several places ended up on my 'places to visit' list. I have probably given 15 of these small books as gifts over the years. Children's Book: Absolutely my favorite book for very little ones is Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins and Eric Gurney. I was able to interest my grandchildren in this 'Dr. Seussian' book as early as 9 months, due to its fun, simple words, rhyming, and great pictures. I often give this as a newborn gift. The children learn it quickly and then 'read it' back to the adult reader.  

Mary Carroll King

A book by Margaret Feinberg, Simple Acts of Faith: Heartwarming Stories of One Life Touching Another, with illustrations by Norman Rockwell.

Eileen Kohen

Ann Patchett writes creative works of literature with fascinating plots and well-developed characters. I recommend any of her works for holiday gifts. The two novels that I've read so far share a South American setting and unique characters. Bel Canto explores the relationships between terrorists and their international captives in a vice-presidential mansion. In State of Wonder a research gynecologist searches for colleagues in the Amazon jungle. Both novels are page turners! I'm about to read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage---a series of essays and her memoir. Enjoy!


Rosemary Laughlin

For those interested in the search for "Goldilocks planets": Lee Billings, Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars. Structured on the stories of three scientists (Frank Drake, Jim Kastings, Sara Seager), this book reads like a novel with dialogue and lucid description. Perfect for teen (and older) girls: Christine Heppermann, Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. Themed by fairy tales and accompanied by fascinating photographs, these are clever, funky, serious, and oh so culturally aware. Beautiful small book to handle.

Merle Levy
I'd recommend A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It is brilliantly conceived and written, one of the best reads of recent years. From the jacket flap: "On a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, a Hello Kitty lunch box washes up on the beach. Tucked inside is a collection of curious items: an antique wristwatch, a pack of indecipherable letters, and the diary of  a sixteen-year-old Japanese girl named Nao Yasutani. Ruth, who finds the lunchbox, suspects that it is debris from Japan's devastating 2011 tsunami. Once Ruth starts to read the diary, she quickly finds herself drawn into the mystery of the young girl's fate..."
Jean Mendoza
For adults who like a well-written crime novel with characters who are unusual for that sort of novel, but psychologically "true" and fully realized, I would recommend The Round House by Louise Erdrich. It also just won the National Book Award for fiction. For pre-K through 1st-grade grandchildren, I recommend Perfect Square by Michael Hall and Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre (illus. by Steve Jenkins). For scientifically inclined grandchildren ages K-2nd grade, I recommend On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. For dinosaur enthusiasts from about 2nd-5th grade, I recommend Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled by Catherine Thimmesh.

Barbara Meyer

How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain by Gregory Berns. Why do we bond so strongly with dogs, and they with us?  An Emory neuroscientist seeks answers with the Dog Project, where calm and happy pet dogs enter a noisy MRI machine where their reactions to treats, humans and other dogs are recorded. Much of the book is devoted to how the MRI works and the careful experimental design that reassures the dogs and makes them willing participants. What he discovers is they focus intently on us, anticipate our behavior and act accordingly, showing undeniable social cognition. They respond to the scent of their human family the same way we respond to photos of people we love. The author concludes "What are dogs thinking? The grand conclusion was this: they're thinking about what we're thinking. With their high degree of social and emotional intelligence, dogs reciprocated our feelings toward them. They truly are First Friend." While this shouldn't come as a surprise to dog lovers, the results of these unique experiments are new to science and should inspire researchers to look at nonhuman relationship in new ways.


Mary Mortland
Our book group is reading  Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. I enjoyed it very much and also read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet also by Jamie Ford.

Susan Shoemaker

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).


Jane Smith

A great book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I understand it is being made into a movie, coming out around Christmas, making the book an even better gift this year.


Cheri Sullivan

One of my more successful gifts was one I gave to my mother about fifteen years ago. She had been asking for book recommendations, so I gave her several books -- each the first one in a series that I had enjoyed. That way, if she liked the book, she'd have more to look forward to. The only two I remember now are the first Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling and the first No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. She went on to read all the other books in each series!


Denise Taylor

Without a doubt, Philippe Halsman's Jump Book. Out of print (therefore pricey on Amazon, etc.), this collection of photos of (in)famous people literally caught jumping, vaulting, skipping, etc. is a marvelous, tongue-in-cheek snapshot of fame-cum-whimsy. The ridiculous and the sublime! My go-to gift for people with a slightly skewed sense of humor (and authority). It reminds me: "When asked to jump, don't ask 'how high'.


Joy Thornton-Walter

Here's a novel which is a first-time-published book by an unknown Australian woman named M. L. Stedman: The Light Between Oceans. It's timely, in that the effect of World War I on its veterans is one theme. It's about a young couple who become lighthouse keepers on an isolated island many miles offshore from Western Australia. Not a description that would have attracted me at all -- but it's just a wonderful read.


Karen Townsend

Poetry:  The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. This book explores life on a deep and spiritual level. It touches on the balance of all things good and bad - and reads similar to Homer's Odyssey. It is very simply written with a couple pages devoted to each subject - pleasure vs. pain, houses, children, etc. The lessons enclosed can be applied to all walks of life and transcends daily frustrations. John Grisham wrote a wonderful, easy read entitled Skipping Christmas - it is short and hilarious! A married couple decides to take in warm weather and not celebrate Christmas when they learn their daughter, who is going to college, decides NOT to come home for Christmas. Although it is relatively predictable, it is written with a warm look at the hectic pre-Christmas days and brings in neighbors and their outlook on this family for NOT participating in the annual Christmas decoration contest. The best for a serious winter-by-a-roaring fire read: One Second After by William R. Forstchen. It is "the story of a man's struggle to save his family and his small town after America loses a war that sends our nation back to the Dark Ages." Excellent read and it is based on the scientific principles of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). If you have lived through the sixties you can identify with this book, and it actually COULD happen. The first time I read it, guess where I found it? ON THE OLLI BOOKSHELVES!!


Martha Weinberg

I've put on my shopping list three books, all by women who grew up under very different circumstances from mine. First on this year's list is My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor, a beautifully written, moving description of this first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice's journey from a Bronx housing project to Princeton, Yale Law School and a seat on the Court. Also, in keeping with my interest in reading about the relationship between daughters and their mothers in different countries and cultures, I recommend Alexandra Fuller's Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (a poignant and loving follow-on book to her earlier Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, in which she chronicles her British born parents' life in various parts of Southern Africa and focuses on the story of her high-spirited mother as she moved from the Isle of Skye to become "Nicola Fuller of Central Africa." ) I love this book for its pitch-perfect (and often very funny) portraits of her family and of life in the wild African countryside. And one of my fallback favorites in the "growing up in different cultures" category is Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John, published in 1985, but still a classic coming-of-age story from which I've gotten something new when I've reread it at least once every decade since its publication. 


Rosalind Weinberg

Not sure people will think this is a "gift" book but I have just finished and highly recommend Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It is a wonderfully perceptive self-analysis of her first year of grieving and then mourning her husband of 40 years. Blown away at how she separates grieving from mourning and the concept of coming to terms with leaving her old life (with her husband) in order to face the one (without him) to come.


Sharon Williams

Both of my daughters-in-law love cookbooks. Last year I gave one of them Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. She and my son had honeymooned in France so she loved all the 'extras.' "Packed with lively stories, memories, and insider tips on French culinary customs, Around My French Table will make cooks fall in love with France all over again, or for the first time". This year I plan to give both of them Ina Garten's new cookbook, Make It Ahead. The three of us have all her other cookbooks. "In her ninth book, Garten tackles the question many with busy work lives ask of the food we consider cooking: 'Can I make it ahead?'" Garten became an expert on the topic after running her own specialty foods store in East Hampton for twenty years, and here she shares her tips and tricks for cooking, prepping, and baking in advance. Follow them, and you can actually enjoy yourself come mealtime."

About Us 
OLLI at Illinois is a member-focused community of adult learners that is supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Illinois Office of the Provost, and the generous donations of OLLI members and community partners. It is part of a network of 117 OLLI programs across the United States, and there are nearly 130,000 members nationwide.   

OLLI at Illinois was launched in the fall of 2007 with 11 courses and 297 members. News of this exciting program dedicated to the pursuit of lifelong learning spread quickly, and we now have more than 1,150 members and offer approximately 40 courses per semester.

In addition to classes in the fall and spring semesters, OLLI offers a dynamic schedule of programs and activities that includes lectures, study groups, travel opportunities, and collaborations with the Illinois campus and the communities in and around Champaign-Urbana.

OLLI Staff 
Christine Catanzarite, Director 
Janet Summers, Outreach Coordinator 
Kate Freeman, Office Manager

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Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois
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