Danny Heitman’s “At Random” column for Friday, Nov. 23 Danny Heitman’s “At Random” column for Friday, Nov. 23 by danny heitman Oct. 06, 2013 Comments In a year of grim headlines — war abroad, monster storms and political scandal at home — here’s some good news from a recent edition of The New York Times: So many good books have been published this fall that bookstores, publicists and reviewers are having a hard time keeping track of them all. This embarrassment of riches, arriving at a time when so many are proclaiming the death of books and reading, should give us faith that the world of the written word is still very much alive. All of this comes to mind as I offer my annual column about favorite books I’ve read this year — just in time for the holiday shopping season. As I’ve pointed out in previous years, we all need to spread the word about books we like, since professional reviewers don’t have the time or space to handle the job alone. With reading seasons, as with sports seasons, some years are better than others, and 2012 has been an eventful one for my reading life, with many of my best-loved authors publishing new titles within weeks or months of each other. How nice to discover that John Updike, so prolific in life, hasn’t let so small a thing as his mortality slow down his publication schedule. “Always Looking,” a new, posthumous collection of his art reviews, reminded me that regardless of Updike’s subject, his graceful sentences make the experience worthwhile. “The Writer Who Stayed” collects the recent columns that William Zinsser wrote for The American Scholar. Although now in his 90s, Zinsser seems able to write about anything and everything, including Cole Porter, Christmas dinner and the perils of trying to fathom British accents on public TV. “The Writer Who Stayed” proved so charming that I followed it up with “American Places,” a collection of Zinsser’s travel pieces. Like Zinsser, Daniel Klein is a senior citizen increasingly touched by the challenges and possibilities of old age. In “Travels With Epicurus,” a wise and funny new book, Klein chronicles his decision to embrace his age rather than denying it. Joseph Epstein is another writer, like Updike, whose style is so effortless that I’ll follow him anyhwere, regardless of topic. Epstein’s “Essays in Biography” collects his thoughts on figures as diverse as George Washington and Joe Dimaggio. The Englishman Gerald Durrell, a famed zoologist, wrote a number of comic memoirs in which he tried to decide who was funnier, animals or people. “Fauna and Family,” newly reissued, reports on his family’s misadventures in Greece. In “The Man Within My Head,” travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer considers how his reading of novelist Graham Greene’s work changed his life. Most of us read books for just this reason — for the chance to arrive at the closing page and discover that we’ve been shaken awake. Find these books, and give them as gifts to readers on your yuletide list — or to yourself. Happy shopping.