This may seem odd, but one of my favorite posts of the last year was actually on Christmas Eve 2012. I had some free time while my family finished their shopping, and I decided to write up a little gift guide for other last-minute shoppers. My husband and father are especially proud of being Christmas Eve day shoppers, while my brother and both sisters-in-law also fall into this category, but feel a little more irritation and/or shame about it. I, on the other hand, prefer to do all my shopping the last week of November, so the whole Christmas season doesn’t have to be spent wanting to run people down in the mall parking lot.
That being said, I’m always struggling to think of the perfect book to give, and since a lot of my favorites are not new releases, there’s a chance someone on your list might benefit from some fresh ideas. In the spirit of spreading the literary joy, here are a few of my happy place books.
If you have a great book to recommend for Christmas, feel free to mention in the comments!
For your ittybitties:
Flotsam, David Wiesner – This is a picture book that even grownups will swoon over. Wiesner’s illustrations are frame-worthy, and the story that seemed straightforward at first glance is actually one that has been retold to me in completely different ways by each of the children I’ve shared it with. Wiesner deals in wonder; he sees the world in an exceptional way, and if this book fails to enchant your loved ones, steal it back for your own collection – it’s that good.
Elena’s Serenade, Campbell Geeslin, illustrations by Ana Juan – My mother sent me this book maybe two years ago, and I have read it many times since. The illustrations are otherworldly, and the story is an absolute delight. I haven’t gotten tired of it yet, and since I have a bit of experience with how many times children will want to be read the same story, I know how critical it is to gift books that are bearable to reread ad nauseam! This one is charming without the saccharine edge that can get grating on the hundredth read through.
For your underage explorers:
Holes, Louis Sachar – I have loved this book for years, and I admit, I’m a fan of the movie as well, so if you’re looking for a double play, package both up and consider yourself set. The concept is a breath of a fresh air, even after all these years, and Sachar is just the person to make magic out of this dark material. A solid adventure like this is a great gateway for children who struggle to enjoy reading, and Holes is a novel parents won’t even mind reading together as a family.
My Most Excellent Year, Steve Kluger – In case you need convincing about this book, may I point out a most excellent fact on the author’s Wikipedia page? “Kluger’s writing is noted for its baseball, gay, and historical themes.” If that isn’t enough of an enticement, I’m not sure I can help you. I mean, what are the odds a kid in your life isn’t interested by at least of those things?! This book embraces diversity with compassion and a brilliant sense of humor that never gets bogged down by over-sentimentality. It’s a love story without being limited in scope to a single romantic relationship. Basically, it is the cupcake of novels without the sugar rush regret.
For your weekend warriors:
There’s no way I do better by these books than I did when I posted about them earlier this year, but if you don’t have time to look back, let me just say they are both superbly written memoirs and two of my favorite books – not just of the year, but of the decade.
Swimming to Antarctica, Lynne Cox
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
For your cinematic obsessives:
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak – I didn’t see the movie version of this because the book was so exceptional that I couldn’t bring myself to risk destroying what was in my head with whatever Hollywood decided was important. That being said, some film buffs prefer to read novels that they can ruthlessly compare to the onscreen adaptation, so if you want a superb story for them, this is it. A friend recommended it to me a couple of years ago, and it broke my heart with its beauty. While most hardcore books nerds have probably read it already, chances are good a few people on your list only heard about it the weekend it opened at the multiplex. Take advantage of its timeliness and give the gift of “See! The book is better than the…!”
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick – Now, I did see the movie of this, and I thought it was very sweet. The book however, is better. And I’m not just saying that because my husband bought it for me the day we got engaged. No. This is an exceptional story, and one you shouldn’t buy as an e-book. The illustrations in the hardcopy are part of the magic. Bonus – it’s appropriate for readers aged 8 to shuffling off the mortal coil!
For your trade paperback faithfuls:
Villains by Necessity, Eve Forward – This is an older book, and there’s a good chance you won’t be buying it unless you have an excellent used bookstore nearby. Amazon is selling it for anywhere between $49 and $156 (used!), and as much as I love this novel (and judging by the fact that my copy no longer has its cover, it’s a fair bet to say I do), it’s not worth breaking the bank. It is wonderful fun though, so if you happen to find a copy on the cheap, it makes the perfect gift for an “I’ve read everything” fantasy lover.
The Lily Bard Mysteries, Charlaine Harris – I would actually recommend any of Harris’ series, but this one gets very little attention, so there’s a chance your supernatural loving friend or family member hasn’t had a chance to read it yet. I don’t think Harris is overrated at all (and if you watch True Blood, you are not getting the true Sookie Stackhouse experience, for the record); in fact, she has been one of the authors I’ve come back to again and again when I need a little fun in my literary life. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, so if you need a gift for someone who doesn’t shop for books solely from the New York Times Book Review, this might be just the ticket!
For your sophisticates:
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (translated by John Rutherford) – Is there someone on your list jonesing for a 2000 page read? George RR Martin’s next book probably won’t be out for a decade, so how about a classic? Skeptical? I was too, until my husband started reading it aloud in the evenings. We’re not even halfway through, but I’m convinced that in this case, he was right and I was wrong. Those excerpts you may have read on the SATs did not do this book justice. After extensive research, my better half (whose taste in books rarely aligns with my own), discovered a translation that is laugh out loud funny. Really – I’m not making this up. Also, one of our best friends has actually read the whole thing, and he said the ending is absolutely exceptional. Buy it now, and maybe you’ll get around to properly reviewing it before I do!
Sketches from a Hunter’s Album, Ivan Turgenev – That’s right, when all else fails, go Russian. These are exquisite short stories, and chances are good that your one impossible to shop for reader doesn’t have the collection! Or if they do, imagine the joy they’ll get out of telling you how they discovered Turgenev at fifteen and it shaped their entire life! Win win! (For them, obviously. For you, well, I apologize in advance, but that’s the price of having a sophisticate reader in your life.)
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Nothing here catch your fancy? I have archives! Excellently tagged archives, even! With two years of reviews! If you still can’t find the perfect book for your beloved readers, well, might I recommend befriending a librarian?
For those of you celebrating Christmas next week, have a wonderful holiday! For those of you just benefitting from the days off from work, go enjoy all the movies that come out on the 25th. I promise there will be zero children kicking the back of your seat for exactly one day…