Books as Gifts: Ideas for Christmas

By Carole Reedy

For many of us there’s no greater gift than an actual hard-bound book. While electronic reading has moved to the forefront (severely affecting sales of print books and the well-being of small bookstores), with a printed book we can fondle, examine the cover, read the inside biographical information about the author, flip through the pages, put it down, pick it up…and anticipate the first page. As giver and shopper, the experience is equal: the joy of going to the bookstore, browsing the shelves, and eventually landing on just the right book to match the recipient–a dear friend, colleague, or family member. Here are just a few suggestions for Christmas giving. Enjoy the search!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Chicagoan Flynn has proven her merit as a fiction writer with two previous award-winning books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places. Well-known and beloved author Kate Atkinson remarks “The plot has it all. I have no doubt that in a year’s time I’m going to be saying that this is my favorite novel of 2012.” Plot aside, this book is filled with insightful observations of women’s and men’s expectations, relationships, and feelings. Flynn gets inside her characters. Several reviews called the novel brilliant, and one compared Flynn to Patricia Highsmith and other authors who have “mastered the art of crafting a tense story with terrifyingly believable characters.” A perfect gift for friends who love novels.

Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

Pulitzer-prize winner Robert Massie is a master biographer, author of Nicolas and Alexandra; Peter the Great, His Life and Times; and The Romanovs, The Final Chapter. This story of the obscure German princess who becomes one of the most powerful and remarkable woman in history does not disappoint. It was named one of the best books of 2011 by the New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and others. Biography buffs will be thrilled to unwrap it.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying “The books that the world calls immortal are those books that show the world its own shame.” This is not an easy book to read. It’s set in the slums of Mumbai, a place of abject poverty. However, the book is wellwritten and researched by Katherine Boo, a staff writer for The New Yorker and former writer and editor for the Washington Post. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Public Service. This title brings to mind Rohington Mistry’s insightful and stunning A Fine Balance (1995), a novel that makes my top-five favorite reads list.

Atlantic by Simon Winchester

The New York Times says, “History is rarely as charming and entertaining as it is when told by Simon Winchester.” Pick up Winchester’s latest for the history fanatics on your list. This “biography of the ocean,” subtitled Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, is sure to amaze all who read it.

The Novels of Mo Yan

This year Guan Moye won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Better known as Mo Yan (which means “don’t speak” in Chinese), he’s a novelist, short-story writer, and terrific storyteller. His books have been described as “hallucinatory realism, merging folk tales, history and the contemporary” and are predominantly social commentary. The author was influenced by the social realism of Lu Xun and the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Although unknown to most Western readers, Mo Yan is one of the most translated-to-English Chinese writers. He is also prolific, and thus there’s a fine selection of his works available, the best known being Red Sorghum. Also add to your list the best fall fiction and nonfiction, reviewed in the October and November issues of THE EYE.

How to choose a book for another person? When questioned about the final five selections for the National Book Award in 2011, Victor La Valle, a member of the 2011 Fiction Award Panel, remarked: ‘These five books worked some kind of magic on us. In the end, what’s any good reader hoping for? That spark. That spell.’

Take This Chili and Stuff It by Karen Hursh Graber

This little book is chockfull of chile relleno recipes. Ms. Graber, expert cook and popular author of south-of-the-border culinary delights, has also written a larger Mexican cookbook, The Cuisine of Puebla, Cradle of Corn, that contains more than 75 scrumptious offerings.

Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes died earlier this year, leaving a wealth of fine literature. A short book of about 85 pages, Aura is one of his first and most successful titles as well as one of the most th significant of Mexico’s 20 century narratives. It has provided inspiration for many of Mexico’s young writers.

The Pedant in the Kitchen by Julian Barnes

Barnes’ search for gastronomic precision has been called the “funniest piece of food writing you will ever read,” by The Times. This small gem will amuse your friends who enjoy cooking and are befuddled by cookbooks, as is Barnes.

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