Books for Holiday Giving

By Carole Reedy

In keeping with tradition, here are some recommendations, gathered over 2014, for books that will bring hours of joy to friends and family throughout the year.

PRIZE-WINNING BOOKS

These are usually a welcome gift, especially if you know the genre preference of the recipient. Here’s a sampling of the 2014 books that took the honors.

Nobel Prize for Literature This prize is given for a body of work rather than one specific book. Considered the big daddy of prizes, this year’s accolades went to France’s Patrick Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.” Also known for adding a dash of detective spice to his stories, Modiano is relatively unknown outside of France, and thus his win came as a surprise to those awaiting the announcement of Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, or Javier Marias. While most of Modiano’s works haven’t been translated into English, the prize will surely change this. At the time of this writing, his Missing Person appears to be the most accessible.

Pulitzer Prize for Literature Donna Tartt was awarded the prize for The Goldfinch. Two finalists are also announced each year. In 2014 they were The Son by Philip Meyer and The Woman Who Lost her Soul by Bob Shacochis.

Man Booker Prize for Fiction Australian Richard Flanagan won the Man Booker for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Twelve years in the creation, Flanagan says he nearly had to look for work in the mines of northern Australia due to a lack of funds from writing. Instead, the 50,000-pound prize money will allow him to continue writing.

If you want to read or gift a delightful satire on literary prizes, pick up a copy of Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn. Overlooked himself for the Man Booker, he has written a comedic, but not hurtful, novel about the prize selection, selectors, and writers. Although the novel did not receive the rave reviews of his previous books, the Wodehouse Award for Comic Fiction gave him their 2014 honor. St. Aubyn said on accepting the award, “The only thing I was sure of when I was writing this satire on literary prizes was that it wouldn’t win any prizes. I was wrong,” he said. “I had overlooked the one prize with a sense of humour.”

FOR BIOGRAPHY AND HISTORY BUFFS

Biography and history buffs will enjoy these books, recommended by readers who appreciate and understand the genre and good writing:

The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester. Even the Brits like this one! Winchester always delves deep into his subject. Another recent gem of his is Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories. You can’t go wrong giving a book from Winchester’s fascinating collection of biographies and histories.

Rebel Giants: The Revolutionary Lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin by David R. Contosta. This book focuses on discoveries by and comparisons of these two most famous of men.

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson. Named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, readers find it one of the most readable, well balanced, and accurate portrayals of T.E. Lawrence and his times.

The Price of Inequality by Joseph E. Stiglitz. The New York Times called it “the single most comprehensive counter­argument to both Democratic neo-liberalism and Republican laissez-faire theories.”

The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search for Home by Pico Iyer. All the books of travel essays by Pico Iyer have been praised, but this one in particular. His newest effort has just been published, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, the title being self-explanatory and ironically from a man who writes about the adventure of travel, globalism, world affairs, and literature, among other topics, for The New York Times, National Geographic, and the New York Review of books. Any book of Iyer’s collection is an excellent gift choice.

BOOKS ABOUT MEXICO CITY

The most talked about new book this year here in the city is Francisco Goldman’s The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle. The focus of the book shifts from the aftermath and grieving of the sudden death of his wife in 2007 to learning how to drive in Mexico City, a testament to the title, which then leads to the politics of the city and country, yet another circuit.

Las Llaves de la Ciudad (The Keys to the City) by David Lida. This book was published in 2008, but Lida has been asked by the publisher to update it, which he has done. Now a newly revised version is available. Published only in Spanish, for those of you learning the language it’s an excellent practice choice. The book is made up of short pieces, many of which were published previously in magazines and newspapers, about intriguing, interesting, everyday characters who roam the city or own unusual businesses. Lida describes them: “Each of these people is a stone in what, in the book’s totality, becomes a mosaic of Mexico City.”

Wishing you a 2015 filled with new reading choices as well as time-honored classics.

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