So we're all already saving the world by buying a book. A lot of us have committed to only (or mostly) buying books for gifts this year. But what do you buy for that annoying aunt who thinks she doesn't like to read? Or what do you buy for a thriller writer if you've never read a thriller in your life? (These are two real-life problems that people... ahem, I... have.)
I've put together a list of my favorite gift choices for the various kinds of people in my life. But you'll notice some people always stump me, because they prefer genres I don't read. So consider this an interactive gift list! Please submit your suggestions, in any or all of the categories below, and also your suggestions for new categories! We'll compile them into one holiday book-buying guide that's more meaningful and helpful than any other dumb list people are putting out right now. (I've seriously found ALL the lists I've seen this far to be dumb, or with agenda. We have no agenda but saving the world.) We'll keep updating all the time so people can do weekend shopping!
For the sake of our budgets, I'm sticking mostly to paperback. It goes without saying that published Mischief authors are lots of fun to support. (Published authors, drop me a reminder of your title and I'll make a holiday sidebar with Amazon links for easy-access among us friends.)
My top 5 books-as-gifts of all time, that I find excuses to buy for everyone in the world (and why I can find excuses for almost everyone!):
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. A love story, told in counterpoint, about a normal woman and her husband, who inadvertently time travels, and how they make their relationship work. This is just such a crowd-pleaser. I would have described it as "women's fiction" except that a couple of months ago on the subway I heard two pretty burly men hashing it over; one had had it recommended to him by his brother-in-law, and was giving his used copy to the other. So I do think there's something there for everyone (now!). Who I've bought it for: my mom; my Irish friend, who read it in one sitting; my sister; at least 15 other people.
The Spanish Bow, by Andromeda Romano-Lax. A poor boy from a Catalan village becomes a virtuoso cellist in early 20th century Spain. It's a story of love, friendship, and music, set against the backdrop of one of the most volitile moments in Spanish history. Why: the themes are just so universal and lovely. Who I've bought it for: my mom; all my friends interested in Spain (I have a lot); all my friends who are or have been musicians (a lot of those too).
Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson. This is called a novel in verse, but don't let that put you off--it's one of the most extraordinary books I've read in a long time. It's a beautiful modern retelling of a Hercules myth, starring a little red monster named Geryon. It's also one of those rare pieces of poetry that people who aren't into poetry won't find totally alienating. Who I've bought it for: poet writer friends; poet friends; my publicist, who loved it; a friend who is a teacher and doesn't have much time to read but had time to read this because it's so skinny.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. A speculative potboiler set in a fictitious all-Jewish community in Sitka, Alaska. Obviously, I have a special place in my heart for my secret boyfriend's work, because he's just such a fantastic writer. But this book is a really obvious gift choice because it appeals to avowed readers of a bunch of different genres--literary fiction, sci fi, historical fiction, detective fiction, "Jewish" fiction. Who I've bought this for: my dad, who bought it for my mom. who went crazy for it; an old friend who refuses to read anything but hard-core science fiction (not fantasy!); my publicist (again), who then went and bought the rest of Chabon's stuff; almost everybody else in the world last year for Christmas (erm, Chanukah?). Yeah. He's gotten some royalties from me.
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri (although Interpreter of Maladies works equally well if you want a paperback). Yes, it smells like a collection of short stories, but in this case this book is as precious and moving as five separate novels. Talk about getting your money's worth. Who I've bought it for: my mom; my sister; a bunch of other people who might read this blog so I'm not going to list them so they'll still be surprised when I give it to them.
Now some categories with further choices!
Alas, I read a lot of girly books; I'd especially enjoy some chiming in from people who read more across the board. Or just chime in in general!!!
Your friend who doesn't read much, and needs a really compelling story to hold his/her attention:
Again, The Time Traveler's Wife is pretty fail-proof. But also:
My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Piccoult. When young parents learn their baby daughter has an aggressive form of cancer, they create a younger sister for her who is a perfect genetic match so the sick sister will have spare organs/tissue available if hers fail. Ten years later, the well sister is tired of operations. I gotta be honest, I couldn't put this book down, no matter what editorial critiques I might have had. And I still think about it years later.
The Girls, by Lori Hensen. The very nicely written counterpoint of two sisters who happen to be conjoined at the head. A really nice, accessible read.
The Kitchen God's Wife, by Amy Tan. Everyone's read The Joy Luck Club, but this, I believe, is a better book. It's the story of a woman struggling to survive the horrors of World War II and a very, very bad marriage. Classic mother-daughter themes, plus a great story to back it up.
Your friend who reads a ton, and needs something slightly off the beaten path:
Oh goody, my favorite.
The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery. A nine-year-old French orphan girl becomes stranded in Japan in the 1860s. Over the next twenty years, she is an invisible servant in the highly aesthetic and xenophobic world of a classical tea house. A really absorbing read, and a step up for anyone who liked Memoirs of a Geisha.
Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig. Yes, it's the same story as the movie, but the book is so rich and colorful and fabulous and wonderful to read. There are millions of vignettes, not just the one featured in the movie.
The Translator, by Leila Aboulela. A young Sudanese widow is left alone and heartbroken in Scotland, where she works as an Arabic translator. Really finely polished and interesting to read.
Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger. Everyone had to read The Catcher in the Rye in school, and as a result might be stupid like I was and think they hate J.D. Salinger. These stories are almost all about the precocious Glass children (same as in Franny & Zooey) and they're heartbreakingly wonderful.
Your friend who only reads off the beaten path and normally turns up his/her nose at everything except incredibly erudite things you personally find insufferable or uninteresting:
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susannah Clarke. Even my aunt who only reads literature in translation couldn't put this one down. My dad, diehard fantasy/scifi reader, loved it, too, and bought it for all his relatives this year.
Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, by Phillis Rose. For the terribly literary, this is a real-life marriage breakdown of some of their favorite nineteenth century characters.
Your mom or other relative who likes to read but pretty much sticks to mysteries:
I brought Momrat in as consultant on this. She recommends the following:
The Various Haunts of Men, by Susan Hill. The first book in a detective series that takes place in a small British town. Momrat warns you that it's a real psychological thriller and a little bit "dark."
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. The mysterious suicide of her sister leads Iris Chase to unpack family secrets decades old. Momrat recommends the book, even though she figured out the mystery 2/3 of the way through (I, um, didn't).
Your dad or other relative who likes to read but pretty much sticks to sci fi and fantasy:
I brought Dadrat in as consultant on this. I've already mentioned Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, as well as The Yiddish Policemen's Union, but Dadrat cited both of these as favorites of his. Dadrat would like to specifically recommend, though:
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. It's "fantasy" by label, but the world Kay creates is so rich you think it's historical fiction.
For your mom, or someone else's mom:
Unless, by Carol Shields. A mother struggles to see into the mind of her teenage daughter, who has suddenly run away to be homeless on the other side of town. This was recommended to me by someone else's mom, and I've bought it for several moms since.
Your "serious" reader relative who only likes interesting nonfiction:
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. The story of one epileptic baby in California and the good and bad facets of the American medical establishment that tries to help her--but actually the story of her Hmong family, the Hmong genocide in Laos that has forced thousands of Hmong refugees to come to the States, and the ups and downs of culture gaps in forced cohabitation. This book reads like a novel, and is jam-packed with interesting and important information.
Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madam X, by Deborah Davis. Another one that reads like a novel--the story of Sargent in Paris, the circles he moved in, and the painting that nearly brought down his career.
Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, by Nicholas Ostler. The subtitle just about says it all. This one is Dadrat-approved.
Your friend who prefers hip chick lit, like Nannie Diaries or Shopaholic:
Branch out, and get her (or him) a memoir that will appeal. There are some awesome faux chicklit memoirs these days.
The Year of Yes, by Maria Devahna-Headley. A Twenty-year-old woman realizes she has really, really bad taste in men, so she can't trust herself anymore. Instead, she makes a vow to try new things--for one year, she will say yes to a first date with anyone who asks (first date only). Hilarity ensues.
Foreign Babes in Beijing, by Rachel DeWoskin. The author recounts her adventures about the five years she spent in China, when she was accidentally cast as the star of a Chinese soap opera. Hilarity ensues.
I Am Not Myself These Days, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. The author recounts his years working as a drag queen named Aqua, whose schtick is water balloon breasts with live goldfish in them. Hilarity ensues.
For your white friend: Buy a book by a black author! God, the marginalization in book publishing and marketing ticks me off. How are we still doing "separate but equal" for black writers? No one else has their own separate-but-equal section (except gay writers in some stores). But anyway, Carleen Brice put together this great list to help you get some ideas beyond Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.
In case you can't tell from the shamefully white (and maybe slightly Asian) character of this list otherwise, I'm one of the regrettable and regretful victims of this curse and am sorely under-read in non-Morrison/Walker/Hurston black authors. But so far, this year for the holidays I've bought
Orange Mint and Honey and
Song Yet Sung (both of which I might give to other white folks or I might keep for myself, depending on how guilty I feel about spending money on books for ME) (Jury's back. Not that guilty.).
My sister-in-law recommends Daughter, by Asha Bandele. She just recommended it to me yesterday.
A kid who loved HARRY POTTER but has never read any other book:
Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede. (This one is probably more appropriate for girls.) Princess Cimorene is not interested in marrying an insipid prince. She would rather be captured by dragons. But when no dragons kidnap her, Cimorene sets out to live with them herself.
Anyone have a good recommendation for boys?
A kid who loved Twilight but has never read any other book:
Before I Die, by Jenny Downham. A sixteen-year-old girl, in the last stages of her battle with cancer, makes a list of the ten things she wants to accomplish before she dies. I know there is a whole genre of books like this, but this one is a cut above, and the romantic tension will appeal to Twilight readers a lot.
A really kid who's read everything recently published for children and YA:
Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman. In the 13th century, Catherine, the daughter of a (very) minor lord, gets involved in many shenanigans in the effort to avoid getting married off. One of my favorite books of all time, and one my mom, a sixth grade teacher, now reads every year with her class (and then has them act out at the end).
The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Sam Westing, a multimillionaire, dies, but instead of designating an heir in his will, he designates sixteen heirs. To win his entire fortune, the heirs have to figure out which among them murdered Sam Westing. Another awesome classic, and another one my mom teaches every year.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Just the best book ever. It's in the adult section, but there's no sex or violence in it. It's about a junior high school girl growing up at the edge of poverty during World War I.
Perfect gift "host" gift (to bring to a party instead of a bottle of wine):
For when you don't know your book recipient well. One of my friends made both these suggestions, which are her constant fall-backs and seem awesome:
Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, by Martha Stewart. She says this is a great choice because the recipes are straightforward and divided up by seasons, so a perfect choice for hosts.
Creepy Cute Crochet: Zombies, Ninjas, Robots, and More! by Christen Haden. This is a quirky one, but what with the knitting craze these days it's not really THAT much of a stretch.
Some categories I could use help with: sci fi, mystery, romance (which is missing entirely!), children's, any of your ideas!