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Give the gift of books this holiday season

Shopping is easy.

You do it at least once a week, just because. It’s fun, relaxing, enlightening, and social. You love to shop… except when you have to shop for a gift for someone and you don’t know what to buy. Gah.

In that case, how about a book? How about one of these books…


Who doesn’t want a thriller for mid-winter reading? For sure, your giftee will, and “The Jaguar’s Children” by John Vaillant is the one to wrap. It’s the story of Hector, who’s being smuggled into America from Mexico when the truck he’s in breaks down. He’s sealed inside and the smugglers have left but he has a cell phone and your giftee will have a page-turner. Wrap it up with “A Free State” by Tom Piazza, a thrilling novel of a former slave who, in conjunction with the leader of a minstrel troupe, concocts a dangerous ruse so that he can make music on-stage with white performers. Oh, did I say that a slave hunter is on his trail?

For the historian who needs a little fiction now and then, “Viet Man” by D.S. Lliteras may be the thing to wrap up. It’s the story of a warrior, after he comes home, and the memories of battle that he struggles to forget. Wrap it up with “The Guyana Contract” by Rosalind Kilkenny McLymont, a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about a high-powered female executive whose new work assignment seems suspiciously underhanded – a feeling she especially gets when she learns that a man from her past is involved, too…

No doubt, there’s a tender heart on your gift list – someone who’s always sunny and smiling. “100 Days of Happiness” by Fausto Brizzi is the book you want to give her (or him?). It’s the story of a down-and-out man who learns that he’s going to die, so he spends his last 100 days on Earth doing good for the people around him. Wrap it up with “The Best Advice in Six Words,” edited by Larry Smith. What a really great gift idea! (Count ‘em – there’s six!)

If your giftee would love the gift of laughter, then wrap up “Formerly Fingerman” by Joe Nelms. It’s the story of a guy who’s down-and-out and, coincidentally, at the top of a list of witnesses for a murder trial… except he didn’t really see the murder. Wrap it up with “You Could Be Home By Now” by Tracy Manaster, the story of a young couple, an older retiree, and a viral news story that should’ve never seen the light of day.

Mystery lovers who like a touch of the frontier will thank you profusely when you’ve wrapped up “The Last Midwife” by Sandra Dallas. It’s 1880 and the midwife of a small mining town is accused of the murder of a baby – but though she’s been privy to too many things, murder isn’t one of them… Wrap it up with “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” a delightful book of stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

How could I not include a zombie book on my gift list? There’s no way I couldn’t – so why not wrap up “Posi+ive” by David Wellington, a post-apocalyptic novel of zombies, insane road warriors, and a new world in the making. Could your giftee resist? I think not… Wrap it up with the Young Adult novel “The Six” by Mark Alpert. It’s the story of a teen whose disease has stolen his mobility, but he’s found an alternative: a virtual world where he always wins. Problem is, so does the program….

If there’s a historical novel lover on your list, then “The Reluctant Midwife” by Patricia Harman is a winner. It’s the story of a midwife working in West Virginia during the Great Depression, her challenges, and the women she cares for. Pair it with another historical novel, “The Courtesan” by Alexandra Curry, the story of a little girl who is sold to a brothel in China, 1881. She grows up to be the wife of a well-travelled man who takes her places she’s never been…

The crime buff on your list will absolutely love unwrapping “Charlie Martz and Other Stories” by Elmore Leonard. It’s a collection of previously-unpublished short stories, written in the early years of Leonard’s career. It’s a little bit of mystery, a little bit of western, and a whole lot of goodness. Pair it with “Bull Mountain” by Brian Panowich, a story of crime, family, honor, and moonshining…

For the Western aficionado, there’s no better gift than “Buffalo Trail” by Jeff Guinn. Set in the Arizona Territory, it’s…. well, I shouldn’t have to say more except “Wrap it!”

General Non-Fiction

Music lovers know what they like, and I’ll bet yours will like “Playboy Swings” by Patty Farmer. It’s the story of how an iconic men’s magazine (and the empire that sprang from it) changed the way we find, enjoy, and listen to music. Wrap it up with “The Song Machine” by John Seabrook, a book that examines why we listen to and love the music we can’t get out of our heads.

Is there a lover of All Things Southern on your list? Then wrap up “Southern Living: 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture.” This heavy, huge compilation of half a century of the iconic magazine is jam-packed with photos, short articles, photos, pictures and… did I say “photos”?

If Beatlemania has hit someone on your gift list, then the gift to give this year is “The Complete Beatles Songs” by Steve Turner. This large-sized book is full of lyrics from the Fab Four, as well as stories of how the songs came to be, and plenty of photos of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. It could be the Ticket to Ride this holiday… Wrap it up with “Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Zoe Cormier. It’s a scientific book about our impulses and what makes us par-tay!

For the Person Who’s Read Everything, maybe something quirky is what you need to wrap up. “Patternalia” by Jude Stewart might be just the thing: it’s about polka dots, stripes, plaid, houndstooth, graph paper, wallpaper, and all kinds of patterns, their history, usage, and why they catch our eyes. How fun is that? Wrap that creative book up with “Knitting Pearls,” edited by Ann Hood. It’s an anthology about knitting, creativity, crafting, mothers and daughters, and love.

The gardener on your list will plant her fanny down and read, once you’ve given her “The Reason for Flowers” by Stephen Buchmann. It’s all about flowers, their history, the places they’re grown – even the critters that help them bloom. Wrap it up with a pair of garden gloves and a pretty trowel.

The giftee you know who loves things that go STOMP in the night will also love opening “The Bigfoot Book” by Nick Redfern. It’s a book about large, hairy creatures: Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Little Red Men, and other critters you don’t want to meet on a dark and stormy night.

No doubt, the fashionista on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “That’s What Fashion Is” by style-maker Joe Zee. It’s a little memoir, a little how-to, and a whole lot of ideas and gossip. What’s not to love, ‘specially when you pair it with “Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic” by Jennifer L. Scott, a genteel book on looking, dressing, and acting elegant.

The grammarian in your life will love owning “The Handy English Grammar Answer Book” by Christine A. Hult, PhD. It’s a nice reference book, ready-made for a quick look-up and argument settler. Double your giftee’s pleasure by adding “Check These Out” by Gina Sheridan, a book about books.

I also liked “Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library” by Wayne A. Wiegand. It’s a great look at libraries and the people who founded and nurtured them. For deeply passionate book lovers, this is THE gift.

If there’s someone single on your gift list this year, do you dare to give “Date-Onomics” by Jon Birger? This book offers real statistics and an explanation of why boy-meets-girl is sometimes just a fairy tale – and how she can make it Happily Ever After. Wrap it up with “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,” a look at being and staying happily single, written by Kate Bolick.

The pop-culture lover on your gift list will absolutely love poring over “The Must List” by the Editors of Entertainment Weekly. It’s filled – just jam-packed – with lists that will bring back memories, remind your giftee of songs and fashions, fads, celebs, and things we used to do back in the day.

If there’s someone on your list who loves scary movies, dark corridors, and spooky stories, then “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear” by Margee Kerr will be an excellent choice. It’s a book that explains why we love getting goosebumps (or don’t), and how – believe it or not – being scared is good for us. And if science-y books are what your giftee loves best, add “The Superhuman Mind” by Berit Brogaard, PhD, and Kristian Marlow, MA. It’s a book about how to get the most brain-power from your noggin.

Got new parents (or parents-to-be) on your gift list this year? Then wrap up “The Science of Mom” by Alice Callahan, PhD. Based on scientific research, this book will help parents to know what advice is right and what could be wrong for their baby. Wrap it up with a box of diapers for a very needed gift.

Does your giftee (heart) New York? Then “City On a Grid” by Gerard Koeppel is a must-give this year. It’s the story of how the City That Never Sleeps became what it is; specifically, how swampy fields – a farming area, basically – became the Big Apple in only a few centuries. Toss “Life in New York” by Laura Pedersen – a personal love story to the Big Apple – in the box and make it merrier.

No doubt, there’s a MAD Magazine fiend on your list, so “Spy vs. Spy: An Explosive Celebration” from the MAD mag folks (foreword by Lewis Black) is a can’t-miss gift. It’s absolutely filled with classic cartoons, posters, and everything you loved about that gleefully revenge-filled cartoon. If you can, put “The Art of Horror,” edited by Stephen Jones in the box, too. It’s a huge coffee-table book jam-packed with posters, drawings, stories, and shivers.

No doubt, there’s someone on your list who needs something light this holiday, so wrap up “The Snoopy Treasures: A Celebration of the World Famous Beagle” by Nat Gertler. It’s a look at everybody’s favorite dancing dog, from his origins to the ways we love him today. Hint: wrap it up with tickets to the new movie. I also liked “Simon’s Cat: Off to the Vet and Other Cat-astrophes” by Simon Tofield. It’s a cartoon-filled book that will have cat lovers nodding in complete recognition.

For the quirky reader on your gift list, “Chilled: How Refrigeration Changed the World and Might Do So Again” by Tom Jackson might be a great read. It’s a book about keeping things cold: why, where, and how. It’s the perfect book for the science-minded giftee who just likes chillin’.

For the person on your gift list that you’ve known forever, “The Class of ‘65” by Jim Auchmutey could be the just-right thing to put under the tree. It’s a story of racism, classism, not fitting in, as well as growing up and realizing that attitudes should – and can! – change.

Is there a hockey fan tucked away on your gift list? Good, because the thing to give is “The Handy Hockey Answer Book” by Stan Fischler. It’s a fun-to-read, easy-to-grasp book that’s all about your giftee’s favorite sport. It’s a gift that’ll…. stick.

Just as a reminder: Titles can change. Release dates can change, too, and some things may not be available at the last minute.

If you’re at a loss or can’t find what you want to give this holiday, help is at hand!

Get yourself to your nearby bookstore and throw yourself at the mercy of the lovely/handsome bookseller, the one with the great big smile. He or she has SuperPowers when it comes to this kind of thing. Seriously.

And Season’s Readings!