2012 Holiday Gift Guide

Books make seriously awesome gifts, but you’ve got to give the right ones. Giving hardcore science fiction to someone who only reads historical romance may not go over very well. If you’re totally at a loss of what  books to give this year, I’m here to help. I’m going to skew this towards newer books, so you can be reasonably confident that your gift receiver won’t already have it, but I may make some additional suggestions as well. If it is a book I have reviewed, the title will link to the review. Hopefully everyone you need to buy for is represented here in one way or another.

The Art Fan

Fiction
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
– Boston artist Claire Roth has been blacklisted after an incident three years earlier involving the man who was both her mentor and her lover. Finally it seems as if she might be brought in out of the cold when her lover’s former art dealer, Aiden Markel, arranges to see her paintings. It turns out she’s partly right. Markel does want to offer her a show at his gallery, but in return he will pull her into the world of art forgery. Suddenly, Claire finds herself  connected to the infamous Gardner Heist, in a story that is thrilling and also has genuine emotion.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

Nonfiction
What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz –
You know you’re reading a useful  art history book when the endpapers begin with a mapping of modern art movements that looks like a map of a subway station. Whether you love modern art or wish you even knew why it was considered art, Will Gompertz – the BBC Arts Editor – wants to help you appreciate the art he adores. What Are You Looking At? is both informative and highly engaging. Gompertz’s informal and anecdote-based style brings the art he discusses to life – and the nearly 70 illustrations don’t hurt, either.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

Coffee table book
Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev – Honestly, I almost don’t even care what is inside this book because the outside is so pretty. Really, pictures on the internet don’t do it justice, the dust jacket is textured so that it looks and feels like canvas, giving the portrait on the cover the impression of being a real painting. As a biography of the man himself Cezanne is getting very positive critical reviews, but it would also be wonderful just to leave out to thumb through all of the photographs and painting reproductions.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Bookworm

My Ideal Bookshelf edited by Thessaly La Force, art by Jane Mount – My Ideal Bookshelf is pretty much the ultimate coffee table book for book lovers. It contains the, well, ideal bookshelves of over 100 creative types, from writers to artists to chefs to fashion designers. I would love it solely for the lovely illustrations of beautiful, eclectic bookshelves, but the mini-essays on identity and reading material that go with them are almost equally wonderful.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Environmentalist

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Kingsolver’s latest novel is highly realistic, with characters that move and grow and change. It is also the Silent Spring of novels, a dire indictment of climate change. Amazingly, Kingsolver manages to hit the reader over the head with her message without being annoying about it, largely because of the strength of her characters and plot.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Family

Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, pictures by Maurice Sendak – When I was growing up, my mom would typically send ‘family gifts’ to my aunts and uncles and their kids, because buying for 9 nieces and nephews and their parents is difficult (and expensive!).  Nutcracker as illustrated by Maurice Sendak is a perfect gift option, one that can provide families joy for many holiday seasons to come. The illustrations here are based on the sets and costumes Sendak designed for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Christmas production of Nutcracker.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Foodie

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and How We Eat by Bee Wilson – Into cooking? Into history? Ever wonder why we cook the way we do? Consider the Fork is a must. Wilson organizes the book thematically and includes such interesting tidbits as how America came to be one of the few countries in the world for dry measure (my husband the nouveau chef has switched to weight measurement ever since I shared the information with him) and how the innovation of cutting food with utensils before eating may have actually changed the shape of human mouths.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The History Buff

Fiction
Illuminations
by Mary Sharratt – In the grand tradition of books about fairly minor but fascinating historical figures comes this novelization of the life of Hildegard von Bingen, an 11th century woman German given to the church as a young girl and now renowned as a Christian mystic. Sharratt brings Hildegard vividly to life, showing a realistic woman who had flaws and was often uncertain about her vocation, but was determined to make of her life what she could.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

Nonfiction
Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss – When you hear the name Alexandre Dumas, you most likely think of Dumas pere, author of The Three Muskateers and The Counte of Monte Cristo, among other things. Or maybe you think of his son, the playwright. You most likely don’t think of perhaps the most interesting of all of them, Alex Dumas, the father and grandfather of these famous authors, a man who went from being a slave in Saint-Domingue to being a General in the French Army during the French Revolution. Reiss tells the story of an absolutely fascinating man, and he tells it beautifully; The Black Count is also notable for being perhaps one of the best accounts of the French Revolution I’ve ever read.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist – Have that person on your list that loved Devil in the White City but hasn’t read much else since then? Yeah, here’s your gift. BAM. You’re welcome. City of Scoundrels is an amazing narrative of a transformative time in Chicago history. Krist makes the city into a living, breathing character and, if anything, his style is actually more accessible than Larson’s.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Jane Austen Fan

Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas by Rebecca Smith – Smith is the great-great-great-great grand niece of Jane Austen herself. As can be surmised from the title, Smith takes modern problems – like unfriending people on Facebook, making time for the gym, and whether or not to get a tattoo – and applies the wisdom of Jane Austen in an attempt to give answers. Each question is answered with a multitude of examples from Austen’s writing, as well as a summary paragraph distilling Austen’s wisdom for the situation.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells
Bonus title: A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

The Journal Keeper

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier – The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is a smart and moving novel of friendship, marriage, and identity. When Kate’s best friend, Elizabeth, dies in a freak plane crash, she leaves Kate the journals she has kept for most of her life. As Kate begins to visit Elizabeth’s journals, she suddenly realizes that she never knew her friend as well as she thought she did.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Occupy Wall Street-er

Sutton by J.R. Moehringer – J.R. Moehringer allows the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton to tell his own (fictionalized) story in his first novel, Sutton. The story is framed by him remembering the life that landed him in jail on the eve of his release. Sutton became a folk hero in his own time by targeting the banks that were perceived as destroying many of the American people, and Moehringer really works so that the reader is able to make the connection between the world in which Willie Sutton grew up and our own post-financial collapse America.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Parent (or Parent-to-be)

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman – French children are famously better behaved with more developed palates than American children. As an American woman living in Paris with her British husband, Pamela Druckerman has had plenty of opportunity to observe her French parent friends and distill some of the secrets of their success. Druckerman is not necessarily a proponent of a 100% French method, but there are some great take aways for American parents or parents-to-be, at the very least parents are well-served by being force to think about their own approaches.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein – This is one for all the parents of daughters, who want to be aware of just what our culture has in store for their kids, from princesses to, well, more princesses, and then sexualization. Unfortunately Orenstein doesn’t have the cure-all for the societal ills that do their best to screw up our little girls, but forewarned is forearmed, right?
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough – How Children Succeed is not a parenting book, by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have the potential to be hugely helpful for parents (and teachers). Basically this is child psychology 101 – although it incorporates some of the newest and most intriguing research – but it is written in an engaging manner with many anecdotes and does not remotely resemble the textbook you failed to actually read in college.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Pundit

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling – Rowling is, of course, most famous for her magical world of Harry Potter, but in The Casual Vacancy she does something entirely new. The people who inhabit the village of Padford, and thus the pages of The Casual Vacancy, are mostly pretty terrible, but their interpersonal politics – not to mention the politics of replacing the suddenly deceased Barry Fairbrother on the town council – are fascinating. If you have someone on your Christmas list who watched nothing but the 24 hour news channels for the two months leading up to the election and now doesn’t know what to do with herself, The Casual Vacancy is a must.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Royals Watcher

A Royal Pain by Megan Mulry – That person on your shopping list who still can’t stop talking about William and Kate’s wedding and insists she’d look great in a fascinator? A Royal Pain by Megan Mulry is just the ticket. This is the classic ‘American girl meets and falls in love with English duke in disguise,’ but with characters that stick with you. Plus, it is the start of a three book series, so you’ve got birthday and Christmas presents lined up for next year, too.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells
Bonus title: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

The Short Story Fan

Astray by Emma Donoghue – Astray is a brilliant themed collection of short stories. In each story, Donoghue fictionalizes a true story of immigrants to or or emigrants from the US and Canada. The stories are vivid and pull the reader in almost immediately. A bonus: if you’re buying for an audiobook fan, the audiobook production is absolutely fabulous.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz – Unlike Astray, in which stories are connected only by theme, This is How You Lose Her chronicles the life of Yunior in a series of non-chronological stories. We see his interactions with his family, his heritage, and the women in his life. Yunior has a tendency to cheat on his girlfriends, but Diaz still manages to make him an amazingly sympathetic character.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Traveler

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky – Know someone who travels a lot and might want some tips on how to get the most from her hotel experiences? Heads in Beds shows the behind the scenes in the hotel industry – as well as some secrets for guests who want good rooms and don’t want to pay for mini bar items – from a slightly disgruntled hotel employee.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

The Trekkie

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi – Redshirts is a delightfully meta homage to – or perhaps send-up of, depending on how you take it – Star Trek and the other media it inspired.
Buy at: Indiebound | Powells

What books are you planning to give as presents this holiday season?

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