As we edge closer to December, most of us are beginning that yearly scramble for holiday gifts. Some have had every aunt, uncle, and second cousin accounted for months ago with gifts wrapped and bowed to boot. But for the rest of us — who are only human after all — it’s time to start up Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa lists. So as you start you shopping this year, keep in mind that while it may be an easy present to guess under the Christmas tree, a good book can be truly the best gift. A non-fiction book can be the worlds best professor, a great thriller can help that hesitant reader dive in, and a classic can draw you back in time better than Doctors Who and Emmett Brown — or at least as well, anyhow. Still, sometimes the right gift is hard to find — so here’s a few suggestions for list-makers out there.
1. Go for a Series
When you buy someone a book that they love, you’ve given them a week of literary joy and page turning delight — a month tops if we’re talking about a generational epic like “Roots,” or any of the thousand page James Michener works. That’s a great gift — no one can deny it. Some of the best books out there are single servings.
That said, when you buy someone a book they’ll love out of a series, suddenly you’ve given them a gift that will not only last — but will also give them something to look forward even before finishing the first installment. And bonus — it may also solve future birthday present quandaries if they read slowly enough. This can be an especially good tip for kids who don’t always have the motivation to pick up a new book once they’ve finished the last one. There’s the obvious series — Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and yes, even Twilight. Those are effective and obvious starts for readers. But for readers who’ve moved past such series, there are still excellent books to be found in sets.
Mary Karr has penned a series of autobiographical novels, with the The Liar’s Club telling of her troubled and unique childhood — a bestseller. The second memoir — Cherry — includes stories from her rather wild teen years, and is also a best seller. The third, Lit: A Memoir offers a conclusion to Karr’s series of memoirs. There’s also the Dune and Hitchhiker’s Guide series for lovers of quality with a weakness for science fiction — and never forget that Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is actually a set of two, with Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator following behind.
2. E-book Readers
Most book lovers are deeply attached to the texture, smell, and even the motion of page turning that comes with a real physical book as opposed to a digital copy. However, there are still enormous advantages lent by an e-reader. For one, most e-books are considerably cheaper than solid copies, and while it may be worth the money to own a solid copy of your favorite books, the same cannot be said of books you have only a passing interest in.
An e-book reader also allows individuals to carry a great number of books in one lightweight place — perfect for travelers and campers. The immediacy of books downloadable straight to a reader also makes it an ideal gift for university students in immediate need of books for a paper due the next day — or not wanting to carry all of their textbooks around campus.
Due to a healthy market demand for readers, there are lots of options with a variety of features available, including Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s (NYSE:BKS) Nook, the Kobo, and Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) Reader. Wi-fi, color, black and white, backlit, size, weight — readers come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes simply for book use, and other times doubling as a tablet.
3. Unique and Peculiar Books
When you can’t stand buying another bland thriller or don’t have the heart to get that special someone even the best book if it has Opera’s Book club sticker across the front — it’s time to branch out. There are plenty of books out there that are creative and unique, or have conceptually different ideas about story telling. You just have to know where to look.
Novel in Three Lines and Humument are just two suggestions — but both are worthy of a Christmas bow and stocking. Novel in Three Lines comes in a brilliantly illustrated format from Joanna Neborsky. The book is adapted from its origins as a collection of editor Felix Feneon’s — published in Le Matin Parisian newspaper in 1906. Each set of three lines encompasses an entire story, accompanied by an appropriately bizarre collage.
Humument’s author/illustrator, Tom Phillips, has released his fifth edition of the transformed novel. Phillips has taken a novel published in 1892 entitled A Human Document and re-written it by coloring and illustrated pages.
4. Gift Cards
Sometimes it’s just too hard to know what books a person will like best. Everyone has had the experience of receiving a book not to their taste, or giving someone a copy of an old favorite only to find that they hate it. So, sometimes, gift-cards are your best choice — if you don’t know what someone likes, it’s a fair bet that they will.
Local book shops are always nice, but big chains such as Barnes & Nobles sometimes have a better selection — and are more likely to carry gift card options. Online retailers such as Amazon also allow recipients to buy used books, or use the money for digital copies for e-readers.
5. Graphic Novel Versions of Their Favorites
Sometimes someone’s perfect book gift is a copy of a book they’ve already read — just in a different format. There are a shocking number of great books that have illustrated copies — or better yet — have been transformed into graphic novels. Classics such as Candide and Sherlock Holmes come in all sorts of versions.
Other more modern books, like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files have their own graphic novels. In a way, these can be better than seeing a movie based on a great book — which often disappoints. With graphic novels and comic books — you get to see the scenes from your favorites without having to watch the storyline get watered down. Yet this trick works in reverse as well. Perhaps your little brother likes the Spiderman movies — get him reading with a book of comics. Your cousin loved Sin City? Show him or her where it originates.
For those family members and friends that have a deep-seeded love for the classics — buy them a nice new copy. Penguin publishing for example, has a nice set of cloth-bound classics, including Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, Vanity Fair, A Christmas Carol, Jabberwocky and Other Nonsense: Collected Poems, and many others.
Barnes & Noble also has a version of classics, with beautifully illustrated covers on their hard backed collectors editions — some of which come with metallic inlay. This is also a good way to get collections of a friends favorite author, including Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales and The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.
If you’re struggling to think of a new and absorbing book for your loved one, sometimes it can help to look at what’s selling well in other countries — especially if your family tends to stick to authors close to home. If they tend towards dark thrillers or fantasy novels, Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch might be a good match — all the way from Russia. Vladimir Nabokov, also Russian, is well known for his novel Lolita, but has written a large collection of equally enthralling works that we sometimes forget.
Especially after its film debut starring Daniel Craig, most are familiar with Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a series that was originally titled in it’s native language Man Som Hatar Kvinnor — you guessed it — Swedish. House on Mango Street was penned by Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros, and brings readers to a well crafted and vibrant environment. Finally, it would be a crime not to mention Dominican author Junoz Diaz, who penned Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
8. Cool Book Ends
For that person that already owns every book on the planet a set of fancy new book ends never goes awry, and you’d be amazed how many different styles you can find. There’s options ranging anywhere from the classic geode book ends to these two mortal combat book ends.
Ultimately, sometimes a practical storage gift is even more appreciated than an addition to an already overstocked book shelf — especially if someone is too well read to easily pick a book out for.
Books that teach someone something can make the best gifts. Whether it’s something they already love — like a recipe book for a brother who loves to bake — or something totally new they can immerse themselves in, Bee Keeping for Dummies is a book that teaches is a good one. This is also a convenient gift for those with tight budgets this year. Just because you can’t buy someone a welding torch doesn’t mean you can’t encourage in their metal working interests.
This can extend to those that are interested in learning for the sake of enjoyment — history and science books don’t have to be dry. Biographies on notable individuals abound, covering everyone from Cleopatra to President Nixon. Even something as dark and bizarre as decomposition can be made fascinating with the right author — as Mary Roach proves in her book Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers.
10. Head Lamp
The head lamp — or, the camper’s book-light-delight as I like to call it — may seem like an odd book-related gift. Don’t let that throw you, though. Every individual who has ever tried to read by flashlight or those pesky clip on lights knows how inconvenient they can be when your hands are full with turning pages.
Head lamps may look silly, but they leave your hands free, and your eyes unstained — and they don’t have to be expensive. Campers and couples alike can appreciate a single stream of brightness illuminating pages. Plus, when the power goes out this thoughtful gift may prove useful for more than just reading.
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