The Twelve+ Books of Christmas

Books make good gifts. I realize you would expect nothing less from me on this occasion, but think about it: what other single store can you visit and get something—something unique, beautiful, and intellectually and emotionally satisfying—for everyone on your list? Whether it’s philosophy, self-help, fiction, humor, poetry, pop culture, or some big coffee table book, you’ve got to admit it: this, my friends, is true one-stop shopping.

Not that it’s going to be easy to decide. Attention must be paid. You can’t just waltz in and buy the latest best seller. No. You must match the book with its recipient. This is a delicate process requiring, you know, thought. Which is not always easy this time of year.

So despair ye not: I have some ideas. No, this isn’t a best-of-2010 list; that would have actually required planning (including a revamp of my personal reading habits, since I’m not going to suggest a book I haven’t already read). Instead, this is a categorized list of favorites; books I’ve read and loved. Hope it helps.

1. Fiction for guys … James Lee Burke writes a series of crime novels starring New Iberia (Louisiana) deputy sheriff Dave Robicheaux that combine gorgeous prose with complex plots; don’t diss them with the term genre fiction. The first in the series is The Neon Rain (1987); I’m hoping Santa brings me number 18, The Glass Rainbow. Looking for something less dark? You can’t go wrong with Nick Hornby—try High Fidelity (1995). It’s got laughs, relationship advice from a male perspective, and rock-n-roll.

2. Fiction for gals … I think Kaye Gibbons is s stunning writer of fiction; her 1989 novel A Virtuous Woman is one of my all-time favorite books. So is A. S. Byatt’s Possession (1990). I’ve read both more than twice, which is saying a lot for me.

3. For those who dream of travel … I don’t think you can go wrong with Frances Mayes, who writes lovely, uncluttered prose (and poetry too). Try A Year in the World (2006). Mayes could easily be a food writer, too; her descriptions of meals will have your recipient searching out the local ethnic restaurants.

4. Memoir is hot … so check out the book that is credited with starting the trend: Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, released in 1995. About Karr’s troubled childhood in Texas, it’s funny, authentic, and wonderfully written; Karr is also a prize-winning poet.

5. For anyone who likes a good romance … here’s a real love story—A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century (2003) by Andrea di Robilant. It’s a true story—and a swoon-worthy romance—that reads like a novel.

6. For the student of history … for my money, Thomas Cahill is the best at making history interesting. From a little book called How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (1995), he’s gone on to write The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (1999); Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (2001); Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (2004); and Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (2006). All are great reads.

7. For the current events buff … check out celebrated Irish journalist Fergal Keane, who for years was the BBC correspondent in South Africa, where he covered unrest in the townships, the end of apartheid, and the Rwandan genocide. His written columns have been compiled in several collections, including Letter to Daniel (1996) and Letters Home (1999). Readers will understand why he’s won every journalism prize there is to win.

8. For the fantasy lover … When I was younger I read a lot of fantasy, and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958)—a reimagining of the Arthurian legend—is beautiful and funny. Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003) is wildly imaginative and heartbreakingly real, just a gorgeous story in every way. Or you could try Margaret Atwood’s haunting The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Don’t hold that awful movie against this book; it’s absolutely stunning.

9. Some folks like science … in which case you might try Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt (2008), about, well, how we drive; or Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (2005), about mental processes that work rapidly and automatically with very little information; or Longitude by Dava Sobel (1995), about John Harrison, who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time—how to measure longitude when at sea—which meant people could actually get where they wanted to go.

10. An art book is nice … so check out the Griffin and Sabine series of books by Nick Bantock. Starting with Griffin & Sabine (1991) and continuing with Sabine’s Notebook (1992) and The Golden Mean (1993), the story is told through a series of letters and postcards (literally: you open an envelope and pull out the letter to read it). The art is fantastic; Bantock is also the illustrator. Check out his other stuff, too; who could resist a book called The Museum at Purgatory?

11. For animal lovers: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is interested in the relationship between people and animals and has written movingly about it in (among other titles) When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (1996). I’ve also read and truly loved The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey Into the Feline Heart (2002).

12. There’s always a place for a graphic novel … and everyone should read Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. This story of the Holocaust, in which Jews are portrayed as mice and Germans as cats, comes in two parts (I: My Father Bleeds History [1986] and II: And Here My Troubles Began [1991])—and it’s life-changing, I think. I’d like to offer another, less-dark selection, but that ain’t easy in this category. I do think Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003), also in two books, is brilliant.

There you have it—happy shopping! And God bless us, every one.

Tweet: Books make good gifts. What else did you expect me to say?
Tweet: What other single store can you visit & get something wonderful for everyone on your list?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Books You Might Like, Miscellany | Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Bookmark the permalink | Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

4 Comments

  1. My pick from your list is Dava Sobel’s Longitude! Politics, science, tragedy, intrigue—a tale you’ll never forget.

  2. Elizabeth Watts says:

    Hey! Thanks for the suggestions Jamie! I don’t think I have read any of the books on your list, so you’ve inspired me! I wish I was a faster reader…
    Thanks! :)
    By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you, I’m sure you have heard of the saying that in a given group, many times 20% of people end up doing 80% of the work. Do you know of any books that help people inspire the other 80% to get more involved? I need one, whew!

    • jamiechavez says:

      Ebeth — Let me know what you decide to read! I love talking about books I love!
      Regarding inspiring your coworkers … I’ll ask around for more specific suggestions but my first thought was John C. Maxwell. His books on leadership are fabulous. Investigate The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player … He’s written 60+ books, but you can check the Amazon rankings for the most important ones…

  3. […] reading should be in your list of things to do this summer. You know how I feel about it, and if you need a suggestion, you know I have plenty of those to go around. Hanks says, “That guy under the clock, reading […]

  4. […] Twelve+ Books of Christmas This list categorizes suggestions: fiction for guys; fiction for gals; books for those who dream of travel or […]

  5. […] The Twelve Books of Christmas (suggestions for guys, gals, everybody) Giving the Gift of Imagination (some books are just magic) Some of My Favorite Nonfiction It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Christmas books for kids) A List of Epistolary Novels (stories told in letters) The Circle of Life (books for the very young) OverLooked Irish Novels (I’ve now read them all) Magical Realism (a list) Finding the One Magic Book (great reads for nonreaders) My Favorite Book This Year My Favorite Book v. 2013 The Christmas Book The Way We Were (memoir) Movies for Writers (not books but …) […]

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Summertime… and the Readin’ Is Easy… on 21 July, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    […] reading should be in your list of things to do this summer. You know how I feel about it, and if you need a suggestion, you know I have plenty of those to go around. Hanks says, “That guy under the clock, reading […]

  2. By Short Saturday: I Saw Three Books Come Sailing In on 15 December, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    […] Twelve+ Books of Christmas This list categorizes suggestions: fiction for guys; fiction for gals; books for those who dream of travel or […]

  3. By Short Saturday: Books and Christmas on 6 December, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    […] The Twelve Books of Christmas (suggestions for guys, gals, everybody) Giving the Gift of Imagination (some books are just magic) Some of My Favorite Nonfiction It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Christmas books for kids) A List of Epistolary Novels (stories told in letters) The Circle of Life (books for the very young) OverLooked Irish Novels (I’ve now read them all) Magical Realism (a list) Finding the One Magic Book (great reads for nonreaders) My Favorite Book This Year My Favorite Book v. 2013 The Christmas Book The Way We Were (memoir) Movies for Writers (not books but …) […]