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For Everyone, A Book

2013 Holiday Gift Guide

A dozen suggestions to cover a multitude of gift-giving obligations

The holiday season, despite your earnest protestations, again approaches like a clown car filled with everyone we love and dread. What to give, and to whom? I am a strong advocate for the book as a gift. A book is by definition too complex to seem like a yuletide afterthought. A book is also too dynamic and too smart (even the stupid ones) to be rejected outright like, say, the zebra-print Snuggie you may have been considering purchasing for the lucky people on your list. Fear not! Here are some of my favorite books for every ilk.

For the parent

Amity Gaige, Schroder

Schroder, which was released earlier this year to widespread praise, tells the story of a man, who, after he loses a custody battle with his ex-wife, kidnaps his daughter. Based on the true story of Christian Gerhartsreiter, Gaige’s novel is utterly compelling and deftly composed.

For the history buff

Ed. Andrew Delbanco, The Portable Abraham Lincoln

Why not give someone you love the gift of some time alone with the words of the best writer ever to grace the office of the President? Lincoln was a conflicted, depressed, faithful father whose life changed forever following the death of his son, Willie. The importance of this tragedy in Lincoln’s life is a refreshing exception to the banality death adopted during the Civil War. His words are legendary, and rightfully so.

For the foodie

Robert F. Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

Capon, who died this year, was an Episcopal priest who left the Church in part to focus on his writing. Perhaps his greatest achievement was The Supper of the Lamb, a beautiful text that is equal parts cookbook and moving treatise on life, love, and faith. This book is a real delight, even for the nonreligious reader like myself.

For the casual reader / comic book fan / anyone

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, and for good reason. The epic tale of two cousins who take the world of comic books by storm encompasses life in all its hilarious, dramatic majesty. It is a relentlessly entertaining, powerful, fun story and one of my favorite novels.

For the kid you like the most

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The Little Prince has been loved by generations of readers for its poetry and artwork. It is one of the best-selling books ever written and has been translated into more than 250 languages. It is ideal for a parent to read aloud to a child, for a child to read alone, and for an adult to revisit fondly later in life.

For the poet

Paul Legault, The Emily Dickinson Reader

Anyone who is a fan of poetry will enjoy this collection of reductionist, literal explications of Dickinson’s 1,789 poems. Legault is funny without being disrespectful, and this is as good an act of friendly violence as any McSweeney’s ever published.

For the maudlin teen

Hermann Hesse, Demian

This book was my best friend for years. Even the most depressive adolescent will thank you for Hesse’s sympathetic tale of the sorrows of young Emil Sinclair, a tale whose redemptive power will help dispel the cloud of negativity that will inevitably darken your holiday dinner table.

For the maudlin teen who may not want to read a German bildungsroman in translation

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

No one doesn’t like this book.

For Buffalo and everyone in it

Timothy Bohen, Against the Grain: The History of Buffalo’s First Ward

Never forget that you live in a wonderful place. Help someone you love learn more about it: its roots, its people, and its future, a future we write anew every day.

For the miserable old person

Barbara Pym, Quartet in Autumn

This relatively quick read is life-affirming, beautiful, and utterly depressing—just like the holidays.

For the hater

David Sedaris, Holidays on Ice

This is basically the definitive holiday book—a dark, devastatingly funny collection of essays by one of America’s greatest humorists. Of special note is the essay, “Dinah, the Christmas Whore.”

For the person who would rather live in a yurt

James Prosek, Ocean Fishes

Prosek has spent his life painting stunning watercolors of every fish imaginable. This collection also features essays on fish as subjects of art, as specimens, and as fishermen’s friends. The book is perfect for the person you know who thinks Ernest Hemingway was the greatest man who ever lived.

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