Looking for a gift for that hard-to-buy-for football fan, lesbian mother, or book club member? Here are some of the best of the season’s readings.
By Janice Harayda
Looking for a gift book? Here are ideas for everyone on your list from A-to-Z. You can read a full review of most books on the list below by entering their titles in the Search box One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com. Most came out in 2006 and are widely available bookstores. Older books are available from online retailers.
What to give to …
AN ATTORNEY Anonymous Lawyer (Holt, $25) is a dark and satirical novel in the form of a blog that sends up the politics of a ruthless high-powered law firm. It grew out of Jeremy Blachman’s popular blog www.anonymouslawyer.blogspot.com and has a plot that’s thin enough to read during the bathroom breaks of a long deposition. But how much time does that young law firm associate on your list have for reading, anyway? Lawyers who prefer more substantial books, or nonfiction, may enjoy Manhunt (see under History Buff below).
A BOOK CLUB MEMBER Does someone on your list keep complaining about the books selected by her book club? A bookseller can show you guides full of ideas for reading groups. But many reading-group guides do little more than cheerlead for popular titles. Discerning readers may prefer two older books: John Carey’s Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books (Faber and Faber, $14, paperback), a collection of 800-word reviews from the Sunday Times of London, and Noel Perrin’s A Reader’s Delight (Dartmouth, $20, paperback), which gathers brief reviews of classic fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from the Washington Post.
A COSMETIC SURGERY VETERAN You have to be a bit careful about who gets Alex Kuczynki’s Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery (Doubleday, $24.95), because you would never want to appear to suggest that the recipient needs plastic surgery. But it’s a terrific book for, among others, veterans of the knife and syringe. Have you heard about the Detroit radio station that gave away free plastic surgery during a promotion with the theme “New Year, New Rear”? www.alexkuczynski.com
A DOG LOVER John Grogan wrote one of funniest memoirs of 2005 in Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog (Morrow, $21.95), recently published in a handsome gift edition. The title hardly exaggerates the exploits of a yellow Lab that, though endearing, was so rebellious that it was expelled from obedience school. Anyone who loved Marley and Me is also likely to enjoy the similarly appealing books by Jon Katz, especially A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me (Random House, $12.95, paperback). www.marleyandme.com
AN EX Still speaking to your ex? Show that you have no hard feelings (okay, only a few) by picking up Leanne Shapton’s Was She Pretty? (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20), a quirky coffee-table book of captioned line drawings that describe the offbeat ways men and women remember their former lovers.
A FOOTBALL FAN Hallelujah. After a decade out of print, Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer (Doubleday, $21.95) is back in an edition with a foreword by Jonathan Yardley, the Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic. Give this book right now – before it goes out of print again – to any football fan young to have missed it when it first came out in 1968. Kramer, an All-Pro Green Bay guard, wrote this modern classic with the late Dick Schaap, one of the best sportswriters of the 20th century. www.jerrykramer.com
A GRIEVING WIDOW The holidays are often no holiday when you’ve recently lost someone you love. Four 9/11 widows tell how they coped in Love You, Mean It: A True Story of Love, Loss, And Friendship (Hyperion, $23.95), by Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes with Eve Charles. This book may especially help a widow who is coping with a sudden death that didn’t give her time to prepare emotionally for the loss. www.loveyoumeanit.com
A HISTORY BUFF Why did John Wilkes Booth really kill Abraham Lincoln? And why did it take the government more than a week to capture him after he fled from Ford’s Theatre after shooing the president? Lawyer and Lincoln scholar James L. Swanson offers answers in Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (Morrow, $26.95), one of the year’s best historical true crime stories. www.jameslswanson.com
AN ISRAELI AT HEART Have a friend who visits Israel often and dreams of living there? The Man Who Fell Into a Puddle: Israel Lives (Vintage, $13, paperback) is a poignant collection of profiles of immigrants that shows a side of the country rarely seen in news reports of war in Middle East. Author Igal Sarna, a tank commander in the Yom Kippur War and one of Israel’s leading journalists, writes with a high style somewhat reminiscent of Joan Didion’s.
A JANEITE … Devout Jane Austen fans call themselves “Janeites.” But you don’t have to fall into that group to enjoy Josephine Ross’s Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders (Bloomsbury, $14.95), with charming watercolor illustrations by Henrietta Webb. Ross doesn’t try to extrapolate a set of 21st-century rules from the behavior of Elizabeth Bennet and others. Instead she offers a literary companion, masquerading as a Regency-era etiquette book, that explains the complex codes of behavior followed by Austen’s characters.
KINDERGARTENER Mother Goose characters write letters to each other in Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s The Jolly Postman: Or Other People’s Letters (Little, Brown, $19.99, ages 4-8), which has a real letter tucked into in an envelope on every other page. This British import has been delighting children for two decades and recently appeared in a 20th anniversary edition. All books in the “Jolly Postman” series are popular gifts partly because children often can’t get them at libraries, which have trouble keeping them on shelves — the letters keep disappearing from their pockets.
A LESBIAN MOTHER Harley Aizley tells how she and her partner had a child using sperm they ordered by mail in her wisecracking memoir, Buying Dad: One Woman’s Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor (Alyson, $14.95, paperback). Aizley also wrote Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Moms Tell All (Beacon, 2006), a collection of personal stories by lesbian mothers. www.harlynaizley.com
A MOVIEGOER Two of Hollywood’s top casting directors tell how they matched stars like Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise with roles in A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies (Harcourt, $25), written by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins with Rachel Kranz. www.janeandjanet.com
A NEW YORK WOMAN Long before Bridget Jones stepped on a scale, Sheila Levine embodied a certain kind of New York woman – smart, funny, overweight, and desperate to get married. So it was good news when, a couple of years ago, a publisher reissued Gail Parent’s blistering 1972 satire of mating rituals in pre-Sex and the City New York. Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (Overlook, $13.95, paperback). A good gift for fans of Bridget Jones’s Diary, whether they live in Manhattan or Kenosha.
AN ONLINE DATER Judsen Culbreth suggests ways that female baby boomers can find love on the Internet in The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating: Date With Dignity (Rodale, $12.95, paperback). She should know: At the age of 52, she married a man she met through an online matchmaking service. www.judsenculbreth.com
A POET Newspaper editor David Tucker’s writes about his work and makes it work in Late for Work (Mariner, $12, paperback), an award winning collection of poetry with a foreword by Philip Levine. Not all the poems deal with newsrooms or deadlines. But like a good newspaper story, all have solid roots in the details of everyday life.
A RECENTLY ENGAGED FRIEND Philip Delamore’s The Perfect Wedding Dress (Firefly, $35) wouldn’t work for a bride-to-be who’s bought her dress. But this coffee-table book could delight someone who hasn’t been engaged long enough to hit the bridal salons. It has more than 300 photos of classic styles, including many pictures of wedding dresses worn by celebrities such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Liv Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Diana, Princess of Wales.
QUIZ KID What do you give a star high school or college student? How about Ken Jennings’s Brainaic: Adventures in the Curious Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs (Villard, $24.95), or Bob Harris’s Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! (Crown, $23.95), two books by former quiz -show champions who have proved that it pays to remember what you learned in school? www.ken-jennings.com
A SHORT STORY LOVER Know someone who always turns first to the short story in The New Yorker? Consider wrapping up the sparkling Noël Coward: Collected Short Stories (Methuen, $17.95, paperback), a 1999 book available from online retailers and others. One of its advantages as a gift is that even the most ardent short-story lovers tend not to own it (or even know that the celebrated English playwright also wrote some of the finest stories of the 20th century). Also highly recommended: Elisa Albert’s How This Night Is Different: Stories (Free Press, $18), a collection of stories about young Jews struggling to fine meaning in the traditional customs and activities of their faith. www.elisaalbert.com
A TODDLER In an ideal world, every toddler would own We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (McElderry, $17.95, ages 1-6), a picture book full of elements young children love, including animals and nature sounds. First published in 1989, this version of the classic tale was illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, two-time winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, England’s equivalent of the Caldecott. If a toddler on your list already owns a copy, consider Five Little Ducks (Orchard, $12.99, ages 1-6), a new version of the nursery rhyme with sunny illustrations by Ivan Bates.
AN UNEMPLOYED EXECUTIVE Barbra Ehrenreich writes about her effort to find a white-collar job in Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuite of the American Dream (Owl, $13, paperback), a scathing portrait of a “transition industry” full of career coaches, resume consultants and others who may offer little in exchange for their steep fees. Ehrenreich never found the kind of job she wanted but offers a more realistic look at unemployment than many authors who tell job-seekers, often cruelly, that being fired is “the best thing that ever happened to you.” www.barbaraehrenreich.com
A VERMONTER (OR VERMONTER-AT-HEART) Noel Perrin admits Vermont has “a rotten climate” and other drawbacks as a place to live. But his love for his state – and for New England in general – shines in Best Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer (Godine, $24.95), an eloquent collection of essays on such topics as calving, maple sugaring, and the influx of tourists, introduced by Terry Osborne.
A WOMAN OF A CERTAIN AGE Nora Ephron takes on all those books about mellow menopause I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (Knopf, $19.95), a collection of blunt and witty essays on getting older and related topics.
AN X-RATED TALKER Okay, movies no longer have the “X” rating. But a lot of us still have at least one friend whose off-color jokes all seem to have originated back in a fraternity house. You’ll find plenty more of those politically incorrect lines-to-make-you blush in Steve Ochs’s National Lampoon Jokes Jokes Jokes: Collegiate Edition (National Lampoon Press, $10.75, paperback). Just don’t encourage the recipient to read your gift aloud at your holiday dinner.
YOUR CHILD’S SOCCER COACH The World Cup: The Complete History (Aurum, $24.95) isn’t a narrative history but an encyclopedia of every World Cup from the 1930 to 2006. Author Terry Crouch complied this book late enough to include all the 2006 qualifiers but not the winner. So your child’s soccer coach may be amused to learn that because of their “solid defense and slick counter attack,” the Italian team members look like “good bets to get to the last four this time.”
A ZEN CHILD Know a child whose parents do yoga, don’t eat meat, and see themselves as Buddhists in spirit? Track down the 2005 picture book Zen Shorts (Scholastic, $16.95, ages 4–8), which tells three classic Zen tales, wrapped around the story of a giant panda who befriends two young boys and their sister. Author John Muth says the panda is “based partly on the Zen artist/teacher Sengai Gibbon (1750–1838), whose drawings were used as gentle teaching tools.”
Finally, dare I suggest my own first novel, The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999), which tells the story of a young reporter who decides to bail out of her over-the-top wedding for 350 guests? Publishers Weekly called the book “a witty and wise comedy of manners that pays homage to Jane Austen” (www.janiceharayda.com/mybooks). And Kirkus Reviews said: “Sparking with wit and humor, this is a story that charms.” And if you put more faith in ordinary readers than critics, here’s what one fan said in the “Reader Reviews” on Amazon, www.amazon.com. “Not since Bridget Jones’s Diary have I laughed like this! I loved this book — I found myself excited to crawl into bed at the end of the day and read. It let me drift off into another place and leave the stress of my day behind — the definition of a succesful book! Especially great if you are a Jane Austen fan.”
Watch for other gift book lists later in the season on One-Minute Book Reviews, including the Last-Minute Holiday Gift Book List and the Grandparents’ Guide to Gift Books for Children. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts.
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.