As our trusty Book Editor, Beth Woodward, finishes her Christmas shopping, let’s revisit some of her book-buying recommendations for the readers in your life.
Thanksgiving is over, and the Christmas shopping season is officially upon us. (Actually, for some of you more conscientious types, the Christmas shopping season was upon us weeks or months ago, but I can’t deal with anything Christmas-related until after Thanksgiving.) When it comes to the holidays, I’ve always been a money-and-gift-card kind of girl. It’s not that I don’t want to get more creative with my presents; it’s just that I often have trouble thinking of what the people in my life might want.
This year, I’ve decided that, in addition to those gift cards for the Gap and Best Buy, I’m going to get everyone I know a book. Not just any book–I’m going to think about their personalities, their likes, their dislikes, and pick a specific book out for each of them them based on that. My only rule is that it has to be a book I’ve actually read; I can’t, in good conscience, give the people I love books I haven’t read.
Why am I doing this? After all, I’m sure most of my friends and family are perfectly happy with gift cards. (It’s the thought that counts, right?) Simple: sharing the gift of reading with other people makes me insanely, unbelievably happy. If one person I know reads one more book because of me, then I feel I have done a good thing. (Just call me the Holiday Book Elf.) And if one of you reading this gets some gift ideas for your friends and family–even better!
And now, for my list:
My Mom: An avid reader (shocker!) and a lover of all things science fiction and horror. Stephen King and Dean Koontz are favorites. Not a fan of romance or explicit sex scenes, but bring on the blood and gore!
My gift to her: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is a fantastic book, and I think the dystopian future is something my mom will dig. Several years after an apocalyptic event (the nature of which is never explained, but maybe it doesn’t matter) that left the world barren and dying, a father and son struggle to travel south, where the warmer conditions might help them survive longer. It’s harrowing and heartbreaking and hopeful, all at the same time. (Amazing that it won a Pulitzer, because honestly, many Pulitzer Prize winners bore me to tears!)
My brother: Not so much of a reader, so this is a riskier proposition for him. He’s athletic, gregarious, and popular–basically, the opposite of me. (I keep telling Mom that one of us must be adopted. She keeps insisting that we’re not.) Loves sports. He’s in the military right now, but he often chafes at the authoritarianism of it. (Okay, so maybe we have one thing in common.)
My gift to him: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I read this years ago and thought it was hilarious. Not because it was exaggerated, but because–as a civil servant myself–I knew just how true it was! The bureaucracy, the red tape, the idiosyncratic orders and the pure, unadulterated idiocy were all too familiar to me. And if it resonated for me, I think the resonance would be even more profound for someone actually in the military. It might be good for him to know that he’s not the first–nor will he be the last–to experience such things. Misery loves company, even if the best I can do for that is a book.
My brother’s girlfriend: I don’t know her very well, but from what she’s told me (and what I’ve gleaned through a little bit of Facebook stalking), she likes classic novels and nonfiction. Jane Austen is a favorite. She also likes historic movies.
My gift to her: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon’s novel retains its massive popularity even 19 years after its publication–and it’s easy to see why. Shortly after WWII, Claire, a combat nurse, inadvertently travels through time to 1743 Scotland, where she is picked up by a group of Scottish Highlanders, who believe she’s an English spy. Although she longs to go back to her own time and her husband, she develops a strong attraction to Jamie Fraser, a young Scot who has a personal vendetta against an English captain who, unfortunately, also happens to be her husband’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. It’s wildly romantic and epically historic, set against the backdrop of a looming war that Claire knows about, but can do nothing to prevent. It’s also brutal and disturbing at times, an emotional roller-coaster of a book. In short, it’s awesome. And far be it from me to keep the yumminess that is Jamie Fraser to myself.
My friend, A: She’s often busy with work, so she doesn’t have a lot of time for reading. She likes “soft” romance (e.g. Nicholas Sparks), nonfiction, and occasionally memoirs. More character-driven sci-fi or fantasy might be all right–we bonded over The Time Traveler’s Wife–but anything beyond that would probably disinterest her.
My gift to her: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This epistolary novel tells the story of the residents of Guernsey, a small island that was occupied by Germans during World War II. Alternatively sweet and sad, triumphant and tragic, it’s not afraid to show how the human spirit can overcome the horrors of war. Also, it’s fairly short and a quick read–great for a reader with limited time.
My friend, B: Likes Sex and the City and another fan of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Her personality is fast-paced and snappy. Tends to be a bit of a workaholic, sometimes at the expense of other things in her life.
My gift to her: The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks. Ahhh, the book that ruined all things Nicholas Sparks for me. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good: every book that Sparks has written since then just seems like a pale imitation, reaching for the genuine emotion The Notebook invokes. It tells the story of Noah and Ally, who fall in love as teenagers but are separated by their parents’ objections to their class differences. Years later, the two reunite, but it may be too late to recapture what they once had: Ally is engaged to another man. In the present day, an elderly man narrates Noah and Ally’s story to a woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The story may not be surprising–anyone who’s ever read a book before can probably infer who the elderly couple is by about Chapter 2–but that doesn’t change the way it’ll affect you. If you’ve seen the movie–which I’m pretty sure Belinda has–it doesn’t matter: the book is way better.
My friend, T: Newly married, and very much reveling in that. She likes the Twilight series, but also not afraid of more “adult” sex scenes. (She recommended Nora Roberts to me.) Likes all different genres, and has recently asked me to recommend some classic books for her to read.
My gift to her: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Of all the classic novels I could have picked, why Wuthering Heights? Because Emily Bronte’s classic has a bit of everything. Romance: Heathcliff and Catherine’s torrid, passionate, and ultimately destructive love makes for one of the most memorable relationships in literary history. Horror: Heathcliff would do anything, hurt anyone, to get what he wants–revenge. Supernatural elements: Catherine’s ghost, as we learn early in the story, seems to haunt Wuthering Heights. Atmosphere: Whenever I think of this book, I think of Catherine and Heathcliff running wild on the English moors. This book, with its haunting, gothic tone and its dark themes, can be seen as a precursor to a lot of the paranormal romances out there today. (Yes, even Twilight.) And hey, isn’t it refreshing to know that, once upon a time, not all romances had to have happy endings?
My friend, M: Australian living in the UK. He reads voraciously, often having several books going at once. Likes science fiction, though I don’t think he’s particularly picky about genre. He also enjoys teasing me about my Americaness.
My gift to him: Feed by Mira Grant. It took me awhile to figure out what book to get M, but when I read this one a few weeks ago, I immediately knew this was the one. The year is 2040, and it’s been 25 years since zombies invaded the world, the result of a mutated viral strain. Now, most of the world’s population avoids the risk of zombie attacks by being shut-ins. Those who do venture outside are subjected to crazy security measures to make sure the virus hasn’t activated. The scary thing: EVERYONE is infected; it’s just a matter of time until the virus ceases to be dormant. Three bloggers are selected to cover a presidential candidate’s campaign as embedded reporters, but several zombie attacks lead them to believe that someone is targeting the candidate for assassination. When I read this book, I expected it to be about the dangers of following a presidential campaign in a zombie-infested world. But instead, it read more like a political thriller than a horror novel–an exciting, taut thriller that never fails to surprise. I also think M will enjoy the sly commentary on the American “culture of fear,” our political system, and the evolution of journalism in the age of New Media. I also love that the novel takes place after the zombie invasion. The zombies are just THERE, an ever-present fear as much a part of that landscape as terrorists are for ours. It’s the kind of book you can take a lot of different things from, and I think M will like that.