Bookworm lists favorite holiday picks
Give the gift of reading
Did you ever notice how the holidays are all about OY?
Oy, as in JOY: a joyous season for family.
Oy, as in TOY: what the kids want from Santa.
Oy, as in OY, I don’t have my Christmas shopping done so now what am I going to do?
Yeah, and that last one is the toughie. So why not relax and head to the bookstore. Look for some of these gift ideas and wrap up a book….
There’s a little intrigue and lots of small-town flavor in “Cranberry Red”, the fourth in the Ames County series by Jerry Apps. In this new installment, people are getting sick because of a new chemical added to Wisconsin’s beloved cranberry crop. Can there be a connection? And more: if your giftee loves a good whodunit, check out “Truthful Moments” by Tom Reed. When a veteran witnesses a killing, it triggers his PTSD. Separating memory from murder might be a challenge. “Easy As Pie at Bobby’s Diner” by Susan Wingate is another fun mystery with a Thelma-and-Louise flair, and look for “The Shadow Woman” by Ake Edwardson. Set in Sweden, it will make your shiver.
Is your giftee a major fan of “The Office”? Then they’ll love “Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch” by Richard Hine. Professionally, Russell Wiley’s life stinks and his job at a newspaper is practically causing ulcers. Personally, things are no better. And then it gets worse. Hint: wrap this book up for your budding journalist.
Does someone on your gift list love to bite into things-that-go-bump-in-the-night novels? Then wrap up “Venom” by Jennifer Estep, because this novel – a bit of urban-fantasy-crime-drama and the third in the series – has vamps, dwarves, assassins, and more, and it’s partly set in a Tennessee bar-b-cue joint. What’s not to love, right? And along those same lines, look for “The Vampire Book: Third Edition” by J. Gordon Melton, PhD. This uber-comprehensive “Encyclopedia of the Undead” will surely make your vampire fan show her fangs with happiness this holiday….
Who doesn’t like a good whodunit for the holidays? If you know your giftee loves intrigue, wrap up “Innocent Monster” by Reed Farrel Coleman. When Moe Prager’s daughter asks for a favor, he dusts off his PI license and gets to work. Also look for “By Hook or By Crook”, edited by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg. That’s an anthology by more than two dozen of your favorite authors, and it’s a can’t-miss for mystery mavens.
If there’s a Monkeewrench fan on your list (and if there is, you know what I’m talking about), then you’ll get lots of smiles when you give “Shoot to Thrill” by P.J. Tracy. When a floater is found in the Mississippi River, Minneapolis detectives Magozzi and Rolseth are on the case, while the Monkeewrench crew is working with the FBI. Can they, together, stop a killer?
If time is always of the essence for your giftee, then wrap up “Blue Vegas”, a quick-to-read anthology of short stories by P. Moss. There’s a seamy side of the City in the Desert, and Moss writes about it – and he should know. In his “other life”, he’s a gambler himself, as well as a bar owner in Las Vegas. I also liked “As If We Were Prey” by Michael Delp. This skinny book – part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series – is filled with short stories, and is perfect for the giftee who loves to read but is thin on time.
Novel lovers will relish reading “The Good Daughters” by Joyce Maynard. In this book, two “birthday sisters” with totally different personalities share their love for one’s older brother throughout their lives. This book spans several decades and put a smile on the face of everyone who embraces love and family. Also try “An Irish Country Courtship” by Patrick Taylor. Set in Ireland, this sweet romance may be just what a wintering leprechaun needs.
Sometimes, you just need a good oater, right? If you’ve got a western fan on your list, you can’t go wrong with “Texas Standoff” by Elmer Kelton. This novel of the Texas Rangers has horses, guns, cowboys… what more could a reader need? Also try “Take Me Home” by Brian Leung. Set in Wyoming in the 1880s, this beautiful novel is about forbidden (but necessarily chaste) friendships, secrets kept, and one woman’s quest to stay alive. Without a doubt, there’s times when nothing else but a good story will do. If you’ve got a novel lover on your list, then take a look at “The Wake of Forgiveness” by Bruce Machart, a book about a young horseman’s life quest to make things right and repair the past. Wrap it up with “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by Tom Franklin, another book about the past visiting the present with shaky results.
Who among us didn’t struggle to find our place in the world way once upon a time? If your giftee still is, you may want to wrap up “Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same” by Mattox Roesch. This book, set in Alaska, is about a boy from Los Angeles who hates living up north but is intrigued by his cousin, who is nothing California-like. And from the other side of the continent comes “Safe from the Sea” by Peter Geye, a book about a son, his father, and a long-buried family story.
Got a parent on your list? Then look for “Without a Word” by Jill Kelly, wife of football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. This is the true story of their son Hunter’s illness and how they doggedly looked for a way to save his life against incredible odds. Wrap it up with tissue; it’s that kind of book.
Also look for “Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid” by Gina Gallagher & Patricia Konjoian. That’s a book filled with tips and help for parents of special children facing challenges in a world that loves perfection. And don’t forget to look for “The Modern Dad’s Dilemma” by John Badalament, EdM. For a father who wants the best relationship with his children, this book is perfect.
Brand-new parents won’t need it now, but they’ll definitely want “CyberSafe” by Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP around in the near future. This book will help them keep their kids safe in this digital world – including social media, texting, web searching, and gaming – because that little one will be computer literate before you know it. I also liked “Brain Rules for Baby” by John Medina and “Beyond Smart” by Linda Morgan. Both of these books will help you help your baby get a jump-start in life. Also look for “Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Preanting” by Amy Lou Jenkins, outdoorsy families will cherish.
Are your giftees looking forward to an adoption in the coming year? Then you’ll want to give them “In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You to Know About Adoption” by Elisabeth O’Toole. This guide for relatives and friends answers questions that you all will be asking, and it addresses the good and worrisome about the process.
Does someone you know love to be scared? You won’t find many things scarier than “Real Monsters, Gruesome Critters, and Beasts from the Darkside” by Brad Steiger. This comprehensive book by the Master of Monsters is filled with short, readable paragraphs about all sorts of things that go bump in the night. Be sure to wrap it up with a flashlight, for obvious reasons … Also look for Steiger’s “Real Zombies, The Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse” and “Mirage Men” by Mark Pilkington, a book about UFOs, espionage, and paranoia in America.
You’ve given gift baskets in the past to a lovely recipient. This year, add to the basket a copy of “No More Dirty Looks” by Siobhan O’Connor & Alexandra Spunt. This helpful book is filled with information on the things she puts on her face, and lots of better-for-her ideas that she’ll feel safer using. Also look for “Unforgettable You” by Daisy Fuentes (yes, that D.F), a book about style, allure, and looking your most awesome and “Bad Shoes & The Women Who Love Them” by Leora Tanenbaum, illustrated by Vanessa Davis. Your shoe fashionista can’t be without it.
Does your giftee love the movie (or play) “Chicago”? Then he (or she) will love to read “The Girls of Murder City” by Douglas Perry, the true story that inspired the movie. This book is scandal extraordinaire, and will also appeal to anyone who loves to read about good old-fashioned gangster-era crime. I also enjoyed “Chasing the White Dog” by Max Watman. That’s a true adventure of moonshinin’ and outlawin’. Every scientist, philosopher, and astronomer on your list will love unwrapping “How It Ends” by Chris Impey. How will the world end? How will we end? Will the universe implode? Not a doomsday scenario, this is straight science about how all good must come to an end, and it’s perfect for laboratory lovers or anyone who’s just plain curious about this sort of thing. For more science-y reading – albeit, on the weirder side – your giftee might like “Hidden Realms, Lost Civilizations, and Beings from Other Worlds” by Jerome Clark. This book is also perfect for anybody who cherishes things that jump out in the night.
For that favorite neighbor, you can’t go wrong with “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs” by Heather Lende. This wonderful book is about living in a small town in Alaska, knowing your neighbors, and – snow. Lots of it, and love, too. Why do you like what you like? Good question, answered in “How Pleasure Works” by Paul Bloom. This fascinating book explains what makes us happy, why we choose the things we choose, and why it even matters. Not just for scientists, I think this book is a good gift for businesspeople, teachers, or anyone who loves to study humans. Along the same lines, look for “Born for Love” by Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry, M.D., PhD. That’s a book about empathy, love, and how we’re hard-wired for both. Also try “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine, a book on the differences – biological and cultural – of men and women.
Got an athlete on your gift list? Then wrap up “Death, Drugs, and Muscle” by Gregg Valentino. This biography tells the story of a man who got deeply involved with bodybuilding – so much so, that he started dealing in drugs. It’s all true, it’s controversial, and it’s cautionary, so be aware. Also look for “A Bum Deal” by Rufus Hannah & Barry M. Soper, a memoir of homelessness, underground fame, and redemption.
Looking for something for the armchair genealogist? Wrap up “Shaking the Family Tree” by Buzzy Jackson. This is the story of a woman in search of a story about her family and where they came from. It’s a fun book and may spur you to get involved in your family’s history, too. You might also want to look for “Stealing Secrets” by H. Donald Winkler, a history book about women spies during the Civil War and how they may have changed the outcome with their courage and talents.
Does someone on your list love to travel? Then you can’t go wrong by giving “Turn Left at the Trojan Horse” by Brad Herzog. This wonderful book is the story of a cross-country search for lost youth and American ideals. Wrap it up in a map and a gas card for a great bon voyage! Another travel-type book – and this one will appeal to musicians, too – is “Fiddle” by Vivian Wagner.
This is the story of Wagner’s newfound love of a fiddle and her journey to find others who love to fiddle around. If you’ve got a historian on your gift list, you’re lucky because gift giving is easy this year. First of all, wrap up “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland” by Jeff Biggers. This book is part history, part social commentary, and a lot of human interest, and the timing of it couldn’t be more perfect. Also check out “Inside America’s Concentration Camps” by James L. Dickerson. This comprehensive and well-researched book is about a part of our history that is little-discussed and – surprised? – on-going, even today.
Does your giftee believe in the Boy Scouts motto, times four? Then wrap up “It’s a Disaster! … And What are You Gonna Do About It?” by Bill and Janet Liebsch. This book is filled with step-by-step ways to protect families and assets in every kind of disaster possible, from the benign to the worst imaginable. Though this book may be a little hard to find, it’s worth it. Also look for “The Viking in the Wheat Field” by Susan Dworkin. That’s a cautionary true story about preserving our crops and food sources, and it will give you food for thought.
If there’s a politician on your list, you may want to look for “More Davids Than Goliaths” by Harold Ford, Jr. This book, part politics and part memoir, also tells the story of a life lived with values and morals, and is perfect for anybody who must know what’s going on in Washington. Your politician may also like “The Handy Philosopher Answer Book” by Naomi Zack, PhD. This comprehensive book looks at the lives and words of the great thinkers, and it’s easy to browse, too.
Looking for a gift that will last awhile? Then wrap up “Mandela: A Biography” by Martin Meredith. This brick of a book (over 600 pages) tells the story of a modern-day hero, his life, and his works. Yes, there are pictures in here, but they pale in comparison to the story. I also loved “Homeless Hearts” collected by Dr. Jean A. Newsome. This book – written by homeless women living in shelters – tells the kind of stories that could happen to any of us. It will bring tears to your eyes and make your giftee very, very thankful this holiday.
And speaking of thankful, look for “Dove on a Barbed Wire” by Deborah Steiner-Van Rooyen. It’s the true story of a concentration camp survivor and the author’s almost-forty-year journey to piece together his memories and to find family. There’s brutality in this book, but also beauty. I liked “A Sense of Duty” by Quang Pham, too. That’s a memoir from a former Vietnamese refugee who escaped and later became a U.S. Marine combat aviator.
Does your giftee want more out of life? Then you’ll get smiles when they unwrap “More or Less” by Stephen Redding. Inspirational and heart-felt, this book offers plenty of suggestions for personal growth. Also look for “Five Wishes” by Gay Hendricks, an uplifting book that may make miracles in someone’s life – or wrap up “Regaining Body Wisdom” by Reiki Master Silvia Casabianca, which promotes health through consciousness and inner healing.
Beatles or Stones? Mick or Paul? Brian or Ringo? Your giftee has definite opinions on those questions, so you’d be well-advised to look for “The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones” by Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot. Filled with pictures and tons of stats, this book will make your giftee smile big. For an added grin, wrap it up with “Star Guitars: 101 Guitars That Rocked the World” by Dave Hunter. This picture-packed, heavy tome tells the story of Lucille, Blackie, Frankenstat, and more.
Tired of giving the same old thing (cookbooks) to your foodie friend? Then wrap up “Best Food Writing 2010”, edited by Holly Hughes. This book contains stories about eating, eats, and what to eat – and it includes recipes, too. And if your cook is into growing it her- (or him-) self, then a can’t-miss gift is “The Polytunnel Handbook” by Andy McKee & Mark Gatter. This book gives relatively easy, step-by-step advice for building an eco-friendly greenhouse that will allow any gardener to indulge in the passion year ’round. Oh, and don’t forget to look for “Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato” by Arthur Allen. Yep, it’s a book about tomatoes. Who could resist?
No doubt, there’s a car aficionado on your gift list, so look for “Road Show: Art Cars and the Museum of The Streets” by Eric Dregni and Ruthann Godollei. This fun, picture-filled book will make gearheads smile, roll their eyes, and want to get crackin’ on making their wheels wonderful, too. Another irresistible book for collectors is “Collecting Under the Radar” by Michael Hogben & Linda Abrams. What will collectors want in a year, or five, or 20? This book may help your giftee decide, and it’s fun to look through, too, with pictures, tips, and lots of sidebars.
Moms, Dads, and Grandparents are always hard to buy for, but this year, you can rest easy. Wrap up “Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life” by Jan Warner and Jan Collins. This book covers the basics and then some – finances, health care, marital situations, even planning for your pets. Also look for “The Best of Everything After 50” by Barbara Hannah Grufferman.
This jam-packed paperback includes advice, hints, tips from experts, health and beauty information, financial nudges and tons more. And one more: just to put a smile on someone’s face, look for “The Complete Geezer Guidebook” by Charles F. “Chuck” Adams. Filled with cartoons, jokes, bios, anecdotes, and fun, this book (meant for a grump) is definitely anti-grumpy!
Everybody knows somebody who loves to dig deep into the human psyche, and I’ve got two suggestions to fill the bill: “The Art of Choosing” by Sheena Iyengar is a book about why we pick what we pick and how our choices mold our lives and attitudes. I also loved “How We Live & Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells” by Lewis Wolpert. Either book is perfect for your science geek, so why not wrap up both?
For the budding writer, “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves is an excellent gift this holiday. This revised edition includes advice, exercises, fun stories, things to do, and ideas for anyone who wants to work with words. And speaking of writers, look for “The Great Typo Hunt” by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson, the true story of two men and their cross-country jaunt for the sake of proper punctuation.
No science geek should be without a copy of “Seeing Further”, edited by Bill Bryson. This thick tome tells, through essays, the story of science through The Royal Society, starting three hundred fifty years ago. Filled with pictures, this is the perfect gift for anyone with a curious streak. Also look for “How to Disappear” by Frank M. Ahearn. This book is perfect for conspiracy theorists, the curious, and anyone who just wants to be left completely alone with their books.
Soap fans will love opening a package that contains “The Days of Our Lives: The True Story of One Family’s Dream and the Untold History of Days of Our Lives” by Ken Corday. This surprising book tells the story of a family that conceived the serial that has kept fans’ attention for over forty-five years.
Since you wouldn’t want to burst your soap fan’s bubble, wrap up this book filled with insider peeks, trivia, and reminiscings. And speaking of reminiscing, you might want to look for “The Thunder and the Sunshine” by former Senator Gary Hart, a hard look back at politics, America, and living a life of service.
One of my Best Books Ever celebrated the 15th anniversary of its initial publication this year, and I promise you won’t regret wrapping up “Salvation on Sand Mountain” by Dennis Covington, the true story of a journalist who joins a snake-handling church in order to report on an attempted murder. Though the first few pages are a little slow, it’s worth the wait because this book is brilliant. This version updates readers on the lives of the people inside. Also look for “A Beggars Purse” by Toni Nelson, a faith-based look at homelessness and poverty in Las Vegas.
Got a cook on your list? Then wrap up “The Mitsitam Café Cookbook” by Richard Hetzler. This book is filled with recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, so you know this is a very different kind of cookbook and the sidebars and pictures make it an even better gift. Wrap it up with “Muffins & Mayhem: Recipes for a Happy (if Disorderly) Life” by Suzanne Beecher, a memoir with recipes.
Here’s a book you’ll want to wrap up and you’ll also want a copy of your own: “Never Pay Retail Again” by Daisy Lewellyn. Filled with tips, ideas, and ways to look and feel smart on a budget, this book will make you and your giftee both smile in the coming year.
Does your giftee relish a good biography? Then wrap up “Designated Fat Girl” by Jennifer Joyner. This is the true story of an obese woman: her life, her trials, and her decision to save her own life. Sobering, but a great read. Another great book (think: lots of biographies) is “Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike” by Charlotte Gray. This is a book about gold in them thar hills, and for anyone who feels rich this holiday, it can’t be missed.
If there’s a CSI fan on your gift list, you’ll be glad to give “The Profiler” by Pat Brown with Bob Andelman. This is the true story of a woman who knows killers like she knows her own face – because she hunts them down for a living. This book is not for the faint of heart, but it’s an excellent read for your armchair detective. Also look for “Denial: A Memoir of Terror” by Jessica Stern, the true story of an expert in terrorism and PTSD who is forced to remember her own assault at the hands of a serial rapist. This is a lock-the-door kind of book, so be aware.
Armchair psychologists will love “The Measure of Madness” by Cheryl Paradis. What goes on in the mind of a serial killer or psychopath? Paradis, a forensic psychologist, teases the truth and your giftee will love it. After all, with a subtitle like “Inside the Disturbed and Disturbing Criminal Mind”, what’s not to love? Another must-read is “The Anatomy of Evil” by Michael H. Stone, MD. This uber-scary book, filled with inside looks at many (too many!) despicable people will keep your true crime fan up all night, one way or the other.
Crime fighters love true crime stories, but this one is different: “Murder Behind the Badge: True Stories of Cops Who Kill” by Stacy Dittrich is a chilling look at the bad guys within the good guys. This book is filled with intriguing and fascinating chapters, each one about a flatfoot with a flat-out need for blood. I also liked “History in Blue” by Allan T. Duffin, a book about women in law enforcement from the 1840s to now.
If your true crime buff is tired of the same-old, same-old, then why not wrap up something different? Put “The Autobiography of an Execution” by David R. Dow under the tree. This is a memoir by a lawyer who has represented dozens of death-row inmates; it’s about his life, his work, and his beliefs. Wrap it up with another different book: “I Fell in Love with a Con Man” by Elizabeth Grzeszczyk.
Trivia and fun stuff
I’m a big fan of trivia, so I can tell you for sure that “The Judge Who Hated Red Nail Polish” by Ilona Bray, Richard Stim, and the Editors of Nolo is a trivia-lover’s dream. This light-hearted book is filled with “crazy-but-true” stories of law and lawyers, and it made me laugh. Wrap it up with “But They Didn’t Read Me My Rights!” by Michael D. Cicchini, JD & Amy B. Kushner, PhD for a great gift for lovers of humor, arcane knowledge, and law. I also liked “The Handy Law Answer Book” by David L. Hudson, Jr., a wonderful book for the curious and anybody who needs clarification on anything legalese.
Everybody needs to count their blessings, especially at a time like this. If your giftee has things like that on his or her mind, then be sure to give “The Book of Awesome” by Neil Pasricha. What simple pleasures do you love best? What things make you smile? This book will, for sure…
Without a doubt, anybody who’s curious – and that includes the squeamish – will love reading “The Curious World of Bugs” by Daniel Marlos, creator of WhatsThatBug.com. This book includes all sorts of info on all sorts of creepy-crawlies: the biggest, the smallest, eating habits, mating habits, habitats, and how to get them to move out of your house. If your giftee is of the nostalgic sort, then “Mr. Ed: Dead” by Barry Nelson and Tom Schecker will gain you smiles. This book is filled with obituaries of famous people (and creatures) that only existed in our imaginations.
Is there someone on your list who has always aspired to a medical profession? Even if he or she has attained the dream, your giftee will love “Becoming a Doctor”, edited by Lee Gutkind. This book consists of many kinds of stories from all kinds of MDs, and tells the good, the bad, and the ugly – all in an entertaining way. Also look for “What’s New, Doc?” by Elaine Myrie-Richards, M.D. This fun, quick-to-read book is filled with stories that will make you smile, gasp, or shake your head – and they’re all true!
If there’s a doctor-wanna-be on your gift list, look for “So You Wanna Be A Doctor??” by Richard S. Daniel and Shermian P. Daniel, M.D. This book is filled with stories from medical, dental and – surprise – veterinary residents and may help your future M.D. decide on a plan of A-C-T-I-O-N.
Does your recipient aspire to be like Dr. Doolittle? Then help them open the flow of communication between dog and owner by giving “Through a Dog’s Eyes” by Jennifer Arnold. This fascinating, useful book will give any dog owner an understandable way to understand their canine best friend, and – just like any good dog book – there are stories to read in between lessons, too.
If you’re like most pet-lovers, you wrap up gifts for Fido and Fluffy, too. But here’s a gift for you that’s actually for them: Chow Hounds by Ernie Ward, D.V.M. This book takes the wrapper off why our pups are portly, and it includes recipes that will make your pooch sit up and beg all year round.
Another book for you (but really for the dog) is “Trust the Dog” by the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation with Gerri Hirshey. This book is about you and your dog becoming a real team, and Poochie will thank you for getting this book “for him”.
Most pet owners think of Guide Dogs when they think of service animals, but if your giftee thinks of horses first, then wrap up “Horses with a Mission” by Allen and Linda Anderson. This book is filled with inspiring stories just for horse lovers and will thrill equestrians (or equestriennes) ages 12 and up. Another book for kids of all ages is “Royal and Snuggles” by Coleen Hefley. That’s a book about pet turkeys, and it’s one you may gobble up.
So your giftee is going green? Why not take the pets, too? “Pets Gone Green” by Eve Adamson is a book about making this world a better place with and for your pets. It includes advice on getting a pet, safe pet products, and more. It’s purrrfect for all kinds of pet lovers.
African American authors
What happens when you take two very different women and put them together in circumstances they wouldn’t normally ask for? You’ve got the novel “Butterfly Rising” by HBO star Tanya Wright.
This beautiful novel features a little magic, and lots of dream-making. Wrap it up for your favorite dreamer this year. Also try “Don’t Blame the Devil” by Pat G’Orge-Walker. If you’re looking for something unique for a gift, look for “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Lola Shoneyin.
This novel is the story of a man who has three wives and a passel of children. When wife Number Three arrives, it upsets everything. This small novel would make a great stocking-stuffer, when added with a bookmark.
For a bigger read, wrap up “Full Circle” by Ayana Ellis. It’s the story of a Brooklyn girl who gets involved with a gang of thugs but escapes The Life, only to dive into a life of easy money and violence with the man she loves. You won’t need a bookmark with this one; your giftee will race through this book.
Need a gift for your favorite guy? Then look for “Family Ties” by Ernest Hill. When a young man gets out of jail, he tries to reconnect with his mother but nothing goes right. His brother is on the lam, his mother is pointing fingers, and more. Got a dreamer on your gift list?
Show her that you believe in those dreams by wrapping up “The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women” by Elaine Meryl Brown, Marsha Haybood, and Rhonda Joy McLean. This easy-to-read book is filled with food for thought, “Mama-isms” and other great motivational words, and would also make a great gift for a recent or almost college graduate. For more inspiration, look for “It Is Well With My Soul” by Ella Mae Cheeks Johnson with Patricia Mulcahy. The sub-title, “The Extraordinary Life of a 105-Year-Old Woman” is all you need to know…
Your historian is going to enjoy unwrapping “Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This book, part history and part personal anecdote, takes a look at cultural studies from Britain to the U.S. to Africa. Also take a look at “Race and Renaissance: African Americans in Pittsburgh since World War II” by Joe W. Trotter and Jared N. Day. This hard-hitting, hard-history book is filled with stories, graphs, and lots of information, making it the perfect gift for a scholar.
“My Darkest Hour: The Day I Realized I was Abusive” by Harold L. Turley II is one of those books that you’re going to hate to give away – but in some cases, you know you’ll have to. Here, Turley comes to terms with the abuse that he endured, and he admits that he, himself, was an abuser. There’s advice in this book and more motivation to spur readers to get the help they need. This is an amazing memoir, but give it carefully… Also look for “At the Dark End of the Street” by Danielle L. McGuire, a story of “black women, rape, and resistance”, starting more than fifty years ago.
The historian on your gift list will definitely love unwrapping “Our Black Fathers: Brave, Bold & Beautiful” by Joslyn Gaines Vanderpool and Anita Royston. This book is filled with stories about and tributes to Black Men, including athletes, writers, men who made a difference, and men who created traditions within countries and within individual homes. Wrap it up with “Dare to Take Charge” by Judge Glenda Hatchett, a book about a woman who makes a difference, and the stories she has to tell, or “Say It Loud!”, edited by Catherine Ellis and Stephen Drury Smith. That book is about great speeches on Civil Rights and more, and includes a MP3 CD.
Everybody loves the circus, but if you’ve got an old carnie or sideshow historian on your gift list, wrap up “Circus and Carnival Ballyhoo” by A.W. Stencell and see what happens. Filled with pictures, more pictures, and lots of information, this book will definitely make a great addition to anyone’s library, no clowning.
Also look for “Guy Laliberte: The Fabulous Story of the Creator of Cirque du Soliel” by Ian Halperin. It’s the story of the man who created and formed one of the continent’s most-beloved troupe of performers and contortionists. Perfect for the circus-goer, this book will also appeal to anyone who loves a good rags-to-riches story.
If you’ve got a celebrity fan on your gift list – specifically, one who loves Britney – then you won’t be wrong when you wrap up “Britney Spears: Little Girl Lost” by Christopher Heard. This comprehensive biography includes pictures, facts and scandals, and lots of OMG moments. Wrap it up with the latest Britney tunes for a very welcome gift.
If adversity has visited someone on your gift list this year, show them that nothing can’t be overcome by wrapping up “The Jagged Years of Ruthie J” by Ruth Simkin. This memoir by a physician is about “Ruthie’s” years in a Maryland mental hospital, her abuse at the hands of a psychiatrist, her diagnosis with epilepsy, and her new life as she blossomed and freed herself from her former constraints. It’s an uplifting read for anyone who struggles with sexual identity, illness, or a past they’d just as soon not remember.
If your giftee loves to read memoirs that empower, then wrap up “A Passionate Engagement” by Ken Harvey. In this slim book, Harvey talks about coming out, meeting his husband, and becoming an activist. Politics play an important part in this book, so it might be a good choice for anyone who’s politics-minded, too. I also liked “Pre-Gay L.A.” by C. Todd White. That’s a book about homosexual rights, starting in Los Angeles some 70 years ago, up to the present day. Filled with interviews, history, and some great first-person accounts, this book would make an excellent gift for anybody who wants to know how the fight began.
If there’s a teacher on your gift list, a gasp-worthy gift to give is “And They Were Wonderful Teachers” by Karen L. Graves. This astounding book is the true story of a time in the not-so-distant past when Florida schools systematically fired or ridded itself of dozens of teachers, based on their sexual preference. Painful to read, it’s a can’t-miss for your giftee.
So your gay or lesbian giftee simply won’t settle for those old, archaic terms? Then wrap up “Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation” by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman. This new volume, a companion to Bornstein’s earlier work, consists of essays by transpeople, genderqueers, and yes, gay and lesbian writers.
Tired of boy-meets-girl novels? Then why not give a girl-meets-girl story: wrap up “I Came Out for This?” by Lisa Gitlin. This cute novel is the story of Not-So-Happily Ever After, and what happens when one woman goes looking for her Princess Charming after all. Also look for “All Lost Things,” a mystery by Josh Aterovis. When a newly-minted Private Eye receives a call for help from an ex-boyfriend, he agrees to take the case. But is the guy really innocent?
If a light romance is more what you’re looking to give, then give “Mirrors” by Marianne K. Martin. Jean Carson is a teacher and a wife, but she’s definitely not a lesbian. She and Shayna Bradley are just good friends. But a bullied student makes Jean think hard about her closeted choice.
Also on the light side is “Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell” by Kage Alan. When two wise-cracking friends are assigned to investigate an international terrorist group, they’re just as interested in snarking as they are to solve the case.
If your political animal is hungry for a good book on today’s issues, you’ll want to wrap up “Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage” by Tracy Baim. This heavy, heavy book is filled with pictures, essays, and thoughtful reporting on Barack Obama’s policies, his track record, and where he may be going on DADT and other issues that the LGBT community is watching. You’re also going to want to include bookmarks with this book – lots of them – because it’s going to be dog-eared if you don’t.
Here’s a great gift idea: buy two movie vouchers or rental coupons and wrap them up with “50 Years of Queer Cinema” by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince. There are lots of great suggestions in this book; old classics, new favorites, and films your giftee will want to watch again and again and again. Then, just for more fun, wrap up “Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher” by Monica Nolan. Really, who can resist a novel with a title like that one?
You’ve heard a lot of things about “branding”. But did you know that you’ve been branding all your life? So says “The Shark” Daymond John in his book “The Brand Within”. Perfect for young entrepreneurs or anyone who wants to learn more about this business staple, it’s also an easy, entertaining read. Also look for “Do More Great Work” by Michael Bungay Stanier. This quick-to-read book with lots of sidebars and little chapters will help your giftee focus on what’s important in work and life.
Does your giftee need a boost in the butt to get over the fear of success? Then wrap up “Life Unlocked” by Srinivasan S. Pillay, MD. Using research in neuroscience, this book lays out seven principals and lessons to overcome fear and embrace possibility for a much happier new business year. Also look for “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 101” by Lois P. Frankel, PhD. This is a book that helps businesswomen avoid the pitfalls that sabotage success in the workplace. It’s also a great book for a newly-graduating MBA. I also like “I See Your Dream Job” by Sue Frederick, a book that can help your giftee to find the perfect-fit new job.
If your boss is green-minded, he might appreciate unwrapping “The Positive Deviant: Sustainability Leadership in a Perverse World” by Sara Parkin. Filled with stats, stories, and ideas to make your business a leader in this new movement, this book is a little on the drier side but for anyone who’s interested, it’s perfect.
Keep in mind that it’s quite UK-centric, but that won’t matter to your like-minded giftee. Speaking of leadership, look for “American Entrepreneur” by Larry Schweikart, PhD and Lynne Pierson Doti, PhD. This big, fat book is filled with stories behind movers and shakers in the history of the U.S. business world, and is a gift that will last a long time.
Who started this economic meltdown? If there’s someone on your gift list who’s fascinated by it all, then you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “Big Bad Banks” by C.R. “Rusty” Cloutier. This skinny little book offers an explanation from a banker’s POV, info your giftee will want to know. Wrap it up with “Financial Serial Killers” by Tom Ajamie and Bruce Kelly, an inside story of Wall Street, con-men, hustlers, swindlers, and other nasties.
Is there someone you know who works too hard? Then wrap up “The World of Business” by The Economist. This pocket-sized hardcover book is filled with lighthearted tidbits about business, finance, money, scandals, and other fun stuff. Hint: it makes a great stocking-stuffer, and it’s not just for a businessperson, either. I also liked “Tweetonomics” by Nic Compton, Adam Fishwick & Katie Huston, illustrated by Daniel Mackie. This light-hearted book is filled with advice and answers to important questions in 140 characters or less.
If your giftee is struggling with the Generation Gap at work, “Generations, Inc.” by Meagan Johnson and Larry Johnson is a great book to give. Specifically meant to clear up generational confusion, this book answers the question: “Can’t we all just get along?” Also look for “Consequential Strangers” by Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman, PhD, a book on paying attention to everyone you come in contact with at work and away.
At this point in your life, you can recognize an overworked friend from a mile away. So you’ll easily recognize that “More Time for You” by Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson is a great gift. This book teaches your giftee how to manage life and work and merge both to make more time to enjoy things… like reading. Wrap it up with “Overcoming Buffaloes At Work & In Life” by Dr. Vincent Muli Wa Kituku. It’s a skinny book on keeping up with work so it doesn’t overtake life.
No doubt your giftee knows that the world is a big place and that the “home office” may be far away from home. Help out by giving “Managing International Business in Relations-Based versus Rule-Based Countries” by Shaomin Lin. This skinny little book with the serious title is packed with advice on approaching clients and colleagues with culturally different business styles. Hint: anyone traveling abroad might like the insight, too. Mama always said you never have a second chance to make a first impression.
Show your giftee that you’re helping make that first impression a lasting one by wrapping up “The Image of Success” by Lizandra Vega. This book starts with the basics and moves up to the clothes you wear, the etiquette you practice, and the things you should definitely not do at an interview.
So how did the mortgage crisis happen? Would your giftee like to know more about the industry? Then wrap up “Mortgaged and Armed” by Peter Hebert. This brick of a book explains the insides and upsides to the mortgage industry, including some cautionary tales and a few things to watch. It’s great for a business person, and useful for a curious homeowner.
Who can forget the Flood of 2009? Not your giftee, who lived through it and who will want to read “The 1,000 Year Flood” by Stephen J. Lyons. This book includes a few pictures and lots of stories of other survivors. Another book to check out is “A Short History of Wisconsin” by Erika Janik. This very browse-able book is filled with fun short stories and lots of pictures.
If you’ve got a giftee who’s far away and desperately misses home, then wrap up a little home to send: “Barns of Wisconsin” by Jerry Apps, photographs by Steve Apps. This updated version of Apps’ classic book also includes plenty of stories from a Master Storyteller, and will make your giftee smile through the missing.
Your historian is going to love reading “Badger Boneyards: The Eternal Rest of the Story” by Dennis McCann. Filled with pictures of cemeteries and monuments to average people and heroes alike, this fascinating book is only slightly macabre and a little shivery, but definitely not one to miss. If there’s a new homeowner or an architect in your family, you’ll rise quickly to Best Present Giver status if you wrap up “Wisconsin’s Own” by M. Caren Connolly & Louis Wasserman, photography by Zane Williams.
This heavy, absolutely gorgeous book is filled with photographs and illustrations of several of Wisconsin’s most-notable homes and resorts, all once owned by lumber barons, beermeisters, and turn-of-last-century millionaires. This is a hard book to let go, so beware: you may want a copy for yourself.
Dads and grandpas can be hard to buy for, but the one on your list will enjoy “Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories: Our Veterans Remember” by Sarah A. Larsen and Jennifer M. Miller. This book, filled with mini-memoirs and pictures from forty veterans, also includes the kind of stories that will make your jaw drop. Hint: Moms and grandmas can be veterans, too.
Surely there’s someone on your list who well-remembers the 1950s and ’60s, right? Then you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins” by Susan Sanvidge, Diane Sanvidge Seckar, Jean Sanvidge Wouters, and Julie Sanvidge Florence. This book is absolutely meant for Boomer Girls who remember skating, dating, waiting to grow up, and hating to leave those years behind. The extra good news: pictures!
No cowboy should be without “The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas” by Ron Franscell this holiday season. Filled with true stories of bad guys (and gals) from around the Lone Star State, this browse-able book is a fun to read treasure.
So you say there’s someone on your list who loves the odd and unique? Then wrap up “Weird Louisiana” by Roger Manley, and wait for the grin. This book, filled with pictures, is also filled with Louisiana’s best and strangest, including hauntings, roadside attractions, and eerie stories. This book will have your giftee saying “Who dat?” in more ways than one.
Kids’ books, ages 2 to 7
Does your little monkey love to mimic? If so, then wrap up “Mimi Loves to Mimic” by Yih-Fen Chou, illustrated by Chih-Yuan Chen. This cute picture book shows kids that they’re not alone in wanting to do what Mommy does, even though the results can be disastrous. You’ll also want to look for “Mimi Says NO” by the same authors, because your kids will be fans.
Want to introduce your littlest giftee to the world of books? Then try “Where to Sleep” by Kandy Radzinski. This cute board book is perfect for little hands, especially at bedtime when it’s time for kids (and kittens) to head to dreamland.
If your giftee is learning to count, then “Zero, Zilch, Nada: Counting to None” by Wendy Ulmer, illustrated by Laura Knorr is a great gift. In this colorful picture book, a little rabbit learns a few things about numbers zero to 100. Perfect for the littlest kids, I think older children will love it as a read-aloud. I also liked “A Flock of Shoes” by Sarah Tsiang, art by Qin Leng. It’s the story of a little girl whose beloved shoes go on a wild trip without her. It’s perfect for budding fashionista shoe lovers.
Kids love to know what Mom or Dad does when they go to work, and if your little giftee is likewise curious, wrap up “The Daily Comet: Boy Saves Earth from Giant Octopus!” by Frank Asch & Devin Asch. Young Hayward thinks that the newspaper his father writes for is a “big fake” but on the day that he goes to work with Dad, Hayward changes his tune. Can he save the city?
Older children with better attention spans will love “Lily’s Victory Garden” by Helen L. Wilbur, illustrated by Robert Gantt Steele. Set during World War II, this is the story of a young girl who answers an ad for gardeners, only to be told that she’s too young to help. Undaunted, she finds a way to support the War Effort. This is a longer story, but with great illustrations, and will quickly become a favorite for your little gardener. Also look for “The Good Garden” by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Silvie Daigneault. This book is about a Honduran family that struggles with having enough to eat, and receives help from a teacher who helps their harvest.
You can’t forget a Christmas book during the holidays, can you? Of course not, so wrap up “The Christmas Giant” by Steve Light. This is the story of a small elf and a big giant, and it lays to rest the question of who, exactly, decorates the tip-top of the tree.
Kids’ books, ages 7 to 13
Is there a kid on your list who loves fantasy stories? Then wrap up “The Invisible Order” by Paul Crilley. This book has it all: two orphans in Victorian London, faeries, a secret society, and an epic battle to save the city. What more could a young reader want?
And if your fairy tale lover also loves to cook, you can’t go wrong with “Once Upon a Time in the Kitchen” by Carol Odell, illustrated by Anna Pignataro. This unique book uses classic kids stories to present recipes that kids can make with an adult’s help (and a few recipes kids can do by themselves. Wrap up this book with a real mixing spoon and measuring cup for a yummy gift that kids will eat up.
Surely, there’s a budding scientist on your gift list. The easy gift, then, is “S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet” by Larry Verstraete, illustrated by David Geister. This cool book actually grows with your child: there’s an alphabet rhyme for younger kids and sidebars for big brother or sister, so your kids can both enjoy learning about science. Also look for “E is for Eiffel Tower” by Helen L. Wilbur, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene. In the same series as the above book, this grow-with-me book is all about France. It will have your kids saying “Oui!”
Kids just want to have fun, especially the ones with great imaginations. If that describes a kid on your list, then wrap up “Hailey Twitch Saves the Play” by Lauren Barnholdt, pictures by Suzanne Beaky. Young Hailey has a friend that nobody else can see, but Maybelle’s lost her magic. Can a cranky old man help her get it back?
Kids who are fascinated with The West will love unwrapping “Native American History for Kids” by Karen Bush Gibson. This book, filled with information and 21 easy-to-do activities, also includes lots of sidebars, pictures, and websites that kids can visit for more to learn.
Kids’ books, ages 13 to 18
Is your giftee heading to college after the holidays? If she is, be sure to give her “Take Me With You: Off-to-College Advice from One Chick to Another” by Nikki Roddy. This fill-in-the-blanks book will help her remember wisdom from the family, and it will act as a paper version of a security blanket for when she gets to her new life. Wrap it up with your phone number for extra love.
Your new graduate will like “Everything Sucks” by Hannah Friedman. This memoir is about surviving high school by becoming cool, and will make any recent (or about to be) high school escapee smile. Also look for “Life After High School” by Susan Yellin and Christina Cacioppo Bertsch. It’s another “coping through high school” book, but it’s meant for students with disabilities and their families.
It’s 1838, and two “free” black brothers are fishing near the Hudson River in New York City when an escaped slave shows up on the river’s banks. In “Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York” by Charles Fuller, the boys help the slave escape and are chased themselves. This book, filled with thrills and intrigue, will appeal to readers ages 10 and up – and that includes grown-ups, too. I also liked “Virgin Territory” by James Lecesne, a book about faith, miracles, and family.
I’m guessing you’ve got a vampire fan on your list, right? And that vampire fan has raced through the usual stuff but wants more? Then wrap up “The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Birth of a Killer” by Darren Shan. This prequel to the Cirque du Freak Series takes young fans back to a time when Larten Crepsley was a boy, and a vampire makes him an offer he can’t refuse…
For a budding historian or World War II buff, you can’t go wrong with “Surviving the Angel of Death” by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri. This is the true story of one woman’s fight for her life and that of her twin while enduring medical “experiments” in a German concentration camp. Not for the faint of heart, this book may also be a good gift for an adult who loves biographies with soaring endings.
For a fictionalized true story, take a look at “When Molly Was a Harvey Girl” by Frances M. Wood, the story of a young girl’s adventures at a time when the West was just being settled.
No teen with a smidge of self-respect will want to be without “Street Boners” from the creator of Vice Magazine and the Dos and Don’ts. Filled with pictures and wicked funny commentary, this book will make even the biggest geek feel like a fashion-forward model.
And there you are. If you’re still struggling, ask your bookseller for ideas. That’s why she’s there and that’s why she makes the big bucks. For sure, she’ll have lots of ideas to bring you jOY, better than a tOY, and oy … your shopping is done.