I love giving and receiving books as presents during the holidays; in fact, they're all I ask for any more when the season comes around.
First of all, I love the material feel of a book. Unlike the digitized pixels downloaded on a Kindle or smart phone, I'm nostalgic for the rectangular heft of a bound series of typed pages, the resistance of a sturdy spine. And when they're gifts, hardcover editions are the only option.
The book as a gift acts as a symbolic placeholder for hours of future engagement and conveys an air of sophisticated intellectualism. But gifting books can be a tricky endeavor. You don't want to gift a book that someone will never read or already owns. So what can you get this holiday season that is sure to impress the bookworm who has already read it all?
To help you check off your holiday shopping list, we got a little help from the resident literature experts, The Texas Book Festival. They invited over 250 best-selling authors to this year's Festival, but there are still so many other great writers that are also new and noteworthy.
Clay Smith, the Literary Director of the Texas Book Festival, offered his suggestions for this year's best books that might have flown under even the most well read Austinites' radars. Gathered below are his recommendations for every type of hard-to-shop-for book lover on your list:
1. For someone who thinks they’re well-read: Melville House’s The Art of the Novella series contains 37 mostly lesser-known novellas by literary titans like Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf and The Touchstone by Edith Wharton. You can pick and choose individual novellas, but if you buy all 37 brightly colored books (for a hefty $300) they’ll throw in a cool Bartleby the Scrivener bag and five extra novellas by Chekhov, Casanova, Conrad, von Kleist and Kuprin.
2. For anyone making a resolution to be less materialistic: Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects has lots of images of priceless objects elegantly photographed throughout its pages. But the ease with which MacGregor (who is the director of the British Museum) surveys world history is infectious. This book makes for a beautiful gift.
3. For the armchair traveler: Robert Hughes’ Rome: A Cultural, Personal, and Visual History is jammed with cultural history, but never didactic. This book is a thrill to read. (If you want more about Rome, check out Andrew Graham-Dixon’s Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane). And the anecdotes in Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography get right to the heart (in 688 pages!) of exactly what makes that city so alluring and contentious.
4. For the fan of graphic novels (and epic love stories): Craig Thompson’s Habibi, about two orphaned lovers, is sweeping and colossal. But the novel is also about the strange relationship we have to our environments and our histories. Not everything is resolved in this novel in the same way not everything is resolved in life. Undoubtedly, one of the year’s finest graphic novels.
5. For the new mother (or longtime daughter or son): Despite its title, you wouldn’t exactly call Claire Dederer’s Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses a book about yoga. It’s really a book about how to laugh at yourself and how the author discovered joy amidst all the rules and expectations modern mothers face. In this witty book, Dederer thinks about her mother’s generation and unravels some of the sanctities and values of her own.
6. For any fan of the Old West (or any fan of good fiction): Patrick deWitt is a young novelist and screenwriter from Oregon whose brief novel The Sisters Brothers, about a pair of hired assassins named Eli and Charlie Sisters, is incantatory, darkly funny, and vivid, with an electric plot. Fans of True Grit (the Charles Portis novel or the Coen brothers’ film) will love this novel.
7. For the biography reader: Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention was, literally, a lifetime in the making. Marable died just before this definitive book about the minister, criminal, activist, and icon was published. Longtime biographer Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers is a captivating book about a beloved villa above the Italian village of Ravello that sheltered a group of women who peered in at, but never achieved, respectability: Alice Keppel, the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales, and the novelist Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West’s lover, among others. A Book of Secrets is master biographer Holroyd’s opportunity to examine the delights and intricacies of being a biographer.
8. For those who want to believe saints live among us (including the skeptics): Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel Queen of America, about his great-aunt Teresita, the Saint of Cabora (whom he wrote about previously in The Hummingbird’s Daughter), is deeply felt, funny, and epic, moving between Mexico, El Paso, and Manhattan. Teresita, who’d rather not be called a saint, experiences a saint’s ultimate temptation: love.
9. For the fan of (someone else’s) family dramas: Yannick Murphy’s The Call is a novel told in a series of short statements, about a rural New England family whose routine is upset when their eldest son is shot during a hunting accident. This poignant, slyly comedic novel is filled with imperfect people who attain a hard-won redemption.
10. For anyone who’s tired of entertaining during the holidays: Ali Smith’s funny and barbed There but for the is about a man at a dinner party in a swanky London suburb who gets up during dinner, goes to an upstairs room, locks himself in it, and refuses to leave. As neighbors and friends begin to pool themselves around the house to see how the drama will unfold, Smith playfully gets us to think about what we need from one another, and why we also need to be apart.
To get in the holiday spirit, Texas Book Festival is giving away a basket of books from this list to a lucky winner. To enter, tweet @TexasBookFest with one of your favorite reads from 2011.
Throughout the season, if you shop for any of these books (or others) through the Give As You Get website, a portion of the purchase price will be donated by the retailer to the Texas Book Festival to help them bring literacy and learning to Texas youth year-round.