Looking for the quintessential all-purpose gift this holiday season? Consider a book.
“Books are a guide in youth and an entertainment for age,” James Collier, author and journalist, said years ago. “They support us under solitude, and keep us from becoming a burden to ourselves. They help us to forget the crossness of men and things, compose our cares and our passions and lay our disappointments asleep.”
Happily, not much has changed. A book is a marvelous thing to give and to receive at any time of year. The crop of books for 2012 was wonderfully abundant both in content, variety and well — to say the least — colorful, at least as far as the dubious discovery of the … ahem … too many shades of grey in one particular series.
That being said, for the fiction lover, a few worth giving are “Rules of Civility,” a first novel by Amor Towles, which centers on the life of a young woman living in Manhattan in the 1930’s, her friends, her work, her love and her maturation; “The Flight of Gemma Hardy,” by Margot Livesy, who was heavily inspired in this book by her love of Jane Eyre, but with a modern twist, and “The Art Forger,” by B.A. Shapiro, which is an intriguing story about the intricacies of painting, love and theft. Some other fiction suggestions are “The Shoemaker’s Wife,” by Adriana Trigiani, Kate Morton’s “The Secret Keeper,” Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth,” and M.C. Stedman’s “Light Between the Oceans.”
In the mystery thriller category, if there is a person you know who has not read “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn, then wrap it up quickly as this fast- paced book with some truly flawed characters sharing a troubled relationship, was the summer’s favorite page turner. Dennis Lehane is also at it again with his newest novel, “Live by Night,” set in the prohibition era, featuring a Boston Police Chief’s son turned gangster. For those who loved the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” introduce them to Jo Nesbo who has come out with yet another Harry Hole Detective novel, “Phantom,” a truly suspenseful, good for a long cold evening by the fire kind of book. Others waiting to be gift wrapped in this genre are “12/12,” by Dustin Thomason, “The Racketeer,” by John Grisham, and “The Panther,” by Nelson DeMille.
For the non-fiction fans, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s “Killing Kennedy” reads more like a page turning thriller than a factual account of an event we are all familiar with. A startling and heartbreaking description, three years in the reporting, of the lives of families in the hidden world of Annawadi, India — “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Katherine Boo — is a must read. “How Children Succeed,” by Paul Tough, will be a book worth discussing by parents of newborns, teens and those in between.
In the biography category, John Meacham’s long-awaited bio on “Thomas Jefferson,” or Walter Stahr’s “ Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man,” an in- depth look at William Henry Seward , the governor of New York, U.S. Senator and one of Lincoln’s closest advisor’s should please the American History buff on your list.
For those interested in design both interior and exterior, there have been a few that have come out this fall that will please in a variety of ways. Miles Redd’s “The Big Book of Chic,” is an oversized, gorgeous coffee table book filled with this eclectic designer’s avant garde style. Interior designer Barbara Barry’s “Barbara Barry’s Around Beauty” explores the power beauty can inspire in our everyday lives with exquisite photographs highlighting her use of simple classic lines and nature inspired décor. “The Great American House,” by Gil Schafer III, is a photographic spectacular of houses we dream of. At a more attainable level is “Young House Love,” a terrific how-to tome filled with inspirational and doable ideas from John and Sherry Petersik, the young couple who have the well-known blog of the same name. Also in the fabulous coffee table category, not to be missed for any Baby Boomer who loved Mick and the gang is the “Rolling Stones 50.” An oversized veritable encyclopedia of everything Stones, bursting with photos and stories for which you will get “satisfaction.”
For the world traveler on your list, “Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time,” by Mark Adams, is both inspirational and informative from an historical and modern day perspective. Also not to be missed in the travel category is the “New York Times 36 Hours 150 Weekends in the USA and Canada.” Even if your friend’s travels don’t usually take your recipient out of his armchair, this might be just the ticket to get him to new undiscovered places.
For the chef in your life, the one and only Barefoot Contessa has come out with her newest — “Ina Garten: Barefoot Contessa Foolproof Recipes You Can Trust;” carmelized bacon, need I say more? The fabulous Thomas Keller has invited us into his “Bouchon Bakery” with mouth watering recipes, including a deceptively simple and delicious recipe for his mom’s pecan sandies. Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer of the Canal House fame, have created their biggest and most beautiful cookbook yet, “Canal House Cooks Everyday,” with, as the title implies, delicious recipes geared for every day of the year. Stanley Tucci has cooked up some divine Italian fare in his eponymously named “The Tucci Cookbooak.” In the entertaining category, Pippa Middleton, who should really know a bit about entertaining royally, has just come out with “Celebrations: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends.”
For the kids on your list, there are a wonderful assortment for all ages and interests and best of all, books require no assembly or batteries!
For fans of Chris Dusen’s “If I Built A Car,” the very newest one, “If I Built a House,” describes the most wonderfully imaginative house there ever was. “Each Kindness,” by Jacqueline Woodson, is an unusual picture book about bullying and it’s aftermath. “Mossy,” by Jan Brett, is filled with his familiar and beautiful illustrations and the story of the journey of an unusual turtle. Some other favorite recent picture books are “The Further Tales of Peter Rabbit,” by Emma Thompson, and “The Fairy Tale Princess,” by Wendy Jones and Su Blackwell, and “I Want My Hat Back,” by Jon Klassen.
For the first through sixth grade reader, sequels abound. Rick Riordan’s “Heroes of Olympus Book 3: The Mark of Athens,” is just as much of great immersion read as the first two, and continues the saga of Percy Jackson. Matthew Cody, author of “Powerless,” has come out with the sequel, “Super,” which is a terrific reminder of how powerful are the traits of loyalty and friendship. “Super” is also a nominee of the Connecticut Nutmeg Award and all of the books on that list would make great gifts as well.
Fans of the “Emerald Atlas,” by John Stephens, will be glad to discover the further adventures of Kate, Michael and Emma in “The Fire Chronicle.” “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” details the woes of middle school love in “The Third Wheel,” Number 7 in the series. And for lovers of the ever dark and snarky Lemony Snicket, he’s back, in “Who Could That Be at This Hour.”
The middle school and high school readers who were fans of the “Hunger Games” will take great pleasure in both “Divergent” and its sequel, “Insurgent.” Libba Bray’s “The Diviners” takes place in the 1920’s and is a rich, complex novel filled with diverse characters and chilling situations. “Legend,” by Marie Lu, will also not disappoint lovers of dystopic fiction. You also may be surprised to see and want to share some of your favorite adult authors putting pen to paper for the Young Adult crowd. Philippa Gregory has just come out with “Changeling,” Harlan Coben alarms us with “Shelter,” Elizabeth George spins a mystery without Inspector Lynley in “The Edge of Nowhere,” and James Patterson excites in “Confessions of a Murder Suspect.”
For movie lovers, make sure they have read “Life of Pi” and “Cloud Atlas” before queuing up for tickets.
For a little shout out to local authors and friends, give a copy of New Canaan author Michael Turpin’s laugh out loud book about a fathers and sons in the Jurassic Baby Boomer age, “T-Rex by the Tail,” and thriller lovers will enjoy Greenwich author Jeffrey Stephen’s “Targets of Deception,” and “Targets of Opportunity,” in anticipation of the third in the series due out in February.
And lastly, with potentially a long, snowy winter ahead, one new book that every family should have had during Hurricane Sandy is “Unbored,” a wonderful compendium of clever, unplugged activities for all ages and a variety of interests.
Truly, there is nothing like a book for gift giving. At the end of the Christmas day, when the unwrapped gifts lie in piles and the feast has been eaten, for young and old, giver or receiver, what a joy to curl up, unwind and lose yourself in the pages of a well thought-out book.
Melissa Thorkilsen is a lifelong avid reader. She has worked in the magazine business as an event planner at People magazine, as a book buyer and seller at Booktopia Book Fairs, continues to work as a freelance photo organizer for Swickpix in New Canaan, and currently is happily recommending, selling and wrapping up books as a floor manager at Elm Street Books in New Canaan.