The first week of December is drawing to a close and this means a couple of things:
1) It's pretty cold out there
2) The holidays are coming
If you're anything like me, gift buying is always a struggle. A fantastic gift just has to have so many characteristics: it has to have a good reveal factor, it needs to be (kinda) useful, it should be a little a fun and, perhaps most importantly, it has to show some thought went into it. A box of chocolates is tasty and all, and it might be perfect for a real chocolate connoisseur, but does it really scream careful consideration and love? Maybe not.
In my opinion, this is why books are always a great gift option. They look exciting upon reveal with their aesthetically pleasing covers, they have the capacity to educate and entertain and, above all else, they show you put in a little love, especially if you pick a book that's a good fit.
This being said, there are a lot of directions you can go since 'Books' is a a pretty wide category. To make your life easier, here's the 2017 Holiday Gift Guide from Truths + Edits:
1) The Grandparent: Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
A Canadian Classic that is filled to the brim with charm, humour and cheeky wit. Published in 1912, Leacock's novel will take the elder generation right back to their childhood days when life was a bit simpler. As you might expect, it's a collection of short stories, or 'sketches,' populated with the characters you'd expect to find in a small, early 20th century town: the Reverend, the proprietor of the main Hotel, the owner of the Barber shop, etc.
All the stories in this collection are set in the fictional Ontario town of Mariposa, but I honestly believe they have a universal appeal. On a personal note, I gifted this to my own grandfather a couple of years ago and he absolutely loved it.
2) The Black Humourist: Charles Bukowski's Post Office
If you haven't read Bukowksi before, well, it's an experience. I think his work tends to provoke a strong reaction in readers which ranges from strong hatred to adoration. If the person on your list tends to dislike the gritty, vulgar, unfortunate aspects of life, this probably isn't for them. However, if they're the ones always cracking those harsh, maybe a bit too far jokes, it will be a match made in heaven.
This is Bukowski's first novel and it, not a big surprise, follows narrator Henry Chinaski through his trials and tribulations working at a post office. A semi-autobiographical piece, it is just filled to the brim with Bukowksi's dry, cynical and hilarious reflections on life. I personally think it's fantastic but, again, proceed with caution.
3) The Parent: Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day
I can't say enough good things about this novel or it's author. Apparently the crew who hands out the Nobel Prize for Literature agree because they awarded it to Ishiguro this year 'who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of correction with the world.'
This novel is considered his masterpiece and is told from the perspective of ageing butler, Stephens, as he recounts his 'glory' days of service to Lord Darlington. However, as the novel progresses, we come to see that things are not always quite what they seem. Ishiguro is a master of nuance and subtlety, particularly as he explores human relationships, and it's highly evident here. Poignant, heartbreaking and full of nostalgia, this is the perfect novel for the parent.
4) The In-Law: Bill Bryson's A Brief History of Nearly Everything
Depending on your relationship with your in-laws, they might be one of the tougher people to buy for on your list. This is why I think Bryson's non-fiction, brief history of the world is the perfect choice. It's educational, informative, non-offensive and also surprisingly fun to read.
Written in easy to understand language, Bryson takes the reader through, well, the history of nearly everything from the Big Bang to Newton and Einstein to quantum mechanics. I found it really interesting and approachable. It's also a great book to have lying around if you're ever wondering about something and feel like Wikipedia isn't quite doing the trick.
5) The Literary Expert: Erich Auerbach's Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
This mammoth of a book is a staple of literary criticism everywhere. Famously written in Istanbul during the Second World War after its author, a German Jew, was forced to flee Germany, it really does take you through the evolution of western literature, starting with a comparison between the Bible and Homer's The Odyssey and finishing with Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.
This is not light reading, but it's incredibly rewarding. Auerbach incorporates long passages of the texts he discusses in each chapter so you really get a sampling of a large body of literature and his close readings are full of insight. If you're shopping for someone who loves literature and is looking to delve a little deeper, this is a great selection.
6) The Bohemian: Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer
To me, Henry Miller epitomizes the bohemian dream. The poor, expatriate struggling writer in Paris living the nomadic lifestyle but also writing what will turn into a literary staple. Tropic of Cancer is a no holds, autobiographical account of Miller's time in Paris in the late 1920s and the early 1930s. It is rich with poetic language, vivid description and also graphic passages that resulted in it being banned for obscenity in the United States.
Despite its explicitness, I really think there is a lyrical beauty to this novel. It encompasses youth, adventure, love and also heartbreak. For the wild Bohemian on your list, this will fill them with delight.
7) The Millennial: Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad
Egan just published another novel, Manhattan Beach, but I much prefer her Pulitzer Prize winning novel from 2011. I say novel, but it's really a collection of interrelated stories set at various times from the late 1960s to the near future. The stories, for the most part, deal with the struggles of growing up, the surprising places life can take you, the tendency towards self-destructive behavior- themes I think all young, 20-something adults are familiar with.
Egan heavily experiments with structure in this novel (one chapter is written as a PowerPoint) which has led to critics labeling it as 'post- postmodern.' It's forward thinking, it's creative, it's full of reflection, it's amusing, it's different. It will make a Millennial reader happy.
8) The Rebellious Teenager: Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals
I read this when I was a teenager and although my life paled in comparison to that of the characters in this novel, I certainly related. Told from the first person perspective of young teenager Baby, it follows her as she moves from living with her Heroin addicted father Jules, to various foster homes and to eventually staying with a pimp. Dealing with heavy material such as drug abuse and prostitution, it also includes moments of simple beauty.
This is one of those novels that will make you cry, make you appreciate everything you have, but also show you that happiness can be found anywhere, even in the dark, shadowy areas of the city. If you're buying for a teenager with really protective parents, maybe not the right choice. But otherwise, it's a fantastic read with lots to offer.
9) The Dreamy Adolescent: William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience
I don't think anything really expresses the magic of childhood mixed with the pains of growing up quite like this collection of Blake's poetry. Split into two parts, Songs of Innocence is full of romance, beauty and the dreaminess of youth while Songs of Experience introduces the harsher, grittier aspects of life you begin to see as you enter adulthood.
I'm not sure I quite appreciated this when I first read it as a young 18 year old, but it's something I've gone back to again and again as I've grown older. To me, it really deals with the difficulties of ageing, and I think it would make a great addition to any adolescent's bookshelf.
10) The Poetry Lover: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass
You might not have heard of Leaves of Grass but you've probably heard, 'Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes' a few times in your life. That's a quote from 'Song of Myself' which is found in this collection of Whitman's poetry.
Whitman spent most of his life writing and rewriting his masterpiece, and it is full of meditations on pretty much all that matters in life: nature, beauty, the human spirit, love, freedom, etc. Another piece of literature that was criticized for being obscene when published, it has become a staple of the American poetry tradition. Whitman was also hugely influential, so anyone who has an interest in modern poetry would do good in going back to the roots Whitman planted. Or, I guess in this case, leaves.
11) The Feminist: Judith Butler's Gender Trouble
Judith Butler is a notoriously difficult writer, but she revolutionized the way we conceive of gender. First published in 1990, Butler takes us through the various assumptions made about women, gender and identity. Her central argument is that gender is a cultural construct we perform, and behind this performance, gender is really just a concept based on lack. Complicated, yes. Highly thought provoking, absolutely.
This might not be for someone just looking for some light reading. But if you have an inquisitive feminist or LGBTQ activist in your circle, this could just be their next favourite book.
12) The Child: Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree
This picture book is really more than just a children's book: it contains lessons and evokes questions we should be asking at all ages. Silverstein's story of a giving tree and a child is a heartwarming tale of endless love at the same time as it forces us to contemplate our relationship with the environment and the way we receive giving.
Although it has elicited its fair share of controversy, I think this is a good thing. If the goal is to raise children to be active, engaged citizens, discussing The Giving Tree is a great place to start.
13) The Treasured Friend: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
Okay, so this is the second Ishiguro novel on this list but, come on, he's a master and this is his year of winning the Nobel Prize, after all. Although The Remains of the Day is his best known work, I really have a soft spot for Never Let Me Go, a novel that revolves around three friends as they grow up at a mysterious boarding school.
Told by Cathy, a 'carer,' Ishiguro presents a world that is much like ours, but also eerily different. Nevertheless, at its heart it explores the complexities of friendship and love, particularly when the two spheres overlap, and the need for compassion and forgiveness. Another masterpiece by Ishiguro, it's a beautiful tale that really tugs at the heart strings and makes a meaningful and thoughtful gift for that treasured, longtime friend.
14) The Boss Co-Worker: Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles
Another somewhat tough person to buy for is the boss or co-worker. Even if you have a fairly friendly relationship, you probably don't want to go too far out there. And so, a classic read that is nevertheless highly entertaining: the Sherlock Holmes novel.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is just pure fun. Widely considered to be the best of Conan Doyle's novels, it tells the mysterious case of the murder of Sir Charles Baskerville on his Devonshire estate. If you've ever wondered why Sherlock Holmes is the most famous detective ever and lives on in popular culture, this novel full of wit, humour and intrigue does a good job explaining it.
15) The Hustler: Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie
Mitch Albom was a highly successful, award winning sports writer who defined the concept of the 'hustler.' However, his life changed when he viewed his old professor, Morrrie Schwartz, on Nightline discussing his views on living and dying. Albam reconnected with Morrie, who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, ALS and began visiting him every Tuesday. The resulting discussions formed Tuesdays with Morrie.
This is a powerful work that really brings you back to what's important in life: family, friendship and love. It's easy to get caught up in the rat race, chasing success, wealth and that next promotion, but everyone can learn from Morrie's generous, kind and giving approach to life and happiness. For the hustler who tends to overwork themselves on your list, this could prove to be a highly inspirational read.
16) The Activist: Thomas King's Truth and Bright Water
There are a lot of different directions you could go with this one, but I think a Thomas King novel is a great place to start. Set in the Prairies along the Canada-US border, Truth and Bright Water is a coming of age story that deals with themes of race and identity as it follows Tecumseh and his cousin Lum on their various adventures leading up to the Indian Days Festival.
Heavily populated with elements of magical realism and memorable characters, King explores hard questions relating to aboriginal rights and the legacy left behind from colonialism. Even though it focuses on the native community, its concerns are widely applicable. For this reason, it makes a great gift for the activist in your life, and if they enjoy it, they can easily proceed to King's nonfiction work, such as The Imaginary Indian.
17) The College Student: Donna Tartt's The Secret History
If there's a more engrossing, entertaining and horribly amusing novel out there on college students I'd love to find it. In the meantime, there's The Secret History to keep us happy. Set at a New England liberal arts college, Tartt's first novel is a sort of detective novel that various critics have described as a 'whydunit' rather than a 'whodunit.'
This is because we learn who murdered Bunny on the opening pages of the novel, and the primary question becomes why it was done. Narrated by student Richard Papen, the novel takes us through his first year of college as he becomes intertwined with a group of Ancient Greek scholars and gets in thoroughly over his head. Filled with wit, suspense and an obsession with Ancient Greek, this is a great gift for a young academic.
18) The Yogi: Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching
I was recommended Tao Te Ching by a stranger in a bookstore who saw me confusedly looking at a bookshelf of Eastern philosophy, so I'm paying it forward by recommending it again. An ancient Chinese text who's origins are rather mysterious (Lao Tzu may be a real person, he also may not be), it consists of 81 short poems that reveal the way of virtue (the title is loosely translated to 'The Classic of the Way's Virtues').
Tao Te Ching is a fundamental text for Taoism, and has strongly influenced Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism. Its simple language encourages interpretation and resists closure, which I think adds to its beauty and wisdom. This is a text you can return to again and again, and would make a lovely read after a morning yoga session.
19) The Tech Expert: Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
If there was an untold reading list for computer science and tech nerds everywhere, this book would be at the top of it. However, it holds that place for a reason. Underneath the guise of Buddhism and motorcycle maintenance, it really is just an intellectual, philosophical book exploring fundamental life questions.
A fictionalized autobiography, it tells the story of a motorcycle trip made by Pirsig and his son Chris while recounting the story of 'Phaedrus,' a college professor who grew fascinated with the concept of 'Quality' to the point that it drove him mad. Largely concerned with philosophical questions regarding approaches to life, it makes for a thought provoking and highly stimulating read.
20) The Cynic: Don DeLillo's White Noise
Don Delillo's writing tends towards the dark humour and absurdity of Charles Bukowski's but on a much more approachable and, perhaps, intellectual level. Considered to be DeLillo's breakout novel, White Noise tells the story of a professor of Hitler studies, Jack Gladney, who is forced to evacuate his home with his wife and children after a black noxious cloud appears.
A postmodern novel that deals with themes of environmental pollution, family values and concerns of mortality, Jack makes for a cynical narrator struggling to keep the faith. For the cynic on your list, this will make an easy novel to relate to, at the same time that it provides a bit of humour.
Are there any books you think would make for some solid gifts? Let me know in the comments below.