I spend a lot of time thinking about books as gifts, though. Giving a book can be an intimate thing. The better you know a person, the easier it is, of course. But books can work for the people in your life you don’t know quite as well—colleagues, your children’s teachers, a secret Santa, hostess gifts.
There are few novels that really work for everyone, but here are a couple that come to mind. Amor Towles’ novels seem to be admired near universally, by men and women, and his newest The Lincoln Highway has many of my customers in raptures. One that I often recommend is Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller, which the New York Times described as having “the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller,” which I think gets at what makes this book so good and so widely appreciated: it’s smart and propulsive, cerebral without taking itself too seriously, plus it involves a chase across Norway with a perfectly unreliable narrator. I would also put Ann Patchett’s and Elizabeth Strout’s novels in almost anyone’s hands.
When it comes to nonfiction, feel-good and uplifting is always a good way to go. This could come in the form of humor (did you hear David Sedaris has a new book out this fall?) or beauty (the small book of poetry and art Lost Spells by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris comes to mind) or spiritual (perhaps one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books) or just spirits (a book of cocktail recipes is a great choice when you’re attending a holiday party this season, for example). The most perfect gift book in years, though, just might be The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which combines beautiful artwork with inspirational text perfect for all ages.
Giving books to book lovers can be intimidating, but when I think about my favorite books that have been gifts, part of what makes them so special is the very fact that someone I love loved that book and wanted to share it with me. Then reading becomes a shared experience, a way to get to know and understand your friend or family member better. In these cases, spontaneity can often be your friend. We kept multiple copies of The Museum Guard by Howard Norman (until it went out of print) in our house, in case we found ourselves in conversation with just the right visiting friend in need of a good book, something to reinvigorate their reading life. Two books on my shelves I treasure, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, both came from my friend Kelly, from similar circumstances. Holidays don’t invite spontaneity, necessarily, but if you’re feeling stumped, returning to an old favorite might be just the inspiration you need this season.
Hannah Harlow is owner of The Book Shop, an independent bookstore in Beverly Farms. Harlow writes biweekly recommendations for us. See more of what she recommends reading at thecricket.com.