Christmas shopping season is upon is, but there's no need to stress. Who doesn't like books? The problem is finding the right one for everyone—books for the nonreader, books for the picky reader, books for the precocious young adult. We can't help you pick out a book for everyone, but this gift-giving guide should help narrow down your list. (We suggest going to an actual physical bookstore for assistance.)
For the Political Junkie: Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, by Ann Beattie (Scribner)
Mrs. Nixon is really one of the best books I've read all year and deserving of more lengthy review, but, alas, there is no time. Suffice it to say that Mrs. Nixon is neither a novel nor a biography; it is more of a meditation on the act of writing than anything else. Nor is Mrs. Nixon traditional Ann Beattie. The first chapter reads, in its entirety, "Mrs. Nixon's Nicknames, Including Her Code Name As First Lady: Buddy, Miss Vagabond, Irish Gypsy, St. Patrick's Babe in the Morn, Babe, Pat, Miss Pat, Patricia, Dearest Heart, the White Sister, Starlight." Yes, it's postmodern, but not annoyingly so—it's simply delightful to read, and a winsome gift for aficionados of history, politics, or writing.
For the Carnivore: Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, by Georgia Pellegrini (Da Capo Press)
Georgia Pellegrini left Lehmann Brothers to go to culinary school—not a bad move, looking back now—but she still brings the intensity of the Wall Street trader to her culinary pursuits. Pellegrini decides that if she's going to eat meat, she needs to learn how to hunt and kill and clean and cook it all herself. Girl Hunter is the story of her globe-trotting journey of self-discovery and meat and more meat, complete with recipes for everything from dove to elk to squirrel. But even if you're a vegetarian, her meditations on food and locavore culture are worth reading. This book won't be out until Dec. 15, but if you pre-order it from your local bookseller, you've got plenty of time to get it under the tree of your favorite foodie—or hunter.
For the Oxford American Subscriber: The Outlaw Album, by Daniel Woodrell (Little, Brown)
Woodrell is best known for his most recent novel, Winter's Bone, which was turned into an award-winning movie in 2010. But Woodrell has published a number of novels, most of which have been or are about to be reissued. And then there is this collection of stories, which came out in October. Many are sparse and short, most are gothic and violent—like, really violent—but the prose is compelling. I'm not going to call Woodrell the next Larry Brown or Barry Hannah, but admirers of both might do well to pick up The Outlaw Album.
For the Know-It-All: That Is All, by John Hodgman (Dutton)
The general American public knows John Hodgman best as the PC in the long-running Mac vs. PC commercials, but discerning lovers of humor know Hodgman is not just an actor and comedian, but a funnyman jack-of-all-trades. There's his work for This American Life, there are his podcasts, and there are his books, The Areas of My Expertise and More Information Than You Require. Now comes what Hodgman says is the third and last book in his trilogy of made-up trivia, That Is All. There is wine advice like, "ONLY wine from the Champagne region may be identified by the protected brand name JACUZZI," instructions on how to be a deranged millionaire, and even a guide to sports. ("Originally named POONA, after a popular burlesque show in India, badminton was brought back from that continent by repressed English soldiers with filthy minds. How else to explain its disgusting terminology?") Fans of nerdy humor and funny writing will not be disappointed.
For the Facebook-Status-Updating-Addicted Friend: 420 Characters: Stories, by Lou Beach (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
420 Characters is one of the strangest books to come across my desk this year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Illustrator Lou Beach started this project as a series of Facebook status updates, trying to compose a complete short story in the 420 characters allowed. The results are alternately creepy and amusing, and sometimes heartfelt, proving that less is often more, including the beautifully weird collages that percolate throughout the book. The perfect gift for those with compromised attention spans.
For the Retro Romantic: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures, by Caroline Preston (Ecco)
Preston's past novels (Jackie by Josie, Lucy Crocker 2.0) have exhibited her fascination with all things retro, but none has gone as far as The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, which is, literally, a scrapbook of vintage memorabilia. The plot of the novel is slight and predictable, but who cares about character development when the pages are so appealing to look at? Frankie Pratt moves from New Hampshire to Vassar to New York to Paris, and the cut-outs of old news clippings and advertisements make this whimsical story a great gift for any friend obsessed with pretty old things.