Are books the best Christmas presents? Unless you're lucky enough to be getting one of those Lexuses with the giant bows on top, we think so. Read on, then get to shopping.
For the Would-Be Actor
Whether it's your cousin or your own teenage daughter who has dreams of moving to New York and making it big, we can't recommend pushing Lauren Graham's Someday, Someday, Maybe (Ballantine) on them highly enough. You could write-off the first novel by the star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood as a vanity project or chick lit, but then you'd be missing out on a very funny and very truthful depiction of life as a struggling actress in New York. Graham doesn't gloss over the ugly parts, which more than makes up for the predictable love triangle. Plus, the book is full of cute drawings that Graham did herself. Also recommended for the Gilmore Girls fan in your life.
For the Person Who Can't Stop Talking About Food
Buying someone a cookbook is always tricky—what if the recipes are too complicated, or too far away from the person's tastes, or, worse, don't even work at all? We suggest buying a book about food instead. And this year's must-have book is Dana Goodyear's Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture (Riverhead). A writer for The New Yorker, Goodyear has spent a couple of years immersed in the kitchens that are changing the way we eat, and she's come away with a fascinating read. We think even the vegan or gluten-free food lovers on your list will find something in the book to chow down on.
For the Person Who Still Isn't Over Her Rotten Ex
In my circle of friends, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Henry Holt) has been a divisive book—they've either loved it or loathed it. Me, I'm somewhere in between, but I have to say Adelle Waldman has created a masterful depiction of a Brooklyn literary cad who doesn't quite realize what a jerk he is. If He's Just Not That Into You isn't getting the message across, read this. You won't look at dating the same way afterwards.
For the Person Obsessed With the Early 1990s
Who needs Buzzfeed or terrible Urban Outfitters retreads of clothes we wore 20 years ago when you can read juicy gossip about the time period instead? Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind, by Gavin Edwards (ItBooks/HarperCollins), is a biography of the beautiful and talented River Phoenix, who died from a drug overdose at just 23. It's written in short bursts of chapters, perfect for this ADHD generation, and has all sorts of amazing tidbits of years gone by. (Ione Skye dated Anthony Kiedis? Really?) Almost worth it alone for the pictorial inset.
For the Person Who Asks You for Dave Eggers' The Circle
Look, we aren't saying don't buy someone you love what they want. But we are suggesting you take a look at Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed (W.W. Norton), which traverses similar territory in a much more sophisticated way, yet has gotten a tenth of the press of Eggers (if even that). Horn's novel revolves around a software prodigy, Josie, who's invented a program that records everything its users do and archives it. But Horn's not interested in the sinister surveillance-state implications of such a program (although it's certainly touched upon)—she's fascinated by the moral and ethical implications of what it means to never throw a moment away. There's a whole lot more to the plot, of course—it's loosely based on the story of Joseph—but if you want to read a smart novel struggling with the most central ramifications of technology in our everyday lives, as parents and siblings and lovers, this is the book for you, not The Circle.
For the Vodka Drinker
Vodka's all fine and well—we love Bloody Marys as much as anyone—but the preponderance of those sugary flavored vodkas has got to stop, and now. We suggest fighting fire with fire—that is, with bourbon. Pick up a copy of Nashville native Clay Risen's excellent American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit (Sterling Epicure) and encourage your vodka lover to start trying out different spirits. Risen has compiled tasting notes for more than 200 whiskies, so you're bound to find something you like. And the book's beautiful design and photographs make it a pleasure to flip through (and easy to make sure you're getting the right bottle in the store). One small problem: All the major online retailers are sold out of the first printing, and the second won't arrive until mid-January, so check your favorite indie bookstore for copies.