Chauncey’s bailout plan for literature: buy books for Christmas (with lists)
Last week in Virginia my sister, a smart and well read young woman, asked my advice on a book for her father-in-law for Christmas. She casually mentioned she plans to buy books for everyone this year. I immediately thought: What a great idea! It would solve so many problems if we all did that.
First it would make buying presents easier. But more important, it would amount to a massive bailout package for bookstores and publishers, and God knows, they need one. If we all bought books for everyone on our Christmas lists, it might save American culture, at least as I know and love it. Can you imagine a nation without bookstores? Me, neither.
Of course, it does beg the issue of what book to buy for each person. We’ll get to that in a minute. First, if you do decide to join in on Chauncey’s Bailout Plan for Literature, let me lay down a couple of ground rules. No. 1: If at all possible, do your shopping at an independent bookstore, like Books & Books in Coral Gables, The Tattered Cover in Denver, or Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. Independents, like small businesses in general, most need the help.
Alas, far fewer independents exist today than even a decade ago. If there isn’t one in your community, then shop at one of the chains, Barnes & Noble or Borders. True, they have done all they can in recent decades to put independents out of business (boo! hiss!), but they do a good job of imitating the traditional bookstore appearance. If a chain store is all you have, you don’t want to lose it.
Do not buy books online or at a big box discounter. Yes, Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart, I’m talking about you. These companies have no vested interest in books, writers, readers or literary culture. Books are just another widget to them, and they’ve lately been using books as loss leaders to drive customers to their websites, where they expect to make up the money lost on books when shoppers buy pricier, more profitable items.
But, I add reluctantly, it is better to buy books from Amazon, Target or Wal-Mart than to not buy books at all. But only if you must.
Once you’ve settled on books for Christmas gifts, the question arises of what book to buy each person. My sister’s father-in-law, for example, is not much of a reader, so she thought something sports related might do, like Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, Jonathan Mahler’s social history set against the Yankee’s 1977 season. I could not recommend any golf or NASCAR books, his chief sporting pursuits, as I have no interest in those games. Perhaps someone can name a few for us?
Meanwhile, a number of critics, bloggers and websites have thoughtfully made gift suggestions this week. Many good books there, too. USAToday has a good selection of 12 new Christmas themed books, from Wally Lamb’s comic novel Wishin’ and Hopin’ to You Better Not Cry, by the determinedly controversial Augusten Burroughs.
NPR has a new list of “The Best Five Books to Share With Your Friends,” all of which would make dandy stocking stuffers, including The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis and Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli’s amazingly inventive graphic novel about a self-obsessed architect and college professor.
Karen Long, book critic at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, published a list of books for gift-giving this week, all titles from this year. Among them: Dan Choan’s Await Your Reply, Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder, and Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (there it is again!).
If you want gift-giving advice from yours truly, I refer you to my recent selection of favorite books from 2009, which you can find by scrolling down on this page. I will also offer four evergreen titles: Why not A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens? Combine it with Les Standiford’s fascinating The Man Who Invented Christmas, the story of how Dickens came to write his iconic novel, and you’ve got a sure-fire fiction-nonfiction tandem.
Animal lovers should consider Cleveland Amory’s The Cat Who Came for Christmas, one of the finest pet memoirs of all time. I’m also extremely fond of High Spirits, a collection of Christmas-themed short stories by the late great Robertson Davies, one of Canada’s top novelists of the second half of the 20th century. All time faves without Christmas themes include Mark Harris’ trio of baseball novels (The Southpaw, Bang the Drum Slowly and It looked Like Forever), Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man, and the funniest book of al time, Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.
Please do us a favor, and share your recommendations for books suitable for Chritstmas gifts.