‘Tis the Season. . . for Book Lists

Now that Thanksgiving has past, and we all are still dozing in our softest chairs, it’s suddenly time to turn our attention to the gift-giving holidays ahead and to end-of-the-year retrospectives. I enjoy compiling lists and this is certainly the season for that. In the newspaper business, we generally make “best of the year” book selections while regular columnists glance back over their favorite reading of the past 12 months. I’ve always enjoyed such personal recommendations—especially in the holiday lists compiled by the Times Literary Supplement and The Spectator. But, of course, each of us also scribbles down possible gift ideas for our various family members.

The Post will be running its best books of the year round-up very shortly, so I don’t want to steal its thunder by revealing my own favorite books of the year. Do look out for it, though. But I can talk about books that I’ve given to others in years past. Maybe these will help some of the other Reading Roomers in their present-buying.

When my sons were growing up, I’d invariably wrap up classics of adventure fiction. The complete Sherlock Holmes stories. Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines.” Anthologies of weird tales and ghost stories. Single author collections by H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James. Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination.” The works of Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Vance.

Today I might try to match their vocational interests—medicine, public relations, and chemistry. If I hadn’t already bought it for him, I’d buy the eldest a Teaching Company DVD about anatomy and the human body. Over Thanksgiving I noticed the youngest reading a library copy of Isaac Asimov’s “History of Physics,” so I might look for a copy of that.

For my wife, who is a prints and drawings conservator at the National Gallery of Art, I usually choose mysteries or art books. In years past I would buy standard volumes on the graphic arts— how to make woodcuts and engravings, the history of papermaking, that sort of thing. But she now has all the obvious classics and the more arcane ones are either expensive or unknown to me. When I run out of bookish ideas, I usually settle for earrings or silver picture frames.

For my mother, I generally bring home to Ohio a box of children’s books. My Mom isn’t a reader, but she enjoys looking at the pictures in children’s books and daydreams of giving some of the better ones to her great-grandchildren. Just the other day I rounded up a dozen or more Christmas classics from the Wheaton Library Friend’s store for her. I look for nice copies, but she isn’t picky about them being ex-library.

My family knows it’s virtually impossible to buy books for me and so I usually ask for a few CDs or DVDs, or machinery to play them on. That said, I don’t seem to actually listen to much music or use my iPod and I might watch one or two movies a month. I gave my Bose headphones to my youngest son, whose house is noisy, so that he might block out some of the distractions. No, I’m pretty much fixated on books and book tschotchkes, such as pictures of writers or fountain pens or notebooks.

There’s a good chance this year that the family may receive an iPad or e-book reader, especially if someone expresses passionate interest in one. If so, I’ll finally spend a little time reading digitally and—who knows?—be converted to their slender splendor.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a certain handsome little volume called “On Conan Doyle,” published by Princeton University Press, an entertaining volume without which no library or household is complete. It also makes an ideal stocking stuffer, house-warming gift or channukah present.

In my own past, I would generally set aside two or three books for relaxing holiday reading, usually golden-age mysteries or single-author supernatural collections. But this year I seem to be so backlogged with work I may not get any time to read strictly for pleasure. Sigh. I seem to have a few more years in salt mines before I can enjoy my own supposed golden years.

But enough about me. What books do the other members of the Reading Room intend to give as gifts this holiday season? Of the year’s books which have been your favorites? Do you have particular titles as your go-to gift when you need a present for a child? Please share your thoughts.

Michael Dirda

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