2012 Holiday Books Gift Guide

From what to get your bratty cousin to the perfect gift for Dad, herewith our ultimate gift guide of 15 astonishing, weird, and beautiful books.

From what to get your bratty cousin to the perfect gift for Dad, herewith our ultimate gift guide of 15 astonishing, weird, and beautiful books.

For those who missed the year

The Best American series


The Best American series—short stories, science, mystery, essays, sports, travel—are the perfect one-stop way to catch up on the year’s best journalism and fiction selected by editors like David Brooks and Dave Eggers. Perfect for that iPhone-hooked sibling or cousin who “just can’t unhook from work” to read anything.

For the mom or dad who doesn’t know about mp3s yet

360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story
By Sean Wilentz


What’s an LP? Isn’t that the newest Galaxy tablet? Wilentz, the Princeton historian who’s lately become the court biographer of Bob Dylan, gives an erudite overview of the record label that helped create the icon of Dylan—as well as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Bessie Smith, and Bruce Springsteen—complete with gorgeous photographs and an option for a $230 deluxe version that includes a collection of 263 songs on a USB drive.

For the questing son

The Annotated Emerson
By Ralph Waldo Emerson


Who hasn’t turned to Emerson at that point sometime in late teenage or early adulthood when you’re “trying to find yourself,” deliberating over what kind of person you will be, over what kind of life to live. But what exactly did the seer mean? Yes, perhaps one should be self-reliant in parsing Emerson, but for those needing a helping hand, Harvard University Press has released an elegant, insightful edition of his work, The Annotated Emerson. Drink deeply of his wisdom!

For the drunk aesthete

Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition
By Lesley M.M. Blume


You know that friend who is a monomaniac when it comes to recreating the past? The pasts are different (1950s, Victorian) but the obsession is the same. Help them let loose with Lesley Blume’s charming trip into the libations and drunken lore of yesteryear in Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition.

For your niece spending her junior year in Florence

La Dolce Vita
By Slim Aarons

Beautiful tanned bodies, splendid vistas, perfect blue waters, coiffed shrubbery, a sweater just-so … Sigh. There’s no life quite like the life in the pages of the latest collection of Slim Aarons’s photographs of Italy, La Dolce Vita.

For the obsessive nephew suffering from Anglophilia

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated … All the Bits
By Luke Dempsey


Everything you need to know about every skit, episode, and song of the silliest great show of all time. This is a huge (880 pages) phantasmagoria that does justice to the boys—now knights and ex-knights—who brought you “The Lumberjack Song” and “The Spanish Inquisition.”

For the son or daughter who needs an election-year education

Penguin Civic Classics series


Don’t just get one—get them all, six slim volumes with black-and-white covers like stone tablets of American commandments. They include American Political Speeches, Lincoln Speeches, The Federalist Papers, Supreme Court Decisions, The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.

For the little cousin you want to spook out

The Big Book of Ghost Stores
Edited by Otto Penzler


The ability of masters such as Joyce Carol Oates and M.R. James to get to the heart of what makes men regret their conscience can be put to the test against the annoyingly depraved terror who runs around your house “borrowing” and breaking your belongings every holiday season. Give the little snot what looks like a harmless bundle of fun, and add the companions Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! and The Vampire Archives for extra terror.

For the sibling who can’t afford the clothes

Love Looks Not With the Eyes: Thirteen Years With Lee Alexander McQueen
By Annie Deniau


Because who can? And who actually wears the runway clothes outside of a dream or a nightmare? For the 13 years before McQueen’s death, Deniau was the only photographer allowed backstage at his shows, the only person allowed to document the world inside McQueen’s fantastical imagination.

For anyone about to become a parent

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity
By Andrew Solomon


This is not so much a gift as a life-changer, not least because it chronicles how offspring who grow up in unexpected ways hold the power to change their parents’ lives. What does it mean to have a baby? The word “reproduction” is misleading, because an individual doesn’t replicate. Parents create a new being, one who might be deaf, a dwarf, with down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disabilities, a prodigy, a result of rape, turn to crime, or transgender. Solomon devotes a chapter to each of these variations on the theme of humanity, interviewing more than 300 families in the process and documenting their lives in well-written and interconnected case studies. The result is a whole new way to look at what is “normal” and what exactly “love” is.

For the hipster brother or sister

The Hive
By Charles Burns


Chris Ware’s Building Stories is an obvious gift for the comic fanatic and obvious contender for best graphic novel of 2012, but don’t overlook The Hive, which is the more disturbing alternative, a sequel to X'ed Out. If seen reading this doesn’t make you hip, nothing will. (Well, if you were also caught reading David Byrne’s How Music Works and you’re still not considered cool, then it might be time to give up.)

For the locavore fanatic

Sure, NOMA may be the best restaurant in the world, but the most gonzo is surely Faviken in northern Sweden. There on a 20,000-acre estate, chef Magnus Nilsson cooks the most elemental and mystical food all conjured up from the surrounding land. Think grouse and blackberries, wild onions, bone marrow, sorrel, and raw beef heart. These recipes are not for the faint of locavore heart, but the book itself beautifully evokes the possibilities of food. Bonus, vegetable superstar Alain Passard (chef of one of France’s best, L’Arpège) presents dozens of simple, seasonal recipes with quirky, beautiful illustrations in The Art of Cooking Vegetables.

For your aunt or uncle who's a college professor

On Politics
By Alan Ryan


Oh yeah? You enjoy putting down every one of my opinions as unfounded bias? Why don't you get through all 1,152 pages of this and get back to me? And while you're at it, ask yourself why, despite your cushy tenured sinecure, you can't produce an equally magisterial summation of your life's work. Good luck with your little article in that scholarly journal no one's heard of.

For your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife

Poems 1962–2012
By Louise Glück


The most casually intense American poet of the last 50 years is steadily entering the nation’s consciousness with lines like these, from “Midsummer”: “On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry, / the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes / and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer.”

For the tween who needs to be weaned off ‘Twilight’

The Little House Books: The Library of America Collection
By Laura Ingalls Wilder


“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.” So begins Wilder’s autobiographical cycle of books that sings the virtues of the hard work of the pioneers and caring for the young and the sick. But as wholesome as the stories are, Wilder, who was 65 when she started the first book, in fact collaborated with her daughter, Rose, a complex and clinically depressed libertarian who was probably responsible for such tongue-in-cheek fun like the happily specific “sixty years ago”—not “about sixty years ago,” but exactly sixty years ago, once upon a time. The rhythm of the sentences—bouncy, like a prairie dog running across the plains—is what makes these books far superior to the dull angst of Twilight silliness.