Every year, there are a few people on our holiday gift-giving list who are a challenge. We travel in different worlds that barely intersect. “Oh, no problem. Get them a book,” people advise.
The thing is, even getting someone a book is fraught, especially if it’s not one you’ve read yourself. Book titles don’t always accurately describe what’s inside. Remember the great “Fear of Flying is not a phobia self-help book” debacle? Great-Aunt Mildred still hasn’t forgiven us for that one.
Part of the problem is that 2016 was such a bummer of a year. (Just ask John Oliver.) Whether it was from all the cultural icons who passed away in 2016, or the bad feelings engendered by the election, we have to say we fully empathize with those who are eager to put 2016 behind us. And, for some reason, this year’s books seem to reflect that. We just finished a couple of years’ worth of books about the centenary of World War I; now we’re seeing a whole round of books on the 75th anniversary of various World War II events, not to mention a raft of books calling our attention to various flaws in our society. Not really conducive to the joy and wonder of Christmas and other winter holidays.
Consequently, we’ve made it our job this year to help find books to give to the potentially challenging people on your holiday gift list.
The Teenage Girl. Is there a more difficult gift recipient than a teenage girl? Chances are nothing will meet her finicky standards, but the right book may lure her away from Snapchat for a few hours. Try Lab Girl, about how a young woman chose to become a scientist.
The Nerdy Nephew. You’ve always had a soft spot for him, perhaps because he reminds you of yourself at that age, but what are kids into these days? You’re safe to go with The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. Whether he thinks Batman is Adam West or Christian Bale, this book talks about the history of Batman and how he’s changed over the decades.
Young Mother. Regardless of their religious and cultural affiliation, everybody needs a Jewish mother sometimes, if only for the chicken soup. Check out Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.
The Person With Radically Opposing Political Views. No matter what your political affiliation, chances are there’s someone in the family who holds radically different political views from yours, the sort of person who turned any Thanksgiving conversation beyond “Please pass the butter” into a political debate. For that person, try Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, which talks about the flyover states and how the prognosticators got the election all wrong. Think of it as this generation’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?
The Lottery Player. It doesn’t matter how many times you explain that, statistically, buying a lottery ticket doesn’t even affect his chances of winning, there’s someone in your life who really believes that putting their birthday numbers into a lottery ticket will make them rich. Someday. But if they don’t listen to you, perhaps they’ll listen to The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling.
The Conspiracy Theorist. Even Bill Gates (who puts out a book list every year around this time) recommended The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans And Our Energy Future, which is about our aging electrical grid and how it needs to be replaced. Alternatively, try Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, which is all about the computer algorithms that secretly control our lives.
The Boss. Finally, is there any potential gift recipient more fraught than the boss? Both Inc. and Business Insider recommend Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. Don’t you want your boss to believe you think of them as a superboss? Maybe, after they read this, they’ll even start acting like one.
And just remember: The wonderful thing about giving books for holidays is that you can read them yourself first.
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