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Books always make a thoughtful gift

Books always make a thoughtful gift

You’re stuck. 

It’s your boss’ birthday, your nephew’s graduation from high school, your cousin’s promotion at work, and you need to buy a gift. You enjoy reading and books, and want to give them a present in line with your own interests.

So what do you get the recipient of your gift? You have no real idea of their reading habits, whether they enjoy mysteries, science fiction, or mainstream literature, history, biography, self-help books or political commentary. Over the years, others who know of your literary bent have given you many books you’ve found unreadable, and you don’t want to follow suit. 

So what can you do?

Well, the first resort is a gift card to your local bookstore. Any true booklover celebrates the opportunity to enter a bookstore, scour the shelves, look at a dozen, a score, a hundred of choices, and then at the checkout counter whip out a card that pays for his purchase. (Actually, true bibliophiles always spend a few dollars more than the amount allotted on the card. Often they intend to stick to the card, but one thing leads to another, and before you know it, they find themselves at the cash register with $70 worth of books on a $50 card.)

So gift cards are a worthy choice. But what if you want a more personal tribute? What if you actually want to give the person you wish to honor an actual book, but have no idea, as I say, of their interests?

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Worry no more. There are plenty of books that should interest anyone with a heartbeat and a breath of life left in their lungs. Here are just four of them, books that appeal to nearly everyone. 

First up on our general gift-giving list is Guinness World Records 2017 (Guinness World Records, 2017, $28.95, 256 pages.) Lavishly illustrated, with hundreds of captions, Guinness World Records 2017 shows us the world’s tallest dog (a Great Dane standing nearly 4 feet), the largest private collection of Barbie dolls in the world (15,000 as of 2011), the largest chocolate coin (450 pounds), and the most backflips performed while swallowing a sword in one minute (James Loughron in 2014). Who can resist a book showing a guy who has broken all records for balancing a chainsaw on his chin or the largest gathering of “Where’s Waldo?” look-alikes in the world?

Next on the agenda is Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders (Workman Publishing, 2016, 470 pages, $35). This is a wonderful travel guide, both for the explorer who roams the world via airplanes and ships and for those of us who, for reasons of finances or inclination, travel via our reading chair at home. Atlas Obscura takes the reader to the Palolo Worm Festival in Samoa, where sea-worms during one or two nights of October “engage in a swarming, floating, mucus-laden reproductive frenzy,” during which time the locals wade into the water to catch the worms, regarded as a local delicacy. If you’re not into worms eaten raw or on toast, visit the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which served as a staging and storage facility for the Viet Cong. If your travel time is limited, then head for the Devil’s Tramping Ground in Chatham County, North Carolina, where the devil supposedly paces a circular path, leaving a plot of barren ground behind him.

Also closer to home is Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South (Little, Brown and Company, 2016, 564 pages, $40). In this massive tome Vivian Howard, who grew up in Deep Run, North Carolina, and is the first woman to win a Peabody Award since Julia Child for a cooking program, shares not only her recipes, but also her stories about the people and culture of the Eastern North Carolina. Her book includes advice on how to cook with different vegetables and fruits — I have just read “Bean & Pea Wisdom” — hundreds of recipes, and sketches from her past, her life with family and friends, and her culinary experiences. Even those you know who can’t boil an egg will enjoy Howard’s reflections on oysters, squash, and collards, as did I. If you give someone this hefty book of recipes and reminiscences, you will likely see it, well-thumbed and spattered with various sauces, on their kitchen shelves for years to come. 

Finally, and only if you are truly desperate, there is Mark Lutz’s Learning Python (O’Reilly Media Inc., 2013, 1544 pages, $64.99). Python is a book devoted to programming with Python, which will likely appeal to few of your friends and relatives in need of your gift. Nonetheless, the book has certain eye-catching qualities. For one, the cover features drawing of a large, cute mouse. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it is waiting to be eaten by a python. Certainly the mouse looks a little apprehensive. 

Even more attractive , however, is the sheer size of the book. Learning Python weighs in at close to five pounds and might serve for a number of uses other than reading or study. It would, for example, make an excellent doorstop. Bind it up in rubber bands, and a lightweight might use it for weightlifting. Its heft makes Learning Python an ideal weapon to hurl at intruders or errant friends. If nothing else, set it on your bookshelf and your friends will think you are bound for Silicon Valley.

So there you go. Visit your local bookstore and see what else you may find.

Good reading.

Jeff Minick can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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