2011 Book Buying Guide for Savvy Buyers

With the continued pressures on everyone’s finances, it is hard to pick the perfect gift for your loved ones on a budget.  But I’ve always been of the mind to give gifts that keep on giving throughout the year and maybe even the rest of their lives.  OK, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but remember when your dad would buy your mom those baking dishes or mixers for the holidays? He was really ensuring that more delicious desserts were coming his way or maybe that’s just my dad.

For friends, I’m always trying to find the perfect book, especially since some of my friends are big readers and have extensive collections of books like me.  But even for those who are not big readers, there are a ton of bookish gifts you can purchase that are made by some crafty people.

First, for those in your life that love art and illustrations, I recommend The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis, which I reviewed this year, because not only is the artwork stunning, but it makes readers think about the meaning behind the Sufi poem he is illustrating.  The pages of this book are vivid and textured, the symbols will have the owner staring in wonder.

Second, for those who love photography, I recommend Believing Is Seeing by Errol Morris (my review) because it will have them rethinking the photos they see in the newspapers, magazines, and on television.  Where are the photos actually taken; were they staged; how many takes were there to get that shot?  The book raises these questions and more about the purpose of photography and the context behind the photos we see.

Third, for those sick of the vampire/Twilight craze but who want the paranormal and the decadent with a few twinges of horror, I recommend The Taker by Alma Katsu (my review) , which is an excellent debut and the first in a series, so you know there will be more about these immortals and their debauchery.  And for those who enjoy a good coming-of-age novel with fairy-tale like qualities, you should buy them The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair (my review) since it reminded me of The Secret Garden in many ways.

For the trivia lovers in the house or family or among your friends, mental_floss: The Book: The Greatest Lists in the History of Listory (my review) needs to be in their collection with its lists of titles for famous books that didn’t pass muster and fashion no-nos of presidents, among others.  You know this trivia book has made it under the tree of my favorite trivia champions (ok, they’ve gone to the big tourney in Atlantic City, but I think they placed 3rd — that’s still better than me).

For the Jane Austen and women’s fiction readers, I have two excellent recommendations:  Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (my review) that is a collection of Jane Austen inspired short stories that are set in the Regency period and modern times and To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell (my review), which is a novel that will have you laughing but also is a little more serious than her previous novels.

For the young adults and even adults in your life looking for something different in a fun or lyrical sense, I’m recommending You Are My Only by Beth Kephart (my review) for the lyrical prose and character-driven novel that tackles child abduction in a unique way; Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington (my review) is a novel about how children cope with parents who are in the military and the world is at war; and The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston (my review) who love history, strong young women, and unusual story-telling.

Ah, for those historical fiction readers, who may be young adults, I suggest Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer (my review), which is a short novel about Japanese-American internment camps in the United States and the impact that had on a small community, a young girl, and race relations in America.  It is one powerful little book.

Those who are looking for a more introspective examination of the military machine and its ridiculousness should read To the End of the War by James Jones (my review) because these rough short stories gleaned from a larger unfinished and unpublished novel demonstrate the anger, frustration, and disenchantment that even soldiers from WWII felt.

You know I cannot leave you with out a great list for those poetry lovers in your life.  I’m talking about those odd ducks like me who are just itching for a new volume of poetry to read and sit with for hours.  Yes, those people.  But some of these books even can tempt the non-poetry reader with their musicality or subject matter.

  • The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove, which I have not reviewed because I’m still devouring it little by little (a nice holiday gift to myself).  This collection demonstrates that American poetry is NOT dead at all, but continually evolving.  While there are some poets not included because of rights and fees issues with the publisher, which Rita Dove speaks about at length in a recent copy of The Writer’s Chronicle, the volume is indeed comprehensive and enlightening about her tastes and the evolution of American poetry.
  • For the political liberal who hates Fox News in your life, best purchase Somewhere Over the Pachyderm Rainbow by Jennifer C. Wolfe (my review) because they will get a kick out of her statements about various events during the 2010 election.  I’m quite sure that this poet is no where near done, especially with the 2012 elections on the horizon and Newt Gingrich in the race with Mitt Romney (at least so far as the front runners in the Republican primary — yes I keep tabs on all politics for my own informed voting decisions).
  • The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa (my review) and Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick (my review) are two collections that will capture readers with images and rhythm.  But each of these poets often toys with meaning and word choice and surprises you at the end of the poem to make you rethink your entire perception of the poem and its meaning.
  • Finally, Beyond Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram (my review) is a collection for those environmentalists and feminists in your life, but also for those who are growing increasingly concerned about the direction humanity is headed.  There is too much violence and hatred, and while these poems point their fingers at those events, they also offer a semblance of hope that we can change and we can be redeemed.

That’s it!  It’s a long list, but when I said I had a bunch of recommendations for most everyone on your list, I was not kidding.  I have three other recommendations that are not books, but they are excellent book and non-book products for those who enjoy handmade presents, sustainable coffee, or yummy tea.  Check out the links; you may even recognize some bloggers you know.

Also, if you want to support the blog and the giveaways I hold here domestically and internationally, please think about buying through my affiliate links or clicking on the donation button in the right sidebar.

Have a happy holiday season, everyone, and buy books!


  1. I hadn’t heard of Believing is Seeing before, but it sounds fascinating. And important given the image-soaked world we’re living in.

    Beyond Scent of Sorrows is another one I hadn’t heard of, but it sounds like it’s perfect for one of the women in my family. Thank you for the list!

  2. This is a great list — despite the fact that most of my friends have more books than they can count, I still end up buying books as gifts on a regular basis. This list contains some titles that are new to me and that look very promising. Camp Nine is such a wonderful book,I agree…

  3. This is a great list with something for everyone! There is much food for thought here!

  4. Wonderful list! I especially appreciate the reminder about the photography book, because I was trying to remember the title from your review just the other day to get for someone into that!

    • I’m so glad the post came at the right time for you. I really think photo bugs will love it. I have a couple photo bugs in my life I might get it for.

  5. Thanks for all your work putting this list together! I see lots of great suggestions.

  6. Great list! I can’t wait to see the poetry anthology…that is the perfect gift for you, so I’m glad you treated yourself. I definitely agree about Jane Austen Made Me Do It and To the Moon and Back.