Wednesday Evening Open Thread: Gifting

Taking the good news where we can find it, from the NYTimes:

No Big Hits, but Bookshops Say They’re Thriving
… While Bookscan does not include e-books and covers only roughly 75 percent of retail outlets, this year’s figures provide a snapshot of the fragmented holiday sales picture as a whole: independent bookstores report that a range of books are moving nicely, but there are mixed numbers from Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest book chain, and solid but not stellar growth in digital sales. Independent bookstore owners say they are thriving even without that surefire best seller because of a wide array of options this year: everything from Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” (list price $28.99) to Chris Ware’s expensive graphic novel “Building Stories” — which comes with 14 components, including bound volumes, a board and a tabloid newspaper ($50) — to attractive impulse buys like “I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats” ($12.95)…

There are many reasons bookstores point to for their successful holiday season. President Obama, they note, set the stage when he took his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to One More Page Books in Arlington, Va., on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, where he snapped up 15 children’s books.

Small bookstores report that they are also benefiting from the popularity of Kobo e-readers, which were designed for independent bookstores and allow customers to buy e-books through the independents’ Web sites, as opposed to say, Amazon…

Ms. Anderson’s was a familiar story across the nation, according to the American Booksellers Association, a trade group for independent bookstores. Dan Cullen, a spokesman for the association, said that in-store book sales for November, which includes Black Friday and the start of Christmas shopping, were up 10 percent compared with 2011 figures….

My own “doorstop of the moment” read is Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children & the Search for Identity. It’s worth every bit of the attention it’s garnered, although I wouldn’t recommend it for expectant parents or those of young children. (And if you don’t have a convenient independent bookstore, remember that purchases through the front-page Amazon link in the right-hand column help keep the Balloon Juice servers running.)

What books, hardcopy or digital, are on everybody’s gift lists / wish lists this gifting season?

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67 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    Any news on the mobile site? Is it gone forever?

  2. 2
    Big R says:

    Giving dad the complete Sherlock Holmes, with original illustrations.

    Mom got something bound I can’t remember what, but it seemed appropriate when I found it.

    Kinda wish I had more people to buy for. And more income to buy with.

  3. 3
    schrodinger's cat says:

    I am reading The Battle Cry of Freedom, and I find the mid 19th century politics very confusing.

  4. 4
    dmsilev says:

    My parents gave me the third volume of the Manchester biography of Churchill. Gigantic brick of a thing.

    My niece and nephew will be getting ‘Monkey world ABC’ and ‘Gallop’. Those will either be Christmas presents or first-birthday presents a couple of weeks later; haven’t decided yet. A couple of books they can really chew on.

  5. 5
    Mnemosyne says:

    We were watching a special about Christmas movies on TCM and I added the book written by one of the commentators, Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas.

    Otherwise, most of what’s on my wishlist are books about cooking, knitting, or cycling, so I’m not sure how many of them other people would be interested in. Not a lot of fiction right now.

  6. 6
    Raven says:

    Here’s Avid Bookstore in Athens, I got some swell books there just yesterday.

  7. 7
    RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    I’d been reading Steven Pinker’s “Words and Rules” but gave up. Regular and irregular verbs are fascinating but not 275 pages fascinating. I’m back reading Chad Orzel’s “How to Teach Relativity to your Dog”. Which at least I have a chance of learning something from.

    Still in Iowa and it looks like barring a miracle I’ll still be here when the blizzard hits. Who knows when I’ll get home?

  8. 8
    Culture of Truth says:

    I have a Kobo! It was cheap but it works great.

  9. 9
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I got Battle Cry as a present last Christmas. My take on the politics is that we are reliving the 1850s. There were passages that I read to my wife where she couldn’t tell if it was now or 150 years ago.

  10. 10
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    I think I’m going to try to get through Infinite Jest over the course of January/February…March…April.

    For light reading, I’m hoping for John Dies at the End, by David Wong.

  11. 11
    BGinCHI says:

    One of my best friends in graduate school, and one of the smartest people on the planet, writes novels that can’t seem to find a publisher. And it’s not because they aren’t very good.

    If you are interested in Marilyn Monroe and the fascinating subject of her psychoanalysis please check this out on Amazon:

  12. 12
    maye says:

    City of Women by David Gilham. Finished it a week ago. Giving the kindle version to my sister. My fav novel of 2012.

  13. 13
    Gin & Tonic says:

    A History of the World in Twelve Maps

  14. 14
    Raven says:

    I got this for the princess birthday girl

    A Garden Makes a House a Home

  15. 15
    Raven says:

    @BGinCHI: Facebook email.

  16. 16
    BGinCHI says:

    Have all you video game dorks out there read Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” yet?

    If not, I command you to go and buy it.

    You will thank me later.

  17. 17
    Rational Subjectivist says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    I think I’m going to try to get through Infinite Jest over the course of January/February…March…April.

    I loved that book and my wife hated it. I’m glad I read everything DFW published while he was alive, because I just couldn’t read him now. Haz a big sad.

  18. 18
    BGinCHI says:

    @Raven: I replied. You see my message?

  19. 19
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    In my never ending quest to replace my car before Christmas, I was told that the truck that was to have brought my new car today or tomorrow has been delayed until January 9. Honest mistake I’m sure. It’s easy to get lost.

    I’m expecting tomorrow to be told that attempts to locate a similar vehicle have failed and to be offered either a more expensive car, last years demo, or some kind of thing I don’t want. This is not a process that should require a lawyer, but I’m afraid it does. Heck, I haven’t even gotten to the end stage where they make me wait a few hours while I reconsider gap insurance and extended warranty offers.

  20. 20
    BGinCHI says:

    @Or something like that.Suffern Ace: Stop complaining and get a Tesla.

  21. 21
    some guy says:

    some gal is giving me Building Stories. I am very very very excited.

  22. 22
    Rational Subjectivist says:

    @Or something like that.Suffern Ace:

    I’ve driven a lot of cars this year and finally found one I really don’t like: the base model Dodge Dart. Who would have thought that there was a demand for an inexpensive sedan with a touchy throttle, hyperactive brakes, loud heater, fuzzy/boomy stereo, cheap looking interior and no automatic anything? Apparently Fiat did. Well, maybe that explains it, actually.

  23. 23
    mainmati says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Yeah, that would be the Civil War, wouldn’t it? And 100 years from now, if human still exist they will curse this period of history in no uncertain terms, especially the wingnuts. So, it’s a matter of perspective.

  24. 24
    brettvk says:

    I drew my next-in-age brother’s name for the family gift exchange, and heard from my SIL that he wants a book…she’s not a reader, he is, so I guess that’s as descriptive as she could be. Unless I hear different from him I want to give him the first two books of Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy.

  25. 25
    Mnemosyne says:

    In giftish news, G informed me today that he’s going to start looking into getting us a high-definition TV next year, because we have finally decided to enter the 21st century and get rid of our tube TV. We probably don’t want to go any larger than 40 inches, but if anyone has any strong recommendations, they would be appreciated.

  26. 26
    Ben W says:

    @BGinCHI: seconded. Buy it for every dork on your list, especially if they are children of the 80’s. If you are into SF, I’ve been reading Richard K Morgan’s “Takeshi Kovacs” novels and they are a lot of fun.

  27. 27
    NR says:

    Krugman today:

    Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

    But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

    In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

  28. 28
    BGinCHI says:

    @Ben W: I read the first one (Altered Carbon, I think). Liked it.

    Tried his recent gay sword fighter dude one and didn’t like it.

  29. 29

    @Spaghetti Lee: finally finished IJ. took a year and a half with a lot of going back to reread sections. Totally worth it.

  30. 30
    Culture of Truth says:

    Reading a new book by Gordon Wood. Honestly had hoped for better.

  31. 31
    gbear says:

    I just got back from buying a MN events calendar at B&N, but I don’t like them much as a book store. They’re no more independent than Amazon, never quite have what you want, and are much more expensive unless you pay for a membership.

    Garrison Keillor opened a big independent bookstore across the street from Macalaster College in St. Paul this year. I would imagine it’s doing gangbusters with the totebaggers but I haven’t been in it yet. I didn’t like Keillor’s previous bookstore location because it had horrendous accessibility issues. The wheelchair route was long and not marked, and half the store was three steps up with no ramp. I was surprised they got a permit to open that store.

  32. 32
    Culture of Truth says:

    In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

    But the opposite is happening. Boehner is conceding, only to get the back of Obama’s hand.

  33. 33
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Mnemosyne: I’ve been very very happy with Samsung TV’s. Even in the “relatively large but not obscene” range they have a lot of advanced features.

  34. 34
  35. 35
    Suffern ACE says:

    @gbear: I was sad when I heard the hungry mind closed, but it is good to know that the scots got another good bookstore.

  36. 36
    Alison says:

    I’ve been doing the majority of my book buying at my local indie lately, even though it means spending more, because I’d hate the thought of it closing and my city being without a bookstore. (Not that I think my patronage alone would save them, but I just want to at least do my part.) It’s not the best-run store in the world – they have too few titles on hand in some areas and way too many in others – but the staff is mostly friendly and their special orders always come in pretty quickly.

    Anne Laurie, I’ve been thinking of picking up Solomon’s book (though perhaps waiting for the soft cover…). I don’t have nor want kids, but it’s still a subject that I find interesting, and like you mentioned, it’s gotten a lot of positive reaction.

    As for doorstops, tomorrow I’m going to start Juliet Barker’s tome on the Brontes, which clocks in at almost 1000 pages. That’s how we booknerds roll.

  37. 37
    gbear says:

    @Suffern ACE: Yea, the demise of The Hungry Mind was a sad story. I think they over-committed to their Washington Ave. store in Minneapolis and when that didn’t go well the St. Paul store went under. Do you remember the two Odegard’s Bookstores on Grand at Victoria? That was a great place to shop books (before that neighborhood went upscale).

  38. 38

    Not on a gift/wish list but I’ve just started reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and am loving it.

  39. 39
    Birthmarker says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Happy with Samsung also, though I’ve only gone 32.

  40. 40
    jenn says:

    @gbear: I always prefer to buy at BN vs Amazon, though, because I want to support floorspace. The best thing about bookstores is the ability to browse, and let the shelves take you on random rabbitrails!

  41. 41
    RSA says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    I’m hoping for John Dies at the End, by David Wong.

    I laughed aloud a few times reading it.

    I’m giving away Illusionology: The Secret Science of Magic to one of my nephews and a complete set of Harry Potter to one of my nieces.

    When my book was published last month, I got a box of 20 in the mail. So guess what a lot of long-time friends are getting this year?

    Not much on my wish list. Right now I’m reading The Manual of Detection.

  42. 42
    Alison says:

    BTW as for a recommendation, I recently read To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild, on WWI and it was wonderful. Partial description:

    To End All Wars focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war’s critics, alongside its generals and heroes. Many of these dissenters were thrown in jail for their opposition to the war, from a future Nobel Prize winner to an editor behind bars who distributed a clandestine newspaper on toilet paper. These critics were sometimes intimately connected to their enemy hawks: one of Britain’s most prominent women pacifist campaigners had a brother who was commander in chief on the Western Front. Two well-known sisters split so bitterly over the war that they ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other.

    The way he tells the account of the war through these various individuals from all sides makes it much easier to relate to and more poignant than many war books. Plus, at least when I was in school, we learn so frigging little about WWI, especially as opposed to WWII, that I think it’s important to find that knowledge elsewhere.

  43. 43
    gbear says:

    @jenn: There is one really good huge B&N in a suburb just north of St Paul. I should spend more time at that store. The smaller B&N stores in the Twin Cities have really limited stock and always seem to be featuring the shittiest books (Bill O’Reilly was getting prime shelf space in the store I visited tonight, but I was in Tim Pawlenty’s home town so what should I expect).

  44. 44
    Ben W says:

    @BGinCHI: thanks for the tip. I’m liking the next two at least as much as the first.

  45. 45
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Since we’re talking books, a hat tip to whoever on this board mentioned the Inspector O novels. I can’t remember who it was and I’m too lazy to search, but thanks.

  46. 46
    Maude says:

    I shop B&N online ebooks. I make a list and then get lost looking at all the books.

  47. 47
    RSA says:

    I forgot to mention that John Scalzi has a holiday book shopping guide here (traditionally published books, pitched by authors) and here here (fan favorites). Mostly science fiction, as you might guess.

  48. 48
    Narcissus says:

    I have multiple stacks of physical and digital books I’m working my way through and threads like this don’t help the situation.

  49. 49
    BGinCHI says:

    @Ben W: Good to know. I’ll have to track back to those.

  50. 50
    handsmile says:

    @Rational Subjectivist:

    There’s a terrific new biography of DFW (that I”m in the midst of): Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, by D.T. Max that might interest you. It’s a fine balance of biographical detail and literary critique of Wallace’s fiction and essays. The book expands upon an article that Max wrote in 2009 for The New Yorker.

    Each Christmas and birthday, I give a list of coveted books to mrs. handsmile from which to choose. I’ve been reasonably good this year so I hope to find under the tree at least one of these: The Civil War and Visual Art; the second volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters; The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (on ancient pathways); or the awe-inspiring Roberto Calasso’s latest opus, La Folie Baudelaire (19th-c. French culture and politics, among other things).

  51. 51
    Steeplejack says:


    Second Gin & Tonic‘s recommendation for Samsung. My big-ass TV (Samsung LN46B750, 46") was a Christmas gift from family two or three years ago, and I have been very satisfied with it. And (surprisingly) it is not too big for my small apartment. You can comfortably sit closer to HD TVs than you can to the old ones.

    Take a look at the Samsung UN40EH6000 (40", $550) or even the UN46EH6000 (46", $698).

  52. 52
    Steeplejack says:

    (Revised for too many links. FYWP!)


    Second Gin & Tonic’s recommendation for Samsung. My big-ass TV (Samsung LN46B750, 46") was a Christmas gift from family two or three years ago, and I have been very satisfied with it. And (surprisingly) it is not too big for my small apartment. You can comfortably sit closer to HD TVs than you can to the old ones.

    Take a look at the Samsung UN40EH6000 (40", $550) or even the UN46EH6000 (46", $698).

  53. 53
    Steeplejack says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Don’t know if it was me, but I have mentioned them here, and they are very good.

    Just tonight I started Alan Furst’s latest, Mission to Paris.

  54. 54
    Steeplejack says:


    Really liked The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. I will have to check this one out.

    Not really related, but have you read Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table? One of my favorite memoirs.

    And I always recommend W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. A very strange, haunting “novel” that is almost impossible to describe.

  55. 55
    handsmile says:


    Happy to read (and not a bit surprised) that you are familiar with Calasso. I’ve read (or at least dipped into) all of his translated works. The author’s staggering erudition, capaciousness of thought, and synthesizing genius invariably renders me abjectly humbled and thrillingly inspired.

    His one book I most recommend is The Ruin of Kasch, a wide-ranging meditation on the power of the State as illustrated by Western cultural history, with the 18th-19th-c. French diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand serving as principal guide. (That is a woefully inadequate description of an extraordinary book.)

    Levi’s The Periodic Table is an embarrassing omission from my reading history. It’s been glaring at me from the bookshelves for many years.

    W.G. Sebald. Has there been a more majestic European writer in the past 20-30 years? Like Wallace, his untimely death was a deep tragedy. Along with The Rings of Saturn, Austerlitz is the Sebald work that has most richly rewarded my scrutiny and contemplation.

  56. 56
    BGinCHI says:

    @handsmile: Wow, you guys are deep into it tonight. Huge Calasso fan here from way back. I don’t know how many copies of Marriage of C&H I’ve bought to give away….

    Ruin of Kasch is also really great. He’s a singular writer.

    Sebald too.

    Just got Kevin Barry’s “City of Bohane,” after reading a story of his in the New Yorker. Can’t wait to read it.

  57. 57
    Steeplejack says:


    You can pick up The Periodic Table and read a chapter at random. It’s sort of nonlinear. Very moving.

    My other favorite work by Sebald is On the Natural History of Destruction. A chillng, sidelong look at World War II.

    And his death was a tragedy. I can remember feeling gut-punched when I unexpectedly saw his obituary in the Times.

  58. 58
    Steeplejack says:


    City of Bohane is on my list. Let me know how you like it; I might have to bump it up.

  59. 59
    WaterGirl says:

    @RSA: Thanks for that!

  60. 60
    Thatgaljill says:

    The little man (7.75 years of age) is getting 4 new Magic Treehouse books and 4 “You Wouldn’t Want to” books… he devours anything about history, so what’s a parent to do?

  61. 61
    BGinCHI says:

    @Steeplejack: Will do.

    Have you read the Hilary Mantel novels? The Cromwell ones, that is.

    They really are fucking amazing.

  62. 62
    Steeplejack says:


    Just got them from my brother and have started Wolf Hall.

    I also downloaded Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost on my Nook. Looking forward to it, based on an excerpt I read in which she talked about the feeling of being invaded by an evil presence as a child.

  63. 63
    handsmile says:

    @BGinCHI: , @Steeplejack:

    One last check-in before turning in….

    Not familiar with Kevin Barry/City of Bohane, so I’ll be checking that out. Always a pleasure typing about books with you two gentlemen.

  64. 64
    Steeplejack says:


    Same here. Good night to you. I am for bed soon myself.

  65. 65
    bloomingpol says:

    Need a great children’s book? My dear friend, neighbor and great Democrat, Rebecca Rule, Yankee storyteller (she’ll come and tell stories for an evening for a reasonable price), has written her first children’s book, The Iciest, Diciest Sleigh Ride Ever. We had the pleasure of sending a copy to my husband’s grandson, who was born in FL and now lives in Trinidad, and has never seen snow or had a sleigh ride.

  66. 66
    nastybrutishntall says:

    Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James. Sent it to my oldest friend, who happens to be an asshole.

  67. 67
    nastybrutishntall says:

    @BGinCHI: Reading Wolf Hall now. Best thing since dagger-sliced bread.

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