News Column

Ten Books to Read or Gift this Christmas

Dec. 8, 2012

Niamh Fleming-Farrell, The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon

Dec. 08--BEIRUT -- With rain frequent and darkness falling early, the lure of a warm living room and a good book intensifies.

If it's been an age since you last had the chance to peruse a good bookstore, here are some Christmastime reading suggestions that may also make for good gift ideas. Indeed, if you're wily -- and gentle -- you may be able to pull off the old trick of reading a book then gifting it, too.


There is no surer way to give a novel a second lease on life than to release a movie adaptation of it. Two popular must-reads falling into this category this season are David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" and Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of being a Wallflower."

The former, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004, is a lengthy undertaking, and the early pages, set in 1850, are none too easy to get through. However, the reward for perseverance is an exhilarating read comprised of six loosely connected stories that take place in different times and eras.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" will likely appeal to a younger readership, detailing as it does the coming of age of a troubled, but honest and insightful, teenage boy. In a series of letters to an unidentified friend, Charlie gives his unique perspective on what it is to endure and survive high school. Some may describe this book as trite, but ultimately it's an uplifting read.

For those who love thrillers, Tom Clancy, pairing up with Mark Greaney, has a brand new book out. In "Threat Vector" the Jack Ryans are back, with Jack Ryan, his son and his agency working to eliminate a potentially devastating cyber threat.

If frequent interruptions to your reading are a strong likelihood, then a collection of short stories may be a more suitable and rewarding undertaking than a lengthy novel.

Junot Diaz's new collection is highly recommended. In "This Is How You Lose Her," the Dominican writer performs once again the skill he is best at: offering an acutely amusing but poignant insight into the world of the male Latin community in the United States. Peppering his prose with Spanish, Diaz relays the adventures of how his "sucios" (players) win women, play women, lose women and regret their losses. But beneath his characters' amorous exploits, Diaz's stories deal with more serious aspects of the human condition: adolescent awkwardness, illness, grief and aging among them.

For a lighter consideration of the human condition try Jonas Jonasson's "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared."

Fear not, the length of the book in no way mirrors the length of the title, and the plot's pace is in no way imbued with the lethargy of your typical centenarian.

Rather, "The 100-Year-Old Man" is the snappy, fast-paced, almost whimsical tale of Allan Karlsson who flees his old people's home on his 100th birthday and unwittingly embroils himself with a ring of drug smugglers and petty criminals.

Simultaneous to the unfolding madcap adventure, Jonasson takes readers on a journey into Allan's past, providing a narrative that promptly illustrates the elderly man's current predicament is not wholly without precedent. From civil war Spain, to the Himalayas, Vladivostok and North Korea, this old man with pee stains on his slippers has found himself present at some of history's most crucial moments.


While some find fictional interference in historic events entertaining, others would rather a far less fanciful take on the past. If Jonasson's work sounds utterly unappealing, Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot" may be more your cup of tea.

Following his earlier book on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, O'Reilly once again analyzes the events surrounding the killing of an American president. However, O'Reilly's latest offering will likely prove more compelling to those not widely read on the November 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Those already thoroughly versed in literature on the events of the period will find little new in this book.

People often lament the materialization of Christmas, but while embracing the spiritual and atmospheric side of the holiday is all well and good, one new and innovative history book may make you reconsider just how you look at objects.

Neil McGregor's "A History of the World in 100 Objects" journeys through time and around the world with the aid of 100 artifacts found in the British Museum. Stone-age tools, centuries' old paintings, and a modern credit card are among the items McGregor uses to unlock the world's history.

As opposed to the typical dense historical tome, this is a book that one can dip in and out of easily, making it an ideal volume to pick up between visits and engagements over the Christmas period.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb recently described Lebanon as a "perfectly controlled mess" and lauded it as "the most stable place in the whole area." If you're curious to know why this Lebanese-born writer and internationally renowned philosopher is confident in making such claims, it may be worth spending your Christmas break reading his latest work, "Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder." It's a reasonably dense volume, but it promises readers a whole new perspective on disorder and turmoil.

The bearded author of "The Communist Manifesto" and "Capital" is not often thought of romantically, but biographer Mary Gabriel investigates just this side of Karl Marx's life. "Love and Capital" tells the story of Karl and Jenny Marx's marriage, and the struggle it endured as he worked to finish "Capital." If you're looking for an alternative love story and interested in gaining some solid historic insight simultaneously, this might be the read for you.

A Christmas Classic

If you've not done it before now make this Christmas the year you finally read Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." That, or buy a hardback edition, wrap it up nicely, and present it to your most Scrooge-like relative.


(c)2012 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)

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