Dec. 09--The gift-giving season is counting down and you're running out of time to find just the right items for those on your list.
Fret not. One fail-safe option is a book. As gifts, books are far more personal than, say, a single-cup coffeemaker or a box of candies. They require careful consideration of the giftee's sensibilities and personality, as well as insight into his or her reading habits.
As gifts, books have no equal. No other tidy package can deliver such a sense of escape, a sprawl of diversion and hours of private pleasure. Except maybe a round-trip airline ticket to Italy.
A book can be read one time or many times, and can be passed on to another worthy reader next week or next year. As a bonus, no batteries or assembly are required.
But with thousands of new titles landsliding the market this time of year, one must narrow the field to a few manageable choices.
The questions become: Where do we go to get ideas for which books to give? Do we consult best-seller lists and websites? Look at the books pages in newspapers and magazines? Maybe check out bookstore displays or consult book club members? Is word-of-mouth really the last word?
We sought direction from a number of best-selling, prize-winning authors and savvy book-industry professionals.
If they were to give a fiction and a nonfiction book as gifts (other than their own, of course), which would they choose? Here are their recommended bibliographies.
William Vollmann of Sacramento
National Book Award-winning author of eight nonfiction books ("Imperial") and 10 novels ("Europe Central")
Fiction: "I like the new translation of 'Don Quixote' (by Miguel De Cervantes). It's funny and sad, all about life and death."
Nonfiction: "For the literary crowd, how about the nine volumes of 'Sahih Al Bukhari' (by Abi Abdullah Bin Al-Bukhar). That's all the sayings and doings of the prophet Muhammad. This is the hard-core militant one, the one the Taliban would like."
John Lescroart of Davis
Author of 21 legal thrillers ("The Hunter") in three series
Fiction: "The (international thriller) 'The Panther' by Nelson DeMille: He is the most entertaining fiction writer on the planet."
Nonfiction: " 'The Last Lion,' the third volume of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill. Churchill was the greatest man of the last century and this is the greatest biography of him."
Jane Smiley of Carmel Valley
Sixteen novels ("Private Life") and six nonfiction titles ("A Year at the Races")
Fiction: " 'Turn of Mind' by Alice LaPlante is a fascinating murder mystery told from the point of view of a woman with dementia. It's the most mysterious mystery ever."
Nonfiction: " 'American Nations' by Colin Woodard is about the 11 different cultures that coexist in the U.S. It's my favorite book of the year."
Max Byrd of Davis
10 novels ("The Paris Deadline")
Fiction: " 'The Leopard' is a forgotten classic by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa. It's about the last years of a great Sicilian aristocrat in a decaying culture in the 1860s. Burt Lancaster played (Prince Don Fabrizio Salina) in the (1963) movie."
Nonfiction: "Stefan Zweig was an absolutely great writer. His 'Twenty-Four Hours In the Life of a Woman' is about amorous obsession. It's short, and that's a virtue, too."
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