“Best of the best” doesn’t seem to be as strong of a term as it once was. But buying for friends and family isn’t just about who you love and who you think they love you. It’s about recognizing that there are others who need gifts, too. And that’s no easy task. We tried our best to make choosing gifts a lot easier with the second part of the Toronto Star’s book list. The hope is that you’ll have as much fun trying to shop for people as we do with putting it together.
The problem with the first part of this list was that it’s difficult to contain all the books in one place. We didn’t want to just give the list to one person, so that could mean that the final product isn’t as comprehensive as it could be. This means we had to make some changes. But we’re happy with the way this second part was edited.
One of the hardest books to shop for is Jane Smiley’s All the Light We Cannot See. And it’s not because it’s so beautifully written, or even because it contains a book that’s considered “mainstream.” It’s because it’s a book that people think they shouldn’t write, at least not at this time in their lives. This is why many people think it’s so difficult to put together an effective and meaningful gift for one of the great American novelists of our time. But it’s too much to ask that you bring some ideas to the table, that you remember why it’s a good book, and that you somehow make it come alive for your recipient. Well, here they are. Some of them are suggestions we’ve made ourselves and others are from booksellers across the country. And remember, you’ll need to hit the Internet to get a second opinion as to whether an idea is for you, and a different one for someone else. One of our favourite readings this year is Alison Lurie’s Orange Prize-winning novel King of the Conways. It’s an accessible, funny story of an eccentric, world-weary uncle with endless wisdom to impart. This will give you an idea of the depth of writing the author knows and has mastered.
As a start, the La Trobe University Centre for Crafts will have plenty of takes on Thoreau’s Walden by September, when they’ll host their fourth annual edition of the Thoreau Reading Series at the Bendigo Town Hall. Their latest take on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles will have you readying yourself for the drama that often surrounds this one of the preeminent 19th-century literature authors.
For those keen to visit the land of the strange and untold, Jon Krakauer has long been the source of compelling books and stories about the wild places in our forests. As the author of Into Thin Air, among other things, this book can tell you what you need to know about the perspective he brings to the stories of natural disasters and their often unbelievable horror.
If you’re still feeling adventurous, you could look to Goldeneye, the espionage series and the modern classic by Ian Fleming. What might surprise you, though, is that not many people read it anymore. Of course, there will always be fans, but those fans will be hard-pressed to get their hands on a print copy of the novels. You can find them online, which is where the gothic prose of the series comes into its own.
Books always say so much about the writer they come from. It should be no surprise, then, that most books on this list were written by men. As we’ve mentioned before, stories about men tend to be more complex, deeper, and more real. It’s true that much of the literature dealing with women today falls short, at least in terms of storytelling. But the best women writers are creating a new kind of storytelling. There’s a pleasure to be found in allowing people to make up their own minds about things. For those reasons, we encourage you to check out our second half of the Toronto Star’s Books Gift Guide. We hope you’ll enjoy it.