“You should smell a rat when people talk about reading as a ‘leisure activity.’”
Jeanette Winterson said this at a talk in April, which I attended with pen and notebook in hand. But I was too rapt to take notes. In dismissing those of us who speak of reading as a ‘hobby,’ something we wish we had time for or that we save for vacations, Winterson referenced Malala, the 14-year-old shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for literacy for girls. There are scores of assaults and oppressive laws designed to keep books from certain groups of people. “If people are risking their lives to read,” Winterson said, “then there is something of importance in the act of reading that the rest of us have forgotten.”
True story. My wish to you, then, is a year of purposeful and urgent and heart-opening reading. Choose Books: A Gift Guide for People Who Care About Stories (PDF) is in its fifth edition. Rather than offering it for the holidays, I’m now launching it with the new year, in hopes that it will guide choices for you and yours throughout 2014.
Books, after all, last longer and matter more than, say, necklaces or sweaters, while rarely costing more than about sixteen dollars. Your intentional choice of books, purchased from indie booksellers and publishers, supports a vibrant and dynamic literary culture at a time when the book world is struggling, and literacy is horrifically low. Your choices matter.
Choosing to give books translates into a choice of being an active and engaged participant in a thriving literary culture. And it's not as if this is done out of charity: there are so many wonderful books out there, dynamic and strange and absorbing books, books suited to different personalities and tastes. To play bookish matchmaker is a great delight: it is why each year, I spend many hours putting this guide together for you. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t know that it helps connect the right story with the right person.
Choose Books because you really can make a difference. Choose Books because it is joyful. And, as Winterson emphasized, Choose Books because reading—not as a hobby, but as a fierce and fundamental act—is life-saving. I hope this gift guide—updated, revised, all-around wonderful!—is a useful and pleasurable navigation tool.
Here's what you can look forward to:
- Many hundreds of new, thoughtful, and original book recommendations, including those featured in expansive profiles and those recommended for particular groups of readers—like, say, history buffs, insomniacs, mystery-lovers, people struggling with great, sports fans, and wannabe cooks.
- Honed: While last year’s Choose Books crept up to ninety (90!) pages, this year’s version pares down some of the extremities to focus sharply on what matters most: books. (Don’t worry, the fourth edition—with its recommendations of top magazine gift subscriptions and best literary orgs for your gift donations, is still available, if you prefer it!)
- An updated feature on the top book—yes, book!—subscriptions from extraordinary publishers and booksellers
- An expanded feature on the best books to pair with a movie: that is, books that should be given along with their film adaptations (which you should watch alongside the gift recipient, of course).
As always, this is not a list of personal favorites. Choose Books is outward-looking, featuring outstanding books of different styles for different tastes and ages. These are contemporary titles and classics, authored by both esteemed and emerging writers, and released by both small and large publishers.
This guide can also help you navigate the year’s birthdays, holidays, ceremonies, and ‘thinking of you' surprises. I hope it is something of a friend to you. This 77-page gift guide is free and accessible, my gift to you.
If you find it worthwhile, however, I'd appreciate it if you'd consider pitching in a donation.
And finally, I'd love your recommendations. What's missing in this gift guide? What books have you given to others that they've loved? I want to hear all your stories.
About the Image: Reading Room in the New York City library