Columns > Published on December 5th, 2014

This Holiday Season, Give the Greatest Gift of All: Books!

If you're a writer or a passionate reader, you probably like giving books as gifts. It's in our nature, isn't it? These things become so precious to us that we have to share them with other people. By sharing a book that we love we're sharing a part of ourselves—that mutual point of connection we want other people to see and understand. 

I am constantly giving books as gifts. Partly because I love books. Also, because I'm not always great at planning ahead, and my office is in the basement of The Mysterious Bookshop. So as I'm rushing off to a birthday party or holiday event, I can grab something off the shelf. 

But I'm not just going to grab ANY book. I've got a couple of books that I pick up, again and again, because they're reliable, and they're great, and they're accessible. Some books are better choices than others, depending on the reader. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell is a fantastic book—but not if the reader is squeamish. Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a book a lot of folks ought to read, but some might be turned off by the slow burn pace. Part of the fun of gifting books is reading the recipient, and figuring out what they're going to like.   

Since we're headed into the holiday season, I wanted to share some of my standbys. The books that I am constantly giving to people. These are the books that I go to most often. That I've given as a gift at least three times, if not more. After that, I asked some LitReactor staffers to weigh in with their most frequently gifted books. So if you're looking for a little help with your holiday shopping—or just something new to read—maybe we can help.

When you're finished reading, head on down to the comments and tell us about the book that you most often give as a gift, and why.

'The Last Policeman' by Ben H. Winters

This is the perfect choice for someone into smart science fiction and dystopian lit. The world is six months out from a planet-killing asteroid and everyone is waiting to die. There's one cop who still wants to do his job and solve murders, and no one gives a shit. It's not bloodless, but it's not over-the-top violent. It's also incredibly thoughtful and well-written. Plus, it's the first entry of a trilogy, so if the person you get it for likes it, you're covered for two more gift-giving occasions.

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'The Hard Bounce' by Todd Robinson

I give this book to people who maybe aren't huge fans of reading. It's about two Boston bouncers who moonlight as private investigators, and it's a great pick for people who think all books are War and Peace. It's big and loud and funny, with a huge mix of voice and heart. Imagine going to the movies with a friend, and you have to choose between droning Oscar-bait Foxcatcher and Keanue Reeves killfest John Wick. The friend who picks John Wick is going to love The Hard Bounce.

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'Beat the Reaper' by Josh Bazell

A former mob hitman tries to make a new life as a doctor—until one of his patients, a former associate, recognizes him. This falls under the same umbrella as The Hard Bounce—big voice, funny, violent. That ending, though. This is the kind of book you give to someone who can make it all the way to the end of Hostel without crying or turning off the movie. Because some people can't, and that's okay. But it's the most visceral reaction I've ever had to something written in a book—I think I yelped and visibly squirmed at the final act of violence. 

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'The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel'

This brings Amy Hempel's four story collections into one handsome volume. Hempel is a master of the short story. Seriously, read "The Harvest" and then feel bad about the fact that you'll never write as well as she does. It's the perfect volume to pick up, put down, revisit, carry with you, trade around. It's the kind of book everyone should have. It's also the kind of book every writer should have. So if you know a writer, get them this. It's up there with The Elements of Style

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'Dare Me' by Megan Abbott

Cheerleader noir. I shouldn't have to say more than that. But I will. This book shows the versatility of crime fiction—it's not all private investigators saying clever things on rain-soaked streets. There's a dark beating heart in suburbia, too. Abbott's writing is remarkable, and she's crossing over into literary circles in a way that's deserved and inevitable. It's a great book about adolescence and girlhood, which makes it a strong choice for both men and woman. Yes, guys should read books like this, too.    

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'In the City of Shy Hunters' by Tom Spanbauer

This is my favorite book, full stop. It's a stunning portrait of a New York in the 1980s ripped apart by the AIDs crisis, viewed through the eyes of a young man from someplace else, trying to find himself. It's the most New York thing I've ever read, and if I give it to you, it's the equivalent of us becoming blood brothers. This is a book that I'd never give anyone in paperback. It would have to be a hardcover. 

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HONORABLE MENTION: 'The Martian' by Andy Weir

I haven't given this book as a gift yet, but a lot of people I know should expect to see it later this month. It's the funniest book I've read in a long time. "Laugh out loud on a plane and scare the shit out of the guy next to me" funny. And for a story about a guy stranded on Mars, hoping for rescue from people back on Earth he can't communicate with—it's hugely uplifting. It just came out in paperback. I'm stocking up. 

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'The Chronology of Water' by Lidia Yuknavitch

From Class Facilitator Renee Pickup:

"I give it because a lot of people claim a book will change you or move you, but this one actually delivers on that. There is a line in Lidia's opening about this being a book for people who have fucked up that really brings it home." 

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'The Halloween Tree' by Ray Bradbury

From Assistant Class Director Bree Ogden: 

"It's such a universally themed book even though it's 'about' Halloween and it's 'for children.' A lot of people think its importance comes from the fact that it teaches about different cultures and their influence on Halloween. But it's so much more than that. Bradbury uses the night of Halloween and the adventure of the book as a tool to show us how to live. It's a stunning story about life and death and loving each moment, even the weird and crazy ones. 'When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.'" 

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'The Devil All The Time' By Donald Ray Pollock

From columnist Keith Rawson:

"I think I’ve given this book three or four times now as a holiday present. And it’s not because I want to bum out the friends I’m giving it to (because, let’s face it, The Devil All The Time is a bummer from beginning to end) but because I want them to discover what an amazing writer Pollock is, and how he can take the most marginalized person and make them come alive on the page." 

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'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' by Ransom Riggs

From columnist Leah Rhyne:

"I love giving books that are as visually interesting in addition to being cool stories. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is certainly that. Full of eerily weird pictures from days long gone, it's as fun to look at as it is to read. I've given this book as a gift more than once, to readers as young as 12 and as old as, well, me, and I'll definitely give it again." 

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'Kiss Me, Judas' by Will Christopher Baer

From columnist and instructor Richard Thomas:

"For Baer, it's all about the tone, the voice, what I think is quite possibly the best neo-noir I've ever read. He is unique, a perfect blend of dialogue, setting, and layered imagery. It's surreal at times, trippy, but also very approachable, easy to digest. Of course the whole trilogy is amazing, but this is where it all starts. When people ask me about neo-noir, or more books similar to what I write, this is where I send them. I once bough a box of Kiss Me, Judas off of eBay, like 12 copies for $20—and gave them all away years ago."

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'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman

From Community Manager Nathan Scalia:

"Like much of his work, it transcends any age, gender, or genre expectations, making it a safe choice for just about anyone. It was gifted to me, and it did a lot to inspire my own creativity, as well as introducing me to the author who would become my absolute favorite. Gaiman doesn't just write books; he tells stories, and Neverwhere is one of the best he's given us."

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'Zeroville' by Steve Erickson

From Managing Editor Joshua Chaplinsky:

"When I want to give someone the gift of a truly unique reading experience, I give them a Steve Erickson novel. Usually Zeroville. It's an absolute must for the film-lover in your life, and the perfect antidote for the whiny friend who constantly claims they have nothing good to read. It's about a borderline autistic fellow with a tattoo of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift on his head who moves to LA because he loves movies. He becomes an editor and discovers frames to a secret film in every movie ever made. Think that sounds weird? It is currently being made into a film by none other than James Franco."

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About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at

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