Books I have given as gifts

And what they reveal about me that a “favorite books” list hides

There’s a great Hacker News thread on what book you’ve given most as a gift.

I realize that I preen and pose when I write lists of favorite works of art and literature. By asking which ones I’ve given as gifts, or seen multiple times, I can cut through that noise.

Thinking of what I’ve given as a gift is easier, and less fraught with worries about what it says about me, than answering about my favorite books, period.

It’s pretty incredible that in the nearly infinite universe of books, I keep hearing some of the same ones recommended, such as The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Ayn Rand, Bill Bryson. (Not that I personally know and love all these.)

It gives me hope that there’s a chance for the quality of a creative work, rather than its surface relevance, to provide the engine of its virality! Although it helps spread a book if the book subtly serves the reader’s ego, like I accuse Michael Lewis of doing elsewhere…

Here’s my list:

For adults:

  • What Uncle Sam Really Wants by Noam Chomsky — haven’t read this in forever, but I gave away dozens of copies in college… concise and effective introduction to the leftist critique of American foreign policy, which I think has been proved right in its predictions since being published, even if I think Chomsky is a sloppy political thinker
  • Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock — mystery told in the form of other people’s delightfully intricate mail that you read
  • Advice to a Young Wife from an Old Mistress, by Michael Drury — real life observations on romance and life
  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud — incredible journey into how our minds see comics and make them into story and shared mental experience, way more fun than it sounds.
  • Ghost World by Daniel Clowes — great graphic novel to introduce a widely read adult to what comics can be outside of superheroes; very intellectual
  • Black Hole by Charles Burns (graphic novel) — can’t keep this on my shelf, it leaps into people’s arms. Dark twisted coming of age parable.

For kids, age 5–105:

  • The Boy Who Reversed Himself by William Sleator- great kids’ sci-fi that takes the ideas of Flatland and applies them to the 4th dimension.
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar — kind of like Borges for kids
  • Bone vol. 1: out of Boneville by Jeff Smith — silly and irresistible fantasy comic by a master cartoonist
  • Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hanke — great kids’ sci-fi graphic novel romp, with a strong girl at the center.