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List Mania 2013: Books for Gift-giving

It's that time of year again: everyone's putting out their Best Books of 2013 lists. Interested to see what lists are available? Check out the Best Books 2013 sidebar at the Reader's Advisor Online, or view the exhaustive compilation of Bests lists at Largehearted Boy.

I'll be offering a few takes on the lists this week (hopefully, if everyone here stays healthy--fingers crossed!), but thought I'd kick things off with a gift-giving guide for the season, highlighting some of my faves from the year that I feel are severely underrepresented on other lists I've seen so far. I'll list the book title (which will link directly to Powell's, from where, full disclosure, I would get a small percentage if you purchase it; likewise, if you use the Amazon link or graphic at the side, I get a small percentage of anything you order there as well), give a small review, and link to my original review of the title. Let's have at it!

Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, by Stacy Horn. Horn describes her experiences singing in a community choir in New York City, and ties her experiences (and the importance of choral singing to individuals who participate in it) to the choir's history and the positive effects of being part of a singing collective. She's a fantastic nonfiction author who takes her dedication to research and fact-checking seriously, and she's also a fabulous and personable prose writer. Readers who are very into music or who enjoy offbeat history subjects might get a kick out of this one.

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate, by Rose George. British investigative writer George explores the shipping industry, which is largely invisible to most people, and which employs ever fewer workers (and pays them less and works them harder), even though the vast majority of things we eat and use in our daily lives comes to us on container ships. I'm not even done reading this one yet and I'm finding it fascinating. Another solid gift-giving choice from this author is The Big Necessity. Sure, it's about poop. What are the holidays good for if you can't give your nearest and dearest a totally engrossing book about poop? I ask you. Anyone you know with a lot of curiosity about the world would enjoy these books; they also make good read-alikes for fans of such authors as Mary Roach and Malcolm Gladwell.

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood, or The Postmortal, by Drew Magary. Two totally different books: one a memoir on parenting (complete with lots of swear words, which parenting does seem to bring out in some of us) and one a futuristic novel about somebody discovering the cure for aging. Both were a lot of fun to read, and might make great presents for hard-to-shop-for male readers as well, particularly if said readers have a couple of kids.

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer. This one actually did make it on a lot of "Best of..." lists, with good reason. Packer spoke with a variety of people in different socioeconomic classes to provide an unsettling picture of current American culture and lifestyles. Some of his most illuminating interviews were with very well-off people who still, at the end of the day, felt unsettled by their lives and work. This book might appeal to any political or current affairs junkie on your list.

Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff. LeDuff, a Detroit native, returns to his hometown to document its continued collapse. Unsettling but highly educational, and LeDuff's the perfect unintimidated narrator (who's still smart enough to know he's in deep shit in various locales and situations across the city).

Last but not least, we have the "books on books" that would be terrific gifts for any of the hardcore book lovers on your list. These are Joe Queenan's One for the Books; Nick Hornby's More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself, and Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores. All are fantastic reads (even if they were all from 2012, not 2013), and any real reader worth their salt will finish each of them with a much longer TBR list. And that's what all readers really want--more great books. Oh, and perhaps more time to read them. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Happy reading and gift-giving all, not only during this season but all throughout 2014.

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