You're having one of those Yule Yikes moments. Still a handful of people on your list, yet you don't know what to get them and you sense there might just be an entire gift category you're forgetting. Here's a gentle reminder. Remember the paper-intensive technology we call books? Not book-pads or e-books or book-pods or book-books. Just books. We've provided a picture in the upper right hand corner of this story to jog your memory. You can find them in places called book stores. British Columbia's publishers produce some very good books, and our list is sprinkled with such local products.
But this is meant to just get the suggestions going. Please add your own ideas for perfect holiday book gifts in the comment thread after this story!
For the person who likes to read spy stories alone in Chinese restaurants:
The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China by Eric Enno Tam (D&M Publishing). A Russian agent sets forth on orders to document China's modernization and is stunned to see what's going on there -- in 1906. That yarn is intertwined with Tam's first-hand reporting on China today in a brilliantly complex piece of non-fiction storytelling.
For your sister who keeps making fun of your garden gnomes:
Grounded: The Work of Phillips, Farevaag, Smallenberg edited by Kelty McKinnon (Blue///Print). A stunning compendium of the projects, and aesthetic thinking, of Vancouver's leading landscape architecture firm. What have they done? Oh, just Richmond's Olympic Oval and city hall, Vancouver's Coal Harbour and Cathedral Place, Parliament Hill and a lot of other subtle and spectacular corners of not only B.C.'s Lower Mainland but elsewhere in Canada, the United States and China.
For the uncle who read Christie Blatchford's book about First Nations in Caledonia and thinks he knows it all:
Oka: A Political Crisis and its Legacy by Harry Swain (D&M Publishing). Twenty years after the Oka crisis, Harry Swain offers the first political insider's account of the 78-day standoff between the Mohawk people and the Canadian and Quebec governments. Serving as deputy minister of Indian Affairs during the crisis, Swain is not unbiased, but offers a rare glimpse of the ideas and personalities behind the governments' actions, supporting it all with a historical account of the struggles between European settlers and the Iroquois Nation dating back to Jacques Cartier. Unlike Blatchford, Swain knows you can't wade into the controversial territory of First Nations and Canadian relations without knowing a little something about the history.
For your aunt with six cats:
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant (Knopf Canada) tells the story of a man who must confront the animal he loves to defend people he doesn't. Vaillant can scare the daylights out of us, and make us laugh, in the same sentence.
For your brother-in-law who owns waterfront property and thinks climate change is a hoax:
Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming by James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore (Greystone). This is a meticulous documentation of the gigantic PR campaign designed to drown out scientists in a tsunami of misinformation.
For your father who thinks the Conservatives stand for personal freedom:
Harperland: The Politics of Control by Lawrence Martin (Viking Canada). This may be the most detailed case study of a control freak ever published. It offers one ray of hope: When he doesn't get his way, Harper tends to quit. If only the Liberals and NDP would draw the appropriate lesson.
For your kid who wants to be an astronaut:
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (Norton) is funny, alarming, and often gross. Who knew the most beautiful sight in space is the golden sparkle of a urine dump?
For the co-worker who keeps saying they're going to chuck it all and head for the bush:
A Wilderness Dweller's Cookbook: The Best Bread in the World and Other Recipes by Chris Czajkowski (Harbour Publishing). Czajkowski doesn't have time for your la-de-da debates about who makes the best miso-braised sablefish in town. She's living in a tent in a remote B.C. coastal spot trying to bake bread off some fire-heated rocks. And the cookbook unwinds from there, offering some tasty, practical recipes to be sure, but really providing a chronicle of self-sufficiency and simple pleasures in the middle of damp nowhere.
For your friend who thought Obama was going to change everything:
In The Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History by Michael Fellman (Yale University). Frequent Tyee contributor Fellman has written a doozy of a challenge to the American exceptionalist assumption that terrorism is something that happens to the United States, but never by the United States. In fact, a good deal of the book looks at terrorism carried out by U.S. officials against their own people (quashing socialists in the era of the Haymarket Riot) or by citizens seeking to maintain their grip on power through fear (whites terrorizing blacks during Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War). Fellman, a noted Civil War historian, defines terrorism as the use of violence to create fear and intimidation in order to win a power struggle. He marshals an overwhelming body of archival evidence to show that such tactics are no more exotic than hammers or screwdrivers in American culture. Just well-worn tools readily employed by whoever seeks to build out, shore up, or totally renovate the power structure.
For your teenage aspiring novelist who thinks rudeness is an asset:
Mordecai: The Life and Times by Charles Foran (Knopf Canada) shows that it also takes perceptiveness, commitment, and willingness to work astoundingly hard. Also, St. Urbain Street is a better place to start than Coquitlam Centre.
For the newly minted, shiny MBA in your circle:
Bubbles, Bankers and Bailouts by John Lawrence Reynolds (D&M Publishers) and The Trouble with Billionaires by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks (Penguin Canada). Reynolds' guide to how the bottom fell out of the global economy and why Canada's duct tape probably won't hold is a quick little sobering read and includes some useful advice on how to stay clear of further wreckage. McQuaig and Brooks construct a devastating critique of our increasingly undemocratic new Gilded Age and the soft ride given the new robber barons. Even the generous ones who give away millions? Even them. "As public institutions become more dependent on the rich they end up catering to the rich, either directly or indirectly."
For the history buff with a secret soft spot for family portraits:
The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau Press). With time, memories become translucent: tangled like old fishing line. It takes a special kind of storyteller to loosen those knots, to draw out the past and weave a coherent narrative from faded recollections. In her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud ventures into the mental snares of Vietnam vet Napoleon Haskell. Looking for peace at the end of his life, he relocates from Fargo, North Dakota, to live a in a small lakeside town in Ontario. His daughter joins him, tugging on the errant strings of her father's muddled war stories, trying to better understand him as he slips into the oblivion of old age. As his memory unravels completely, Napoleon's daughter is left to tie the loose ends back together. A deserving Giller Prize winner.
For your German friend who wonders why it's kosher in Vancouver to smoke a joint in public but not drink a beer:
City of Love and Revolution, Vancouver in the Sixties by Lawrence Aronsen (New Star Books). Aronsen writes an engaging account of the counter-culture that helped make Vancouver what it is today: Wreck Beach, Free U., yippies, psychedelics and the Gastown Riots. The best and most revealing part of this book might be the photos and cartoons that Aronsen dug out of the Georgia Straight collection at UBC archives.
For the eco-geek in your midst:
Ten Technologies to Save the Planet: Energy Options for a Low-Carbon Future by Chris Goodall (Greystone). Goodall argues that an environmentally sustainable economy can be created by "decarbonizing" the electric grid. The Guardian contributor and Harvard MBA suggests that wind power (25 per cent), solar power (25 per cent) and marine power (15 per cent) could fill more than half of the planet's projected needs, with biomass and nuclear picking up much of the rest. At the same time, super-efficient homes and electric cars could reduce the needs dramatically. "It would be foolish to think that decarbonizing the world's electric grids is a simple task," Goodall writes. "But I believe that it can be done."
For the feminist friend who needs ammo for all the 'women are equal now' arguments they get into:
The Men Who Killed Me: Rwandan Survivors of Sexual Violence edited by Anne-Marie de Brouwer and Sandra Ka Hon Chu (D&M Publishing). The accounts of sexual violence detailed in this book, experienced by 16 women and one man during the Rwandan genocide, may seem like a distant nightmare, but it's a recurring story. Referred to as "femicide," the rapes of an estimated 500,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu women and girls, and some men and boys, is just one example of violent misogyny found all over the world. The brief descriptions provided in the first chapter of other struggles where rape was employed to wipe out the enemy, from World War I to the Democratic Republic of Congo, are enough to show any naysayer equality between the sexes is still far off.
For anyone thinking of running for office or running a business:
The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken (Harper). At the time Paul Hawken first published his controversial treatise about the antagonism between ecology and business, corporate greenwashing was still in its infancy. Seventeen years later, marketers have become much better at wrapping themselves in green bunting, but the fundamental paradox remains. Hawken's argument that business both causes the most egregious abuses of the environment and holds the most potential for solving sustainability problems may be even more relevant today. The new edition contains revised material that focuses on topics such as reducing carbon emissions and creating employment.
For your Halo 3-addicted younger cousin who shouts 'kaboom!' each time he blasts a digital alien:
War by Sebastian Junger (Grand Central Publishing). The celebrated Perfect Storm author spent a year living among U.S. soldiers tasked with defending a strategically worthless six-mile strip of land in eastern Afghanistan. He describes Taliban invasions, ferocious Afghan fleas and the unique smell of ammonia produced by bodies under fire. "This is frontline, raw, combat reporting the quality of which you don't often read," raves the CBC's normally calm and poised Peter Mansbridge.
For the burnt-out bureaucrat who once confessed to you over drinks he's mulling a drastic career change:
Combat Camera by A.J. Somerset (Biblioasis). This MetCalf-Rooke Award-winning novel finds an emotionally-fried war photographer down and drunk in Toronto. Our protagonist begins shooting photos for low-budget porn productions, until a chance encounter sends him packing to Vancouver with a battered porn star. Somerset himself is a former soldier and freelance photographer. But he admits, "I had no idea what it's like to be a stripper."
For your ham radio-loving bachelor uncle who distrusts the Canadian government:
Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada edited by Andrea Langlois, Ron Sakolsky & Marian van der Zon (New Star Books). This anthology explores Canada's apparently "thriving" pirate radio counterculture through 16 essays and one seven-act docudrama. Contributors discuss how hidden trailers and low-watt transmitters across the country are doing battle with the "homogenous frequencies" of mainstream radio. Buy the book also for its cover art: A righteous skeleton shouting manifestos into a microphone as his buddy raises a sword in solidarity.
For that special person in your life with a serious habit of blaming the victim:
On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women by Stevie Cameron (Knopf Canada). There's nothing fun or Christmasy about this book. But read it anyway. It's important. For more than 10 years in the Downtown Eastside, the worst serial killer in North American history (if not the world) hunted marginalized women with impunity. That was here. In Vancouver. Not New York. Not London. Not Bangkok. Vancouver. In this 700-page account, renowned investigative reporter Stevie Cameron itemizes the institutional blindness and internal politics at the VPD, the community spirit in the face of the unfolding horror in the Downtown Eastside, the ugly squalor of the Coquitlam pig farm, and so much more. At turns chilling, heart wrenching, shocking, and disgusting, it's an instruction manual on what we did wrong. The least we can do, then, the very least we can do, then, is read the book, bear witness and ensure it never happens again.
For those who won't shut up about how much they loved Lost in Translation:
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (Knopf). In 1799, Japan was a closed country. Fearful of Western Christian culture, the country banned European traders from their land. But that didn't diminish their taste for certain Western trade goods. So they made a funny little exception for the Dutch East Indies Company. In Nagasaki harbour, they constructed an artificial island, Dejima, to house that company's wares and traders. The traders lived there for years at a time but were forbidden from leaving the island. And most Japanese were forbidden to visit. Against this purgatorial backdrop, David Mitchell sets one of his most exhaustively researched novels to date, one that mixes a hyper-historical-realism with a pinch of his own Mitchellian-mystical. It's a pretty delicious mix.
For your tennis buddy with the receding hairline:
Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi (Knopf). No, really. He of the frosted-tipped mullet (turns out, it was a wig). He of the "Image is Everything" ad campaign for the Canon Rebel camera (turns out, it wasn't his fault). He of the starred-and-striped bandanas and acid-wash jean shorts (turns out, well, no, that was all him). Perhaps because of all that and more, Andre Agassi's Open is actually a pretty compelling read. Sure, Agassi is a man of broad taste, as illustrated by his proudly proclaiming he's the one who turned on Barbara Streisand, his close personal friend, to the music of this great new singer from Canada by the name of Celine Dion. Still, the narrative arc and the depth of his self-reflection are uncommon for the sports bio genre (turns out, J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was the ghostwriter). It seems only in removing the wig was Agassi able to get comfortable in his own skin(head) and become his own man. It's no Great Expectations but it'll keep you reading on your next flight.
For your college going niece who wants to be a journalist but is starting to get worn down by everyone telling her she's crazy:
The New Journalist: Roles, Skills and Critical Thinking edited by Paul Benedetti, Tim Currie and Kim Keirans (EMP Publications). The ultimate Canadian guide to the shifting news media game and how to be a player. The 23 chapters by various experts range from the ultra-practical ("Working with Photography and Video" by Frank O'Connor and Tyler Anderson) to the hopeful and visionary ("Missing the Link: How the Internet is Saving Journalism" by Vancouver-based David Eaves and Taylor Owen). Tyee editor David Beers contributes a final flourish on "Surviving and Thriving in Journalism".
For your self-loathing American cousins who think Canadians are too level-headed to go all Tea Party:
Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada's First War on Terror by Daniel Francis (Arsenal Pulp Press). Canada's greatest myth-buster has done it again, with this trenchant account of how, following World War I, immigrants to Canada suddenly found themselves branded "enemy aliens" and the focus of a nasty wave of anti-socialist paranoia. Put it on your shelf next to Francis's classics, National Dreams and The Imaginary Indian.
For your friend who mistakenly thinks black culture, like Jimi Hendrix, never really put down roots in Vancouver.
After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing and Region by Wayde Compton (Arsenal Pulp Press). Vancouver-based African-Canadian writer Compton has assembled a varied and nuanced set of essays reflecting on the varied and nuanced state of being black in this corner of North America. Along the way you learn some about Compton's own complex relationship with his identity and his early and persistent hunger for words (the only item he ever stole was a book). You learn a fair amount as well about local black history, the rich black literary tradition here, and how generally the Vancouver news media -- over the past century and even up to now -- have treated black people as problematic or exotic when not simply ignoring them altogether.
For the NDP leadership contenders:
Ill Fares the Land by the late historian Tony Judt (Penguin) describes the decline and fall of social democracy in the last 30 years, and suggests ways we can at least start talking about regaining it.
For the BC Liberal leadership contenders:
The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (Bloomsbury). A powerful argument against the creeping problem we've seen here in the last decade or two: Inequality stresses you, it makes you sick, and then it kills you.
For anyone who lost a loved one this year:
The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning edited by George Bowering and Jean Baird (Random House Canada). The perfect gift for the person who had everything. Nineteen of Canada's best writers pour their hearts out, and that can help, a little.
What are your suggestions for Christmas book gifts this year? Please add them as comments below.