Gift Guide Part 1: All Ages
Oprah's not the only one with favorite things to share this holiday gift-giving season. Here are my top 10 book recommendations for gift recipients of all ages. Admittedly, I have not read every single one of these books cover to cover (erm, this list may be mostly wish-list on my part). But as a former bookseller and still avid bibliophile, I feel pretty confident in my selections.
An Encyclopedia of Tolkien: The History & Mythology that Inspired Tolkien's World
by David Day
This lush volume has it all: 544 pages of descriptions, illustrations, and origins of everything, real or imagined, that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's legendary books. Its leathery exterior, ribbon bookmark, and gorgeous end papers aside, what you'll be gifting someone is long afternoons spent perusing from Aegir (a tempestuous Norse nature spirit of the sea) to Zirakzigil (the peak above the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm where Gandalf fights the Balrog), flipping through charts (lists of flora, fauna, and of course, rings) and battle maps, and comparing Tolkien's work to Wagner's. Whether you're birthing anew or just feeding some loved one's obsession with The Lord of The Rings, they'll be sure to appreciate this precious gift.
The Books of Earthsea
by Ursula K. Le Guin
This gorgeous edition of the Earthsea Cycle contains over 50 illustrations by Charles Vess, as well as the novels and short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin--one of these stories in print for the first time. For lovers of magic, dragons, and adventure; it's a good backup gift in case they've already got the Tolkien encyclopedia.
Hidden Wonders: A Guide to the Planet's Wildest, Weirdest Places
by Nicole Maggi
Oh, to have been riding in Nicole Maggi's pocket as she researched and explored the world for this Lonely Planet Kids book. A photographic and descriptive trip to strange but real places, this would be a great gift to inspire an armchair traveler to dust off their passport and see a little bit of the world.
Dumplings: Over 100 Recipes from the Heart of China to the Coasts of Italy
by Derek Bissonnette
I am always on the lookout for dumplings and dumpling cookbooks. I firmly believe there is no food as comforting. Dim sum or pierogi, I do not discriminate. Gluten-free and vegetarian, too. All dumplings are welcome in my belly. This cookbook would make a great gift for a foodie, bundled with a steamer basket or two (and maybe you'll get a dinner invitation in return).
An Unofficial Harry Potter Fan's Cookbook: Spellbinding Recipes for Famished Witches and Wizards
by Aurélia Beaupommier
Admittedly, this is a personal wish list one. No idea if it's any good, but it's already making me hungry. Among the 75 recipes included are Dudley's Hamburger Special, Trelawney's Divination Tea, Canary Cremes, Deathday R.I.P. Cookies, Hogwarts House Cups, Aging Potion, and Kidney and Beef Pies (listed in the book description).
by Michelle Lopez
If the recipes and photographs in Michelle Lopez's cookbook are even half as good as the ones on her blog, hummingbirdhigh.com, this gift will be well worth it for the baker in your life. I can think of at least 6 people I could check off the list with just this one book. (Psst! Check her website for behind-the-scenes info about the making of the book, plus all the recipes, of course.)
by Dave Canterbury
It sometimes amazes me how I've gotten this far knowing as little as I do about surviving outside. There are quite a few books out there by Dave Canterbury, and most of us could probably stand to put our phones down for a bit and learn how to stay alive in the wilderness. Bushcraft 101 makes a good starting point for getting in touch with Mother Nature, or at least getting by if you happen to find yourself in a forest with nary a cellular signal or charging station in sight.
Are You Smart Enough to Be a Secret Agent?
by John Gillard
If I still lived in the same country as my dad, I would totally be getting him this book for Christmas. We used to pore over logic puzzles, games, and other brain-twisting exercises when I was a little kid. Get this for your friend or loved one who loves problem-solving, or maybe just for someone who needs to get stumped once in a while.
A Cloud a Day
by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
I love The Cloudspotter's Guide and The Cloud Collector's Handbook! This meditative book gives you a daily dose of quotes, facts, and of course, clouds. Perfect for someone who you'd like to encourage to look up, or whose head is in the clouds most of the time anyway.
Martha Stewart's Cookie Perfection
by The Editors of Martha Stewart Living
I know, you're like, OMG another cookbook? But please understand, I can't not include this one, it's fresh and gorgeous, with impeccable photography as usual. Pumpkin Snickerdoodles? Potato Chip Cookies? Passionfruit Melting Moments? You and/or the baker in your life need this book. Yes, even if you have all the older ones. (I do.)