Published in the December issue of the Singapore American Newspaper are my recommendations for books to give to people on your Nice list this year:
Whenever I’m stuck on what to get someone for Christmas, be it a new friend or a relative who wants for nothing, I head to a bookstore. Even though there are people who claim they never read physical books, I honestly believe there’s something for everyone, from audio books to e-readers to graphic novels. Here are a few recommendations – old, new, fiction, and non-fiction – to give you some ideas.
For Friends Back Home:
Give friends back home a window into your life abroad with Janice Y.K. Lee’s dramatic novel The Expatriates, which explores the emotions, identities and relationships of three very different American women in Hong Kong. For a taste of expat life in the 1920s, there’s Far Eastern Tales by W. Somerset Maugham, a collection of short stories born of Maugham’s experiences in Malaya, Singapore and other outposts of the former British Empire.
For the Literary Buff:
The novels of newly-minted Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro will surely be popular gifts this year, particularly The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. But plumb the works of previous winners of the prize and you’ll unearth a host of gift options for the friend who’s read everything. To name a few: My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, Reeds in the Wind by Grazia Deledda, and the poetry of Nelly Sachs.
For the Sports Fan:
Sports psychologist Dr. Jim Afremow’s The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive will be an engaging read for both athletes and fans. The book examines how the mental game is just as if not more important than raw physical capability. On the fiction side, William Hazelgrove’s The Pitcher and Ross Raisin’s A Natural delve into the hearts of baseball and soccer respectively.
For the History Enthusiast:
Any fan of historical fiction will know of James Clavell’s epic Shōgun, but fewer have read his equally-gripping novel King Rat, which follows British and American inmates of Changi Prison during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. For those who lean towards non-fiction and/or American history, it’s hard to find a more epic yet intimate record than Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, a chronicle of the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities.
For Young Adults:
Hot off the press is Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, a vibrant East Asian reimagining of The Evil Queen fairy tale. YA readers more drawn to narratives grounded in realism will undoubtedly be looking forward to John Green’s latest novel Turtles All the Way Down, which is about “lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara.”
For the Romantic:
Alice Hoffman’s entire oeuvre is not only romantic, it’s gorgeously written. While it’s hard to go wrong with Practical Magic, I’d also recommend The Probable Future, a novel about love always finding a way, whether you’re a teenager or a grandmother, recently divorced or alone for decades. For the readers on your list who want some adventure mixed in, there’s Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, a genre-defying story about World War II nurse Claire Randall, who is transported to turbulent 18th century Scotland and finds romance with the dashing warrior Jamie Fraser.
For the Chef:
Cookbooks are like expensive candles: beautiful but a bit too expensive to justify buying for oneself. Thus, they make excellent gifts. Love Real Food is a stylish vegetarian cookbook by Katherine Taylor of the blog Cookie + Kate, which I refer to religiously despite being a meat-eater. For friends who don’t mess around in the kitchen, there’s Marcella Hazan’s legendary Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a bible for anyone looking to seriously up their dinner game.