The Omni Personal Shoppers Are On Call: Send Us Your Toughest Book Gift Puzzlers

Recently, the Wall Street Journal asked a group of booksellers and bloggers, including us Amazon book editors, to recommend gift ideas for a half-dozen profiled readers: e.g., "An 81-year-old retired physician who loves tennis, politics and traveling. Loves biography and non-fiction, particularly idea-driven books such as Jared Diamond’s 'Guns, Germs and Steel' and Charles Mann’s '1491.' He's also an avid fiction reader and likes works by Patrick O’ Brian, the George MacDonald Fraser and Dorothy Dunnett," or "A 14-year-old boy who loved 'Harry Potter' but generally isn’t an enthusiastic reader. He enjoys sports, music and videogames. When forced to read it for school, he loved 'Ellen Foster.'" (Real people or not? We weren't sure, but the profiles were pretty convincing.)

We had a great time putting together our recommendations (which included Stir, The BLDGBLOG Book, and Eyes Like Stars--we were also happy to see someone else picked Omni's own Jeff VanderMeer's new novel, Finch), and we thought we'd like to do more of it. So from now until the last menorah candle burns out and Santa hitches up Donner and Blitzen, we'll be taking requests from the bandstand. Describe your trickiest gift recipients in the comments to this post (with as much detail as possible), or email them to omnivoracious at, and we'll do our best to suggest the perfect book, new or old, to give them. And, more helpfully, no doubt, we'll open up the floor to the Omni hive mind, and we hope that you fellow rabid readers out there will add your own suggestions.

Whether you have a one-book-a-year reader in mind, or someone who reads so much you're afraid you could never find something for them they haven't read already (or whether you're just asking for yourself!), let us know, and we'll see what we can do to help. Happy giving. --Tom

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Comments (13)

My brother is in his final year of architecture school. It’s a tradition of ours to always give each other books for Christmas. After 5 straight years of giving him Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry coffee table books, I’m looking for something with a bit more 'in-the-know' credibility--something that will really spark his interest. Naturally, he’s also really into design; Philippe Starck is one of his faves. Are there any great architecture or design books from this past year?

Posted by: s.m.h. | Friday December 4, 2009 at 2:02 PM

I inherited my love of reading from my parents. My father in particular never missed an opportunity to find that perfect book for Christmas that would always be reserved for opening after "Santa's" presents. As I've grown, I've inverted the tradition of book giving with my father and am interested in books with themes about life lessons that a son learns from his father. Past years have included Big Russ & Me and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Specifically, I'd like to find that great 2009 "father-son" book that can be shared with Dad this holiday season.

Posted by: Paul S. | Friday December 4, 2009 at 3:26 PM

I'm always on the lookout for good books that my husband will like (32 yrs old). He loves to read but is not very into fiction (although I'm still trying to find novels I can get him interested in). One of his favorite subjects is History (particularly anything to do with Europe--he lived in Vienna for several years, and also in Croatia, so he's interested in that part of the world). But he also LOVES soccer as well as travel-related things (but not just your typical mountain climbing stories). One of his favorites was The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, and of course he's already read Fever Pitch. He also enjoyed The Lost City of Z and Agent Zigzag this year. Any other suggestions?

Posted by: Amy C | Saturday December 5, 2009 at 5:54 AM

My mother is 88 years old and only reads fiction, the local daily newspaper, and Time and Vanity Fair magazines. Her all-time favorite novels are An American Tragedy and Gone with the Wind. She likes novels with "substance," which she explains are those with a great story, strong characters (preferably a female protagonist), not overly descriptive, no dialects, often spanning several generations, and of long length. She hates sit coms and wouldn't read any novel in the romance genre. No gimmicks. Nothing too literary. Exotic locales are of interest as are rags to riches. Thanks!

Posted by: Vwolfe | Sunday December 6, 2009 at 6:31 PM

30-something family law lawyer, mother of two, huge Virginia Tech fan, tends to reads books that help her bolster her career but loves Twillight and Harry Potter series.

Posted by: Joy | Sunday December 6, 2009 at 7:46 PM

The queries posted so far are too easy. If you can come up with something for my little brother - and millions just like him, you will be hailed as geniuses or possibly even genii.

He lives in Mississippi. He is a truck driver. He plays in a band. He drives a van. It used to be kind of a cool old retro van but now he is over 40 and it's just a dull mini van. He has two great kids but does not live with them. He likes beer, not wine. He doesn't mind going to swap meets with our dad. It’s all good but we just don’t have much in common. Once he said maybe we should talk more because Mom would like that.

When we were young, my brother was the plague of my life. He once covered my favorite cat from nose to end of tail with masking tape and then used my camera to take a picture of his work before untaping the cat. Impressively, he didn’t say a word and I didn’t find out until I had the film developed months later. He played the soundtrack for the Sound of Music over and over on my parents’ big console stereo. To this day, I cannot stand that movie. He hogged the TV and wanted to watch the Electric Company instead of Andy Griffith. If there is a book of instruction on how to be an irritating little brother, he must have read it three times.

Other than that, I don't think he reads. I have never heard him mention a book he likes or seen him with a book in his hand.

I used to hold him down and tickle him or give him noogies until he cried. I didn’t let him touch my records or come in my room. That’s all I can think of. Other than that, I’m sure I was very kind to him.

This year, I rifled through the big bin of old LP’s at Goodwill. My little brother likes LPs. He likes the way they are a little bit scratchy. He likes that they sound old and come in big awkward covers that sometimes have amazing artwork and sometimes dorky photos. I don't know what kind of music he likes so I judged them by their covers and/or their smell. But they seem a paltry gift. Can you help?

Posted by: Linda | Tuesday December 8, 2009 at 2:58 PM

Wow, Linda. The gauntlet has indeed been thrown. We will be posting suggestions for all of the above over the next few days, but to be honest I'm glad we have a week to think about yours. Hmmmm.

Posted by: Tom | Tuesday December 8, 2009 at 3:04 PM

My eighty-four year-old grandmother is blind and deaf and in denial of those important facts. The youngest of thirteen and the mother of nine, she has always maintained that having a good book on hand at all times is the only way to stay sane. She was a journalist until her second child, and at the age of fifty-six, she went to nursing school and became a nurse at a hospice for AIDS patients.

Today, she lives with her daughter and three teenage grandsons. That is, when she's at home. She spends more than a third of her time travelling: visiting her children across North America; taking her dozens of grandkids on cross-Canada road trips the summer that they turn eleven; white-water rafting the Nahanni; going on cruises with her wheelchair-bound brother and sister-in-law; travelling to far-off places like China or Italy with, Elderhostel, a senior-only tour company; or simply going wherever she can find a good deal on a flight. (She has her own specially-modified Macintosh Computer that she uses to troll travel websites and to play internet hearts under the screen name "gojumpinalake")
She's also an active member of Toronto's Raging Grannies Chapter, and can often be found, wearing a tea cosy as a hat, singing outrageous protest songs in front of the Parliament Buildings.

She listens to audiobooks on an iPod Shuffle that she can operate by touch alone. My finds books for her; he knows her tastes and finds what he can. Sometimes, she'll hear about a book on the radio and ask him to get it. Since her eyesight started failing, she gave up on novels altogether, focusing instead on narrative non-fiction from around the world. Her favourite question is "but what do they DO? How do they spend their days?" and loves any book that begins to answer that question. Her particular passions are China, Tibet, Canadian West Coast Natives and the Canadian Arctic. However, I think that she would love something about South America.
Of course, the task of finding her a book is made more difficult by the fact that it must be available as an audiobook. (I've read entire books to her, but, obviously, we both prefer the mobility and independence her Shuffle gives her)

Posted by: Emma | Tuesday December 8, 2009 at 8:02 PM

Thanks, Emma--again, another fascinating challenge. These profiles are becoming short stories in their own right--I'm tempted to print up an anthology of them and give them as _my_ gift to readers on my list. Look for some possible answers in the middle of next week, if that's not too late.

Posted by: Tom | Tuesday December 8, 2009 at 9:48 PM

Linda: maybe you should write a book about your relationship with your brother. Judging by the way you write, and the content you've presented thus far, I know I'd want to read it. And maybe your brother would want to, too.
I know this really doesn't answer your question, but it's worth putting out there. :)

Posted by: radmila | Wednesday December 9, 2009 at 9:21 AM

One of my kids doesn't have lots of interests. He's 15 years old, plays bari sax in band (but doesn't really care about it), gets straights "As" without trying (and feels no passionate interest in any of his classes, although he likes a few of the teachers), and seems to only be truly happy when we're driving, so I try to take him driving a lot (he's still in the learner's permit stage). He complains that his friends only want to play video games instead of *doing* things like camping, hiking, or biking anywhere, but even though he complains about them sitting around playing games, he likes to play video games too, although he quickly loses interest in any particular game. He really wanted a laptop, but I can't afford one yet. He has a good sense of humor. He's a good person. He frequently counsels his older sister and attempts to make his irrational, older, angrier brother think more rationally. He likes using StumbleUpon when he uses my computer. I'm *really* worried about him because my other kids have strong interests. I'd like him to care about something passionately.

Posted by: Jude | Saturday December 12, 2009 at 7:39 PM

I am looking for book gifts for my hubby, who doesn't read. He is a jazz musician whose favorite book is Robinson Crusoe (abridged version) that he read in high school. That was more than a decade ago. He is not interested in reading about jazz or music. He likes aliens. I tried to get him to read Watership down by Adams. I think I should have played down the bunny and lupine language part. He never started it. I tried to get him to read Roger Zelazny (my most successful effort. He read 15 pages and lost interest (despite saying "it is getting kindda good"). I tried to get him to read Phillip K. Dick, which I think would match up with his weird paranoia issues. I failed. I even mentioned the major drug use and paranoia. Still failed. I ALMOST got him to read Being and Time (his idea, I swear I even tried to talk him out of it)but it is still on the nightstand. He would NEVER read in bed, so that isn't as good a sign as one might believe. I really am at a loss here. I'd like to get him a book that he would read. I believe if i bought it as a gift he might feel obligated to read it, but honestly I know that any of my efforts are likely to fall flat. The best I could come up with is "the chronicles of Amber" but that is only available in an omnibus edition which is scary huge and he wouldn't touch that with a 42 ft. pole. HELP!

Posted by: martie dawn | Monday November 29, 2010 at 10:46 PM

I am looking for ideas for my dad--tough one to please. He loves historical novels--having read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich multiple times. That being said, he doesn't care for Ken Follett. He loved George Washington's Christmas and other books that reveal behind the scenes war information. As I really don't have the patience to plow through the volumes of historical fiction, I would love any new and noteworthy books that might interest him. Thanks!

Posted by: Kathleen | Tuesday November 30, 2010 at 3:46 PM

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