It’s the week of Christmas and YOU are in trouble. You haven’t ordered Christmas presents you need for your yearly holiday festivities. Luckily for you, you have 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime, and you can order something for your friends and family at the last minute to save Christmas!
We at the Book Department here at Geeks Under Grace sympathize with your poorly thought-out and easily avoided plight, and we would like to help! Four of our contributors put their brains together to offer a few last-minute suggestions for books that are available to order online!
Our wonderful editor Courtney was kind enough to offer her advice as a librarian to provide some unconventional ideas. Three others contributors offered some of their personal favorite comics and books as options for your shopping!
“Every reader [their] book. Every book its reader.”
– S.R. Ranganathan, The Five Laws of Library Science
As an aspiring librarian and former middle school teacher, I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach to books. Many of us sat (and struggled) through classics to which we couldn’t relate, literature where we didn’t feel represented, and terminology we could barely comprehend. As a kid, I loved comic books, illustrated classics, and trade mystery series (think Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden). One of my core memories is pulling out a copy of Nancy Drew after a high school exam, and my teacher calling me out in front of everyone for reading children’s books. At that age, I read the typical “classics” like Shakespeare and Dickens for fun, and I still do. Yet there I was, being shamed for enjoying something that wasn’t considered age-appropriate for me. I wasn’t allowed to enjoy my easily solved mystery because it wasn’t important enough for the teachers.
While there are books I think everyone should read, like MAUS, I know the people to whom I can recommend those titles. And frankly, that is a shortlist. People who want to read classic literature are few, and even fewer are the ones open to discussing different types of classics. Take my example of MAUS. It’s a graphic novel, but I hold it in higher regard than some Shakespeare, both in terms of literary quality and enjoyment. However, I can’t recommend it to someone who doesn’t like graphic novels or to someone who doesn’t read.
Those people exist, too. The ones who don’t read. Not for pleasure, not for learning, not at all. My dad, my mother-in-law, my grandmother, and my brother are all non-readers. There are reasons these pivotal people in my life don’t sit down with a book. Some are too busy, some have health problems, and others did not get enough help in school. I cannot in good conscience recommend a classic with dozens of pages on the sewer system (looking at you, Les Misérables) when I know they struggle through books with plots they really enjoy. Therefore, I take a different approach to “Last-Minute Book Recommendations for Christmas Gifts.”
First and above all, consider the person the gift is for.
With that in mind, here are some ideas that are malleable enough to suit the most reluctant reader:
My go-to for the holidays this year was picture books. Not for children but for adults! Picture books are gorgeous, and they cover any topic you can imagine, from unicorns to geocaching. You can tailor picture books to specific interests and really show off how well you know the receiver. Your non-reader can appreciate its art with or without the story. If the topic is one they enjoy, they can use it as decoration. Bookshelves full of unread books are still beautiful to look at, and coffee tables sometimes feel bare without a little something to sit on it. At that point, the book has become a centerpiece and talking point to stimulate conversations.
How-To Books and Photography Books
Another possibility would be getting how-to or photography books about a topic the person enjoys. If your friend doesn’t read but loves to craft, get them a book about crafting. Lots of people enjoy cooking and baking, which are stress-relieving exercises. Get a cookbook with some recipes you think the person would enjoy. If that person is not a chef, find a simple book with basic recipes to stimulate their self-esteem. If the person enjoys cars, get them a photo book full of their favorites with driving statistics. Sports fans? Sportsbooks. Animal lover? Pet training manuals. There are even books full of photographs of dogs jumping into pools. No words except the pups’ names. Great investment for a dog-loving family.
This one might be a bit of a stretch, but consider getting audiobooks instead of physical or digital ones. My husband has ADHD and struggles to focus on words, or even pictures, on a page. With an audiobook, he can listen as his mind and hands wander over other things. Audiobooks have numerous advantages. People can listen to them while working on mundane tasks (like chores or an office job) or during their commute to work. They don’t have to worry about the pronunciation of words or how to string together run-on sentences. They are perfect for people who struggle with reading English or have a learning disability, like dyslexia. Your readers can get the full, unadulterated story without worrying about mistakes when decoding the actual text.
There you have it. Some nontraditional ideas for gifting books to your family and friends. These should apply to almost anyone, but make sure you know the person to whom you are giving the book. You should be able to get a feel for which one they would appreciate the most.
After the success of The Avengers (2012), Marvel started putting out new Original Graphic Novels with some of their flagship characters. Avengers: Endless Wartime was written by Warren Ellis (Astonishing X-Men, Moon Knight, Iron Man’s Extremis storyline) and illustrated by Mike McKone. The book is a standalone 110-page story that gave Marvel fans some high hopes for the movie sequels, packing in the now-standard six Avengers (Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Hulk) alongside Wolverine and Captain Marvel, who wouldn’t make her onscreen debut for another six years.
The story involves something out of Cap’s past that also ties into a foe that Thor has fought before. Along with their teammates, they have to figure out the truth, and where the enemies are coming from. It sounds quite grim, but I’m just trying to not give away any spoilers. The book also has all of the quips and humor that Marvel characters are known for, and would make a great addition to any comic book reader’s shelf, from a teenager to an adult movie buff. It comes with a foreword written by Clark Gregg, a.k.a. Agent Coulson. Even though I loved Age of Ultron, reading Avengers: Endless Wartime made me wish we had big crossover movies like Infinity War and Endgame long before any of those films were ever whispered about.
Since my wonder compatriots took up the cause of recommending offbeat oddities and mainstream comic books, it wouldn’t hurt for me to throw in a couple of suggestions I’ve read within the last year. As many know, I’ve headed up Geeks Under Grace’s Classics column for a while, but I don’t want to just stick to that at the moment. I know as well as anyone that nobody is going to be delighted to find a copy of The Mabinogion or Heretodus’s Histories under the Christmas Tree. As such, I offer three bookish and accessible works that I’ve personally read within the past year and think would go over quite well with a moderately to deeply engaged bookworm!
Okay I’m breaking my NO CLASSICS rule for this one exception, but it’s for a good reason. The Greek gods are extremely popular subject material, even when you set aside the works of Sophocles and Ovid. They’re melodramatic, intense, cruel, and deeply human in the way their hubris and motivations direct their actions. There’s a reason the Percy Jackson books are as popular as they are. While the original Greek poems are going to be for everyone, I can tell you that I’ve met plenty of casual readers who have been able to connect with Homer’s poems in an engaging way just by right of how dramatic, vivid, and imaginative they are. As such, I would highly recommend the Penguin Classic Deluxe editions. These beautiful paperbacks come with an extensive introduction, maps, and resources for understanding the dense elements of the poems. It’s a beautiful edition of a poem that any bookworm will love!
I haven’t spent very much time with the original sources of Norse mythology, as my studies in classical literature haven’t delved too deeply into the Norse sagas. Thankfully, Norse mythology is some of the most beloved and widely explored in all contemporary literature. There are hundreds of books about Norse lore, Norse beliefs, and the histories of the various gods in that pantheon. We have a contemporary and beloved work that I think stands as one of the best gateways to understanding the original stories. Neil Gaiman’s wonderful 2017 adaptation of the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda brings to life a handful of the best stories of Norse mythology in a tight and enjoyable work of prose. It’s a compact and compulsively readable work of fantasy literature that anyone can pick up off the shelf and enjoy!
I don’t want to shill TOO hard for this book. I did interview the work’s editor, and I have some cordial connections with the people who published it. That said, our friends over at the Babylon Bee did produce an incredibly useful little work with Chesterton’s Gateway. The great G.K. Chesterton stands alongside men like C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham in their influence on 20th century Christian apologetics, but his work is somewhat more impenetrable than a work like Mere Christianity. It’s for that reason that a book like this can be helpful for young Christians looking to learn more about the state of the world. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re looking for a gift for the well-read Christian in your life!
Here’s an interesting little title that most people aren’t going to be familiar with. From 1920 to 1943, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote letters from Santa Claus to his children to tell them about life at the North Pole and how things were doing. Shortly after Tolkien’s death, his daughter-in-law Bailie Tolkien assembled all of the letters as a children’s fantasy. The wonderful hardback edition, released in 2020, takes these stories and adds a visual element of colorful illustrations to make the package more complete. The edition is enormous, beautiful, and not as highly discussed as his other Middle-Earth works. I’ve met plenty of Tolkien fans who have never heard of Letters from Father Christmas. The discerning Lord of the Rings fan in your life may be quite surprised by it!
Before reading Michele Wallace’s Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman in undergrad, I thought that designations like “strong, independent woman,” or “strong black woman” as complimentary. Instead, they feed into the stereotype that a black woman can take her three kids to and from school, help them with their homework, keep the house clean, work two jobs, and always have breakfast and dinner ready before her man gets home, let alone handling so many mental, emotional, and spiritual burdens.
Yet paradoxically, the specter of a woman who can “do it all” lingers in feminist literature. These include the kind written to appeal to the audiences who would watch the Oprah Winfrey Show and those which appeal to my classmates, who wondered if they would have to settle for less than their expectations or live in indefinite singleness.
Michelle Obama’s Becoming is a book that, for me, answers at least one way that a woman can “have it all” or “do it all,” and she does not appear to pull her punches in regards to the costs. She acknowledges her dad as a hard worker who never complained despite his MS; his quiet suffering a lesson that men should take care of their health rather than “tough things out” (to come back to the “black macho” myth).
Michelle (then Robinson) talks about her disillusionment of the prestigious schools that she attended, Princeton and Harvard Law school, feeling like an outsider. Even after finishing her degrees and working for a law firm, she felt that something was missing, that there had to be something more to life than making good money, working for firms that were as for-profit as any other business.
She would soon meet Barack Obama, who came into her life during a time when she had forgotten how to dream. Her side-eyes at a man who drove a vehicle that had a hole in the floor where one could see the pavement, who often took on jobs that paid for pennies but left him feeling accomplished are endearing. Not all diamonds in the rough shine. Of course, one could say that Michelle’s struggles in her relationship with Barack Obama and his political career worked out in the end.
“As soon as I allowed myself to feel anything for Barack, the feelings came rushing — a toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.”
The tone of Becoming suggests that Michelle might have preferred to stay out of the spotlight, especially when she became the target of not-so-thinly-veiled racism as the first black FLOTUS. Nevertheless, beyond her recollection of her fond memories during her more youthful days with POTUS, Michelle’s most intimate details involve her children, Sasha and Malia. Room service, Secret Service, and all kinds of other services aside, Michelle did not want her daughters to grow up over the course of 4-8 years too spoiled. It is here where Michelle struggles to find balance between FLOTUS, mother, wife, and highly-skilled, highly-trained professional collide.
“I carried a history with me, and it wasn’t that of presidents or first ladies. I’d never related to the story of John Quincy Adams the way I did to that of Sojourner Truth.”
Becoming is the best non-fiction book I have read in recent memory, decay of time and the mind due to the ‘Rona years considered. Her writing style maintains a compelling sincerity. The three sections, Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More are plainly accessible for those who read occasionally or voraciously. I recommend Becoming as a great gift–even for yourself, reader–to gain insight on a woman who has [done] some of it all.