Monday, November 25, 2013

A Bookish Christmas List: 2013

Since last year's Christmas list was full of things only Santa could afford, here's a list of genuinely good and affordable gifts for the writerly and/or readerly person in your life.

Category 1: Books

Enough with the wordy, depressing, and cliche world of pop fiction! Picture books say a whole lot in a little bit of space, and you get pages and pages of artwork to boot.

1. Buy a book that is supposedly for adults but has been put into a format supposedly for kids (apparently because of the added illustrations), like something from the Poetry for Young People series from Sterling.

2. Or buy something you've never heard of. For example, here's my rough copy of Fortunately by Remy Charlip and is a great example of a book worthy of being loved and read but no longer displayed on McBookstore shelves. Go to used bookstores, find a bunch you've never heard of, sit on the floor and read them, then pick your favorite and wrap it up for someone for Christmas.

3. Look for one of the really good classics. Here's a favorite. Don't get a cartoony edition, get the one with original artwork by William Nicholson. It makes a difference! This book is heartbreaking in the same way as Toy Story was, but with a 1920s vibe.

4. All parents are freaks in one way or another, even though some are good at hiding it. So for all those who didn't live in a Hallmark special, I present to you, Monster Mama, whose weaknesses can also be her strengths.

5. This or any book by Oliver Jeffers. They're sweet, quiet, disarmingly and deceivingly simple, and beautifully illustrated. They're a hug in a book.

6. Death can be beautiful and honorable and inspiring. Our culture needs to get a grip on it. Rabbityness.

7. Or, lastly, try out some historical creative nonfiction with a personal, meaningful message, preferably about something outside your cultural and/or social sphere.

Category 2: Focused Craft Experiences

This is more expensive than a book, and you'll need to know quite a bit about the receiver's preferences and available time off work. If you can't find something near where your friend lives, there are tons of options a plane ride away.

1. Writing Retreats & Courses - In the last year, I've gone on a couple writing retreats. One was self-led:

The other was tutor-led:

Both were fantastic experiences. There's nothing like getting away and focusing completely on your writing, and most writers would love the opportunity. Alternatively, you could rent a weekend at a cabin for your friend, buy her a gift card for the nearest grocery store, a bottle or two of wine, and a pack of invitations to send to her writing buddies so they can create a retreat of their own.

2. Conferences, Memberships & Events - Conferences are overpriced, cliquish, and often put on airs like no other, but they're a great place to make connections…

...and get your writing read by pros in the field. That can be priceless. There are conferences for everything from religious romance literature to young adult fantasy to creative nonfiction. Often, such conferences are run by groups that require membership, so your gift could be a year membership just to let them try it out. Also watch for news of author visits and book signings nearby, which are usually free. Just last year, I met the author who most affected my childhood. Getting that signed book was one of the highlights of my bookish life.

3. School Visits - If the person you're buying for is really serious about writing or getting into the book industry, buy him a weekend trip to visit a college or university with a program he's interested in, see the local sights, go to a reading or exhibit or both--generally get immersed and see what he really thinks. A school visit is what finally helped me decide to follow my interest in children's literature. It could do the same for him.

4. Literary Sites - Look around--there may be places close to you with literary history or significance. We've got the Wren's Nest and the Margaret Mitchell House here, and there are special events constantly coming through town, like this illustrator exhibit currently featured at the High Museum of Art. Taking your friend to something like this would be an excellent gift.

5. Theater Tickets - If your friend reads or writes, then your friend loves stories. Find the local playhouse. See what's playing. Get your friend season tickets and a gift card for a great restaurant nearby. Jonathan is taking me to see A Christmas Carol at The New American Shakespeare Tavern next month, and I can't freaking wait.

Category 3: Tools

If the person you're buying for is a writer, then there are lots of affordable tools that can help make the process even more enjoyable. There's a bit for readers here too.

1. Noveling Software - There's tons of software for writers, most of which I know nothing about, but I do know that using Scrivener changed my writing process. You can set up your novel into chapters, scenes, parts, whatever you like, and add notes all over the place. There's a spot for keeping all your research organized and for filing character and location sketches too. Plus, if you want to self-publish, it knows how to correctly format your finished novel. Do some research, find what's best for the writer in your life, and get them some organization software.

2. Practical, Sturdy Handwriting Tools - Journals have been popular forever. I have so many, and I never use them. The only thing I use for handwriting is a plain old Moleskine and a pack of multicolored pens. The Moleskine has an elastic band to keep it shut, comes in all sizes, and usually has a little pocket inside. No quote on the front. No lines on the pages (at least not in mine). Just paper in a sturdy book with a strap to hold it all together.

3. Craft Books - There are approximately one gazillion of these on the market. Some tell how to write stories, others describe how to write in a certain genre, others explain how to get into the business, and still others teach grammar and style. My favorites are the ones that aren't so much about how as why. They're written to encourage the writer, not tell how to write or what to write next. Sometimes, all an artist needs to keep going is for someone to say, yes, you suck today, but most days, you're fantastic, so Keep Going. Here are my favorites:

4. Book Light & Soft Cozy Blanket - No matter who's receiving your gift, they will love a soft cozy blanket and a book light. This book light is extra cool because it comes with a pen for writing secret notes. Along with this snazzy blanket, every reader will be all set.

5. Local Guide - Out of money? That's okay! One of the best gifts I can think of receiving, especially since I'm in a big town and haven't been here long, would be a homemade guide to the best local spots to read, write, get a cup of tea, people watch, get inspired, daydream, eat chocolate, or all of the above. Find great places for a creative soul to go, type up a clever guide in a nice, clean font (for the love of god not comic sans), print it, fold it like a card, draw some holly on the front, and you're done.

Category 4: In honor

If the recipient of your gift would prefer something more charitable this year, consider the following. (There are tons more options, but these are the ones I've had experience with and trust.)

1. First Book - This organization has provided 100 million books to kids in need. Read that again: 100 million. For $10, you can get 4 books sent to kids in need too, and do it in celebration or in memory of your reading/writing friend.

2. Barnes & Noble Holiday Book Drive - There's a good chance the Barnes & Noble in your area is involved in the yearly holiday book drive. You buy the books and your store donates them to a local literacy organization, school, or other group in need of literature. That's what I got Dad last year, and it was so much fun picking the books out myself (see picture below). Even better, take the recipient of your gift with you and make it an outing. Give them the receipt for their memories, a hug for being a charitable friend, and a kiss if you have a crush on them and have been meaning to tell them for years but have been a big chicken.

That's all I can think of, friends, so I hope it helps! Merry Christmas! Happy gift giving! I wish you all peaceful, pleasant, perfect moments with the ones you love, if you can manage to stop fighting for five freaking minutes :)


"One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books." - J. K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone