If you give a mouse a book…

…he totally won’t understand because mice can’t read (with the exception of Ratatouille, Fievel and possibly Stuart Little.) But if you give a person a book, well, that makes way more sense.

I will be the first to admit: Gifting books can be something of a stressful task. A book is a large time investment (relative to movies and music); plus, what if you’re wrong about what someone might like? What if they ultimately hate something you loved? What if they already own the book, or don’t like reading hardcovers or have been secretly illiterate for 20+ years and survive only by memorizing restaurant menus and pretending to hate the Internet? These are the things I worry about.

Now, I have yet to read every book in the known universe, but I’m obviously getting pretty close and it’s time I put my knowledge to use. So here are Sorry Television’s recommendations for this year’s book gifting. Because if your friends are secretly illiterate, you should at least give them something good to not understand.

MOM: Every mom is different. Which is to say that I wouldn’t necessarily get my mom the same thing I’d get …Sarah Palin if she were my mom (mostly because if Sarah Palin were my mom I’d be far too busy killing myself to buy Christmas gifts.) But there are some constants to which most mothers are partial: men and women riding off into sunsets on golden-maned horses; little orphan children winning the lottery; Michael Buble, naked by a fire. So if she hasn’t read it already (and many, many people have) get your moms Water for Elephants. It’s set in the 1930s, involves animals, is about star-crossed lovers and has an elephant. NEED I SAY MORE.

DAD: Dads are tough to buy for. And not just in the realm of books, I mean in general. If I had to guess, I’d say that, in my lifetime, my father has received from me approximately 48 ties, 35 shaving or hygiene-related gift packages, 25 cashew or food-related gift packages, 61 gift cards and 900 pairs of socks. Coming up with more innovative ideas gives me heart palpitations (my dad leads a somewhat spartan lifestyle, and it’s easy to imagine a more whimsical gift being relegated to a closet somewhere) and, to his credit, my father has developed a straightforward gift request system that serves everyone’s needs: he gets exactly what he wants (like, exactly; last year it was a solid brown zip-up hooded sweatshirt) and I don’t have to spend 27 minutes staring at shaving kits.

Anyway, if you do decide to go the book route, play it safe: Steve Jobs. Not because all dads are gadget freaks (though mine spent an awful lot of my childhood trying to explain sound systems to me), but because Walter Isaacson’s biography of the Apple co-founder is so unquestionably awesome that I can’t imagine someone not liking it.

SIBLING: Obviously I can’t make broad assumptions about what a sibling—who could be of any age, gender or literary proclivity—might enjoy reading. But I recently handed over this series of books to my own sister (who, as a reference point, is an English teacher, loves horror movies and still watches cartoons) and haven’t heard a complaint yet.

The Strain, The Fall and The Night Eternal are the three books in a horror/science-fiction thriller trilogy co-written by Guillermo del Toro (of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy fame) and Chuck Hogan. As my sister put it, “a vampire story takes on the pandemic vibe of a zombie flick.” So no, not exactly the type of reading that makes you want to wrap presents and drink eggnog, but definitely the kind of reading that could get anyone through a few tedious days in suburban Pennsylvania. Not that…such..days..need “getting through” (stop reading now, mom.) Just saying, everybody likes vampires.

BEST LADY FRIEND: Tina Fey’s memoir was, unsurprisingly, heralded on all manner of “Best of 2011” lists this year, so throwing my endorsement in the ring isn’t going to do much to augment the book’s bestseller status. That said, Bossypants is absolutely a book that every women should read, especially if, as a woman, you’ve ever seriously considered wearing stretchy pants to a formal event.

Fey manages to make you laugh and vaguely consider crying, but without inspiring the sort of “right, it must be soooo hard being rich and successful and loved and happy” attitude I thought might creep out of my resentful inner self. Bossypants is, of course, about Fey’s ascent in comedy, but it’s also a bit of a rallying cry for women—of course you can do it all, and you should punch in the face anyone who asks how you manage to. Get this for that friend you drink copious amounts of wine with, the one that’ll be your roommate in old age (Golden Girls style), after both of your husbands have died and you’ve given up on wearing shoes with laces.

BEST DUDE FRIEND: Again, lots of types of dudes in the world. You have the (primarily Brooklyn-based) guys, who when they aren’t reading the latest New Yorker fiction, unassumingly peruse Voltaire on the L train. Then you have the dudes who wouldn’t know what a book is unless you referred to it as “that thing propping up the wobbly table.” And that’s it. I have effectively summed up the two types of men in the whole world.

Fortunately, Susan Casey’s The Wave is an interesting read for either type of guy, as it’s intelligent but also the nonfiction equivalent of watching explosions. Casey—who also happens to be very attractive; not relevant, just saying—trailed Laird Hamilton and other big-wave surfers for months in an effort to document the culture of 100+-foot waves. The result is an incredibly interesting book, where for every jargon-heavy interview with a scientist there’s also some epic anecdote about a crazy surfer’s run-in with swells bigger than buildings. Honestly I’d give this book to anyone—except people with Thalassophobia—but it’s a particularly good pick for those who needs their books to contain as much excitement as an episode of Deadliest Catch.

So there you have it, an official guide to gifting books that are slightly less likely than other books to become table-stabilizers. Even though it’s difficult, (and even though most of my family has switched to e-readers and probably resents me giving them print books in the first place), I still promote books as the ideal present for any occassion. After all, nothing shows you care like imposing your cultural tastes on those closest to you.

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