Books are go-to last-minute gifts—at least for those of us still lucky enough to live within driving distance of a bricks-and-mortar bookstore—but they needn’t come off as the product of lazy thoughtlessness. They needn’t, that is, scream “I forgot to get you anything and so dashed into a Barnes & Noble on my way over to see you,” nor strike their recipients less like a treat and more like homework. Here are nine of the books published in 2011, recommended, semi-thoughtfully, for the specific folks likely to be on your gift list. Add your own suggestions in the comments.
For neurotic parents freaked out about their kids’ development: Philip Schultz’s memoir My Dyslexia demonstrates that even a kid with learning disabilities, who couldn’t read until the fifth grade, can grow up to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.
For the comic-book fan who needs a little help growing up: Created by a brother-sister team, Galit and Gilad Seliktar’s graphic novel Farm 54 describes in harrowing style growing up amid tragedies on a moshav, or settlement, in 1980s Israel.
For the aspiring New York intellectual: If they accomplish nothing else, Alfred Kazin’s Journals, edited by Richard M. Cook, should counter any youngster’s callow yearning for a more vibrant age of American Jewish culture, by making very clear just how lousy it felt to hang out at the Podhoretzes’ with Irving Kristol and Norman Mailer.
For the sports fan willing to go deeper than, say, Moneyball: In uncovering the role of Jews in running Negro Leagues baseball teams and then integrating the majors, Rebecca Alpert’s history Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball offers support to those who understand American athletics not just as bread and circuses but as a site for the negotiation of key racial and social relationships.
For the religious pedants you can’t avoid: If they’re constantly quoting a baraita at you, they might be interested to learn in Talya Fishman’s Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures that it was hardly inevitable that the Talmud would be transformed into the primary text of rabbinic Judaism.
For a friend in want of a good orgasm: Christopher Turner’s history Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America surveys the career and ideas of Wilhelm Reich, who evangelized for the psychological necessity of getting off.
For an American Jewish World Service-supporting exoticist: Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff’s stories and essays, collected in Mongrels or Marvels, do more than revel in the charms and dangers of the East; they offer the insights of a Jewish woman who was born to Iraqi and Tunisian parents in 1917, raised in Cairo, and wrote exclusively in English while living in Israel.
For the Us Weekly devotee: It may not satisfy TMZ hardcores, but for milder celebrity junkies, Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook My Father’s Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness will allow your loved one to cook and eat a little like the Hollywood royalty descended from the Gaon of Nitzy-Novgorod.
For someone ignorant about Israeli and American culture who nonetheless insists on spouting off about the politics and culture of both countries: Yoram Kaniuk’s Life on Sandpaper, a genre-bending work of autobiographical fiction, introduces the reader to a young painter and veteran of the 1948 War of Israeli Independence who spent the 1950s hanging out with Miles Davis and Marlon Brando, and who reels off anecdotes of his youth idiosyncratically and with none of the comfortable clichés one might expect.