Three ultimate gift books: 2010

Some books have got ultimate gift book written all over them. And I don't mean they are soppy, superficial and short. On the contrary, you recognise them by the following quirks.

  • They're hefty, but consist of numerous bite-sized pieces.
  • They're eccentric. In fact they're downright silly. And preferably illustrated.
  • A normal human being would never sit down and read them from cover to cover. At least not in the course of a normal working week.
  • But you would enjoy dipping in and out of them when a guest at the givee's house. At Christmas time, for instance.
  • You'll see men, women, children and non-readers reading them. They may deny it.
  • Readers look angry, amused or mystified. Not comatose.

This year the golden sash goes to three eminently giveable volumes. I cannot say I've read them all from cover to cover, but this will happen. Probably. Possibly. Or not. My cunning plan is to give them to three families I'm likely to visit in the near future.

  1. Earth (The book)... A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Particular Books. This hefty volume is clearly addressed To Our Alien Reader. Jon Stewart is dead, I'm dead, you're dead, we're all dead. Extinct, would be the word. But thoughtfully the authors have prepared a one-volume illustrated history of the earth for our successors. Your belly laughs will be pained ones. I'm giving this to Max, aged 11. May he live long enough to meet the aliens. And may he be kind enough to share.
  2. Handbags and Hovercrafts: Trade Me's most memorable auctions. Random House. 386 pages about the auctions with a life of their own, like Orlando Bloom's Lollipop, a Comfort Hug, a Red Paper Clip, Apostrophe—hardly used, Tama Umaga's historic handbag, and the Scary Washing Machine. Trade Me looks like an auction site, works like an auction site, but is infinitely crazier and worthier and sillier than a mere auction site. Best of all, profits go to Books in Homes, our favourite charity (we are privileged to sponsor two schools). Lucky Matt gets this book as the icing on a memorable year of cake and salmon.
  3. Illustrated Superfreakonomics. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Penguin. They've done it again, and kindly explained what they've done, apart from amuse certain people vastly. They say: People respond to incentives, although not necessarily in ways that are predictable or manifest. They use a microeconomics microscope to examine prostitution, drugs, kiddy seat belts, sumo wrestling, global warming, and that Important Issue you were thinking about a minute ago. Deliciously mind-warping and not entirely nonsense. And goody goody, there are pictures too! My son Ben gets this book although he doesn't deserve it, because he forgot to tell me he bought a 40-ton earth moving machine on Trade Me.

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