I think buying a book as a gift is a bit of a fine art. To do it well, you need to have a proper think about the person you’re buying for. What are they into? Do they like what you like? Will they be freaked out if you buy them that book by your favourite author, the bloody western written in mad biblical prose?
I’ve partnered with Penguin Books and put together a little gift guide. There’s a bit of everything, fiction, travel writing, and photography, all my favourite stuff. Here are five books to buy as gifts (or to add to your own Christmas list):
Paul Theroux took a journey from Massachusetts to Latin America mostly by train. I think Theroux likes trains even more than I do. I read The Great Railway Bazaar, another of Theroux’s, while travelling around India by train. So he’s a writer that means a lot to me. I like the way Theroux writes about travel, but I also like the way he travels. For Theroux, travel is about the people you meet along the way and the stories they tell. I’ve only just started The Old Patagonian Express myself. I’m hooked.
I’ve only read the first of this trilogy by Cormac McCarthy. I love a western, but McCarthy transformed the genre. All The Pretty Horses is one of my favourite books of all time. It’s an adventure. You become part of the journey. You get to know, and feel for, the characters. There’s something about the way McCarthy writes, too: it’s dense, hard to get through at times, but it also has a weird simplicity to it. He doesn’t waste words. I can’t wait to get started on the next two installments of the trilogy.
I only got into Man Ray’s stuff recently, after I watched a documentary about the multidisciplinary artist’s life. I hung onto his every last word. He was an artist comfortable enough to tell it how it is: “The tricks of today are the truths of tomorrow,” he said. Another quote of his I like: “An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an originals motivated be necessity.” Artist or not, this is an inspirational read.
Understanding a Photograph is a collection of essays written by the late novelist, poet, and screenwriter John Berger. I’m currently doing a photography degree and I’m a bit obsessed with the theoretical side of things. Here, Berger writes essays on people like Henri Cartier Bresson, Eugene Smith and Paul Strand. No easy read, but a must if you’re interested in photography.
Men without Women is a collection of short stories by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. All of the stories are about men who, for one reason or another, find themselves alone. Knowing Murakami, there’s probably something a bit more unusual going on, too. Murakami’s work really gets under your skin. After I read Dance, Dance, Dance, I wanted to live in a spooky hotel, on a diet of Dunkin’ donuts and coffee. I can’t wait to get stuck into this.