When in doubt, give books. They’re colourful, relatively cheap, and dead easy to wrap. Best of all, unlike socks, they’re worth borrowing back once the recipients have tried them out for a few weeks.
For those who like to travel the edge
Local-history buffs will be enthralled by Andrew Scott’s comprehensive new work The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names (Harbour, $49.95). This hugely detailed hardcover taps into a deep well of local lore, with hundreds of entries on the islets, coves, reefs, and passages that define our ragged coastline. Gingolx, Elswa Rock, Coffin Island Point, Concepcion Point, Dowager Island—all have a story to tell, and together they make up a rich, jostling account of Native life, European incursion, and heavy industry. Of course, the Straight flipped immediately to the Strait of Georgia, to discover that Capt. Vancouver labelled it after George III, a famously deranged English monarch.
If, however, the person on your list is interested less in the past than in the cultural future of the province, they might like to see how it’s evolving in the hands of Haida Gwaii visual artist and storyteller Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Red: A Haida Manga (Douglas & McIntyre, $28.95) reaches across the Pacific to fuse contemporary Japanese graphic forms with a classic Haida tale of revenge. The result is a luminous, ingeniously rendered graphic novel that’s bound to become a touchstone.
For those who think the best books are by dead Russians
This season has lots to offer fans of Serious Lit. For starters, there’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy (Knopf, $35), in a new English translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The Paris-based couple has been widely lauded for giving English readers a clearer view of the Russian classics than ever before. Their treatment of the profound title story in this collection alone should be worth the price.
Even more intriguing is a new work from another long-gone master. Before his death in 1977, Vladimir Nabokov declared that he didn’t want his final, unfinished novel released—yet here it is, The Original of Laura (Knopf, $42), “a novel in fragments” exhumed from a bank vault. If the Nabokov fan on your list isn’t grabbed by the story, he or she will no doubt be fascinated by the presentation: the book is dominated by full-size reproductions of the 138 handwritten index cards on which the work was composed, giving an intimate view of the system Nabokov used to create such monuments as Lolita and Pale Fire. The pages are perforated so that you can remove the cards and play genius yourself, shuffling them into any order you like.
For would-be Maritimers
While we’re on the subject of newly unearthed books by iconic authors: devotees of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ageless Anne of Green Gables and its sequels will view her writings in a new light after they run into The Blythes Are Quoted (Viking Canada, $25), the last work Montgomery completed before she died in 1942. Released for the first time in its unabridged form, it shows Anne 20 years older than when we last saw her, as she confronts human corruption and mortality. It also shows Montgomery experimenting with form, through a unique fusion of prose, poetry, and dialogue.
An ideal complement to this, and fitting easily into the same piece of wrapping paper, is L. M. Montgomery (Penguin Canada, $26), Jane Urquhart’s recent contribution to Extraordinary Canadians, a series of short biographies by some of the nation’s best writers. Urquhart, a literary force in her own right, sets her fiction-honed imagination to the task of entering Montgomery’s inner world, which became only more turbulent as Anne Shirley grew into an international star.
For hockey fans who think things have really gone south
Big, old institutions rarely transform themselves in a single day, but that’s what the National Hockey League did when Wayne Gretzky was traded from the hilariously talented Edmonton Oilers to the mostly hilarious Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988. As veteran Globe and Mail sports columnist Stephen Brunt explains in his fast-moving and totally enjoyable book Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, Canada, and the Day Everything Changed (Knopf Canada, $34.95), the Great One’s relocation to warmer climes opened the NHL’s current era, with its spiralling player salaries and nonsensical interest in sunbelt markets that look on hockey as a discount version of roller derby. Required reading if you want to understand why our favourite game is the way it is.
For those who prefer their culture in point form
There’s something in the modern psyche that just loves a list. Say “Here are my top-five [insert topic],” and people suddenly want to know, usually despite themselves. (And yes, I know, it’s what I’m doing right now. There you go.) The challenge lies in coming up with unique and entertaining categories, something the writers at the A.V. Club (a spinoff of the mighty Onion satirical newspaper) have down to an art. Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists (Scribner, $24) collects the best of the A.V. Club’s weekly efforts in this area, settling once and for all such matters as which great movies are too painful to be seen more than once (United 93 , to name one) and which songs about rock music utterly fail to rock (say, Shaun Cassidy’s “That’s Rock ’n’ Roll”). Manic itemizing has never been so much fun.