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10 Books to Give as Gifts This Holiday Season

For the chef, child, rocker and assorted bookworms on your list

Books wrapped with ribbon. Best holiday book gifts.

Happy holiday reading! — Kate Hiscock/Flickr/Getty

Is there a better holiday gift than a good book?

The recipient will still be turning its pages long after the lights and tinsel have been taken down, savoring the story it tells — and thinking fondly of the giver.

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Like Santa, we've been making a list, and now we've checked it twice to make sure it contains gift-book ideas for every personality you may be shopping for in the months ahead.

Puddin' by Clio Goodman (Courtesy Random House)

Publisher: Random House, $25

For Your Favorite Foodie

Nothing says "home for the holidays" more than homemade chocolate pudding, and Clio Goodman's Puddin' lets you bring the hottest new dessert shop in New York City into your own kitchen — or under the tree of your favorite foodie.

Goodman, the owner of hipster mecca Puddin' by Clio in the East Village, offers "foolproof recipes" for everything from beloved standards (butterscotch pudding, tapioca) to more ambitious fare (dulce de leche, banana upside-down cake). Her cookbook lives up to its subtitle: Luscious and Unforgettable Puddings, Parfaits, Pudding Cakes, Pies, and Pops. And we haven't even mentioned the toppings!

Rock and Roll Stories by Lynn Goldsmith (Courtesy Abrams)

Publisher: Abrams, $60

For the Unreconstructed Rocker

Rock fans are guaranteed to eat up the arrestingly intimate portraits that leap from the pages of photographer Lynn Goldsmith's Rock and Roll Stories. (That's a young Bruce Springsteen on the cover, left.)

Here's a candid close-up of Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger, tête-à-tête in 1977; there's Keith Richards, cradling his Stratocaster (and wearing a T-shirt owned by singer Rachel Sweet); and on yet another page is an injured Patti Smith, being loaded into an ambulance after a fall from a Tampa stage that broke several neck vertebrae. From her stretcher, Smith urged: "Lynn, take pictures."

Man, did she!

My Pen Pal, Santa by Melissa Stanton (Courtesy Random House)

Publisher: Random House Children's Books, $9.99

For the Young Reader (or Listener)

True believers will be charmed by the picture book My Pen Pal, Santa in which Melissa Stanton (full disclosure: she's an AARP editor) imagines what might happen when a 6-year-old girl named Ava decides to write Santa Claus a thank-you note after Christmas — and whaddya know, he writes back!

The exchange of handwritten letters continues once a month throughout the year, culminating in Santa's assurance to Ava that "I'm real to the people who believe in me — like you." Artist Jennifer A. Bell's kinetic illustrations add to each month's holiday joy.

The Letters of John F. Kennedy by Martin W. Sandler (Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Publisher: Bloomsbury, $30

For the Political Junkie

Political animals of any stripe will delight in opening either of these books as presents.

Option 1:

We get an unvarnished look inside the soul of JFK in The Letters of John F. Kennedy, in which "one of the most gifted writers ever to occupy the White House" warns Eleanor Roosevelt, "I am certain that you are the victim of misinformation" for bad-mouthing his father, Joseph. Poignantly, the 36th president also promises a wartime girlfriend, "If anything happens to me I have this knowledge that if I had lived to be a hundred I could only have improved the quantity of my life, not the quality."

Double Down: Game Change 2012 by John Heilemann (Courtesy Penguin Press)

Publisher: Penguin, $29.95

Option 2:

In Double Down: Game Change 2012, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann use their insider access to explain why President Obama chose to interpret his second electoral victory as an even more powerful mandate than his first.

From squabbling Republicans and the self-sabotaging Mitt Romney to "mustachioed message mavens" who struggled to keep their hot-tempered boss from coming across in debates as "nasty Obama," no one departs this stage unscathed.

Next page: 5 more page-turners to gift this holiday season. »

Inherit the Dead by multiple authors (Courtesy Simon & Schuster)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, $25.99

For the Mystery Lover

Way too many choices will confront you in a year when every thriller writer from Heather Graham and Marcia Clark to Lawrence Block and Mary Higgins Clark brought out new novels.

Option 1:

Buy a book written by all four of them — plus 16 of their closest writer-friends!

You read that right.

The new Inherit the Dead is billed as "One chilling mystery … 20 thrilling writers," with each author contributing a chapter to this tale of an Upper East Side socialite and her missing wayward daughter.

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries by Otto Penzler (Courtesy Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

Publisher: Vintage, $25

Option 2:

If this mosaic approach intrigues you but you want something more seasonal, pick up a copy of The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by titan-of-the-field Otto Penzler.

Touting his anthology as "the most complete collection of Yuletide whodunits ever assembled," Penzler invites the reader to "have yourself a crooked little Christmas" with these tales of "festive felonies, unscrupulous Santas and misdemeanors under the mistletoe."

Contributors include Agatha Christie, Ed McBain, Sara Paretsky and more than 50 other legends.

The Southerner's Handbook by John T. Edge (Courtesy Harper Wave)

Publisher: HarperCollins, $29.99

For the Bon Vivant

The South is back in style — have you noticed?

How else to explain why "Hipsters from Brooklyn now descend on our mountain precincts in search of chocolate gravy," writes John T. Edge in The Southerner's Handbook.

Compiled by the editors of Garden & Gun magazine, this "guide to living the good life" will teach the bon vivant on your holiday list how to brew a Bloody Mary, bake perfect biscuits or find the best peach stand on the back roads of South Carolina. And — crucially — how to season "the almighty cast-iron skillet." The secret, all you auslanders, is with lard.

I'm Not Gonna Lie (And Other Lies You Tell When You Turn 50) by George Lopez (Courtesy Celebra Hardcover)

Publisher: Celebra, $25.95

For the Wannabe Comedian

Is there one in your family?

Does he haunt your holiday gatherings?

Keep him quiet — for a while, at any rate — by gift-wrapping him a copy of I'm Not Gonna Lie (And Other Lies You Tell When You Turn 50) by stand-up comic and talk-show host George Lopez.

His 40s were "a touch-and-go decade," says Lopez: divorce, kidney disease, two canceled shows.

And though Lopez used to "lie to survive," when he hit 50 in 2011 he vowed: "I'm not gonna lie. Anymore. Not at my age. I don't have that good a memory."

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper (Courtesy New York Review Books

Publisher: The New York Review of Books, $30

For the Armchair Traveler

You know you've led an exciting life when your biography is subtitled An Adventure — and that's just what your favorite armchair traveler is in for when he opens your gift of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper.

Fermor's life (1915-2011) overflowed with travel, romance and derring-do.

He walked from Holland to Istanbul in 1934 (and later wrote three books about it), fell in love with a Romanian countess, and abducted a German general from Crete in WWII.

No wonder Welsh historian and travel writer Jan Morris calls this book a "magnificent biography [of] one of the very best of men."


Allan Fallow writes about books for AARP Media.

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