The gift-giving season is counting down and you're running out of time to find just the right items for those on your list.
Fret not. One fail-safe option is a book. As gifts, books are far more personal than, say, a single-cup coffeemaker or a box of candies. They require careful consideration of the giftee's sensibilities and personality, as well as insight into his or her reading habits.
As gifts, books have no equal. No other tidy package can deliver such a sense of escape, a sprawl of diversion and hours of private pleasure. Except maybe a round-trip airline ticket to Italy.
A book can be read one time or many times, and can be passed on to another worthy reader next week or next year. As a bonus, no batteries or assembly are required.
But with thousands of new titles landsliding the market this time of year, one must narrow the field to a few manageable choices.
The questions become: Where do we go to get ideas for which books to give? Do we consult best-seller lists and websites? Look at the books pages in newspapers and magazines? Maybe check out bookstore displays or consult book club members? Is word-of-mouth really the last word?
We sought direction from a number of best-selling, prize-winning authors and savvy book-industry professionals.
If they were to give a fiction and a nonfiction book as gifts (other than their own, of course), which would they choose? Here are their recommended bibliographies.
William Vollmann of Sacramento
National Book Award-winning author of eight nonfiction books ("Imperial") and 10 novels ("Europe Central")
Fiction: "I like the new translation of 'Don Quixote' (by Miguel De Cervantes). It's funny and sad, all about life and death."
Nonfiction: "For the literary crowd, how about the nine volumes of 'Sahih Al Bukhari' (by Abi Abdullah Bin Al-Bukhar). That's all the sayings and doings of the prophet Muhammad. This is the hard-core militant one, the one the Taliban would like."
John Lescroart of Davis
Author of 21 legal thrillers ("The Hunter") in three series
Fiction: "The (international thriller) 'The Panther' by Nelson DeMille: He is the most entertaining fiction writer on the planet."
Nonfiction: " 'The Last Lion,' the third volume of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill. Churchill was the greatest man of the last century and this is the greatest biography of him."
Jane Smiley of Carmel Valley
Sixteen novels ("Private Life") and six nonfiction titles ("A Year at the Races")
Fiction: " 'Turn of Mind' by Alice LaPlante is a fascinating murder mystery told from the point of view of a woman with dementia. It's the most mysterious mystery ever."
Nonfiction: " 'American Nations' by Colin Woodard is about the 11 different cultures that coexist in the U.S. It's my favorite book of the year."
Max Byrd of Davis
10 novels ("The Paris Deadline")
Fiction: " 'The Leopard' is a forgotten classic by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa. It's about the last years of a great Sicilian aristocrat in a decaying culture in the 1860s. Burt Lancaster played (Prince Don Fabrizio Salina) in the (1963) movie."
Nonfiction: "Stefan Zweig was an absolutely great writer. His 'Twenty-Four Hours In the Life of a Woman' is about amorous obsession. It's short, and that's a virtue, too."
Rivkah Sass of Sacramento
Director of the Sacramento Public Library
Fiction: "I've read 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte at least 40 times. Jane is one of the truest and bravest characters in literature. The story is a metaphor for life."
Nonfiction: "In 'How the Heather Looks,' author Joan Bodger chronicles her family's summer adventure as they sought (the real settings of fictitious books by children's authors) Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame and others. I go back to it whenever I need a little food for my soul."
Chris Enss of Grass Valley
27 nonfiction Westerns ("Object Matrimony")
Fiction: " 'The Ballad of Frankie Silver' by Sharyn McCrumb is based on a true story. It's about a murder that takes place in the Old West and the use of modern-day practices to solve it."
Nonfiction: " 'Elizabeth Bacon Custer and the Making of a Myth' by Shirley Leckie explores her life and marriage to Gen. George Custer, and her influence as his widow (to create the Custer legend)."
James Rollins of El Dorado Hills
Nine titles in the "Sigma Force" thriller series ("Bloodline")
Fiction: " 'World War Z' by Max Brooks is a cautionary tale about a zombie apocalypse. Considering that the Centers for Disease Control recently produced 'Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic' (a graphic novel emphasizing the importance of emergency preparedness), maybe Mr. Brooks' novel should be reclassified as nonfiction."
Nonfiction: " 'The Lost City of Z' by journalist David Grann tells the tale of a turn-of-the-century British explorer who vanished into the Amazon jungle while searching for a fabled lost city. It's both a dark mystery and a real-life 'Indiana Jones' adventure story."
Eileen Rendahl of Davis
The "Messenger" urban-suspense series ("Dead on Delivery")
Fiction: "Catriona McPherson has eight books in her 'Dandy Gilver' historical-mystery series, and you can jump into it through 'The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains.' It's got that 'Downton Abbey' and 'Upstairs, Downstairs' feel to it."
Nonfiction: "Spring Warren's 'The Quarter-Acre Farm' is the perfect book for anyone, because this is the time to start planning a garden."
Kim Stanley Robinson of Davis
10 science-fiction titles in three series, and six stand-alone novels ("Galileo's Dream").
Fiction: "If I were introducing somebody to science fiction, I would give them Ursula K. Le Guin's (Hugo and Nebula award-winning) 'The Left Hand of Darkness.' "
Nonfiction: " 'In Motion' by Tony Hiss is about what happens to our cognitive responses, perception and mental state when we travel. I read some of it while on a plane and it was helpful."
Hut Landon of San Francisco
Executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
Fiction: " 'Telegraph Avenue' by Michael Chabon captures the essence of Berkeley and Oakland, and that urban East Bay feeling of community. If you're a fan of language, he is always a pleasure to read."
Nonfiction: " 'Season of the Witch' by David Talbot is a look at San Francisco in the '60s and the '70s, which was a culturally and politically pivotal time in the city."
Karen Joy Fowler of Santa Cruz
Seven novels ("The Jane Austen Book Club") and four short story collections
Fiction: "I am taken with both of Hilary Mantel's historical-fiction novels (about Oliver Cromwell and King Henry VIII), 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up the Bodies.' "
Nonfiction: " 'Moby-Duck' by Donovan Hohn follows a (maritime) accident in which 28,000 children's bath toys were lost at sea. He tracks them to all the places (around the world) where they washed up."
Malcolm Margolin of Berkeley
Publisher and founder of Heyday Books
Fiction: "T.C. Boyle's 'San Miguel' is a terribly poignant novel with a carefully wrought plot. Boyle displays the nuance, empathy and craft of some of the best writers of the West."
Nonfiction: " 'What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination and the Natural World' by Robert Hass. For the pleasures of reading a first-rate mind, the beauty of the sentence structure, and his thoughts that are both surprising and sound."
Amanda Scott of Folsom
58 historical-romantic adventures ("The Laird's Choice")
Fiction: "Any thriller by Robert Crais (author of the Elvis Cole series), especially the ones (starring) Joe Pike ('The Watchman,' 'The First Rule,' 'The Sentry, 'Taken')."
Nonfiction: " 'In an Instant' is the story of journalist Bob Wood-ruff's ongoing recovery from injuries suffered in Iraq when an IED (improvised explosive device) exploded under his vehicle. (He and wife/ co-author Lee Woodruff) make people believe in miracles."
Terry Brooks of Seattle
The epic "Shannara" fantasy series
Fiction: "Justin Cronin's 'The 12' rethinks the vampire story entirely. It's an amalgam of Bram Stoker and Stephen King. A terrific, exciting read."
Nonfiction: "Erik Larson's 'In the Garden of the Beast' is about the pre-war rise of the Nazi Party in Berlin, and how it affected the American ambassador and U.S. politics."
Brenda Novak of Carmichael
42 romance novels ("When Snow Falls")
Fiction: "I like that the voice in (the mystery) 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn weaves the reader's sympathies from one character to another."
Nonfiction: "'The Barbarous Years' by Bernard Bailyn is such a great overview of the historical beginnings of the American dream."
Ralph Lewin of San Francisco
President and CEO of the California Council for the Humanities
Fiction: " 'The Devil All the Time' by Donald Ray Pollock. Beautiful writing by this first-time novelist draws you into a furious and driving read of humanity's darker side."
Nonfiction: " 'The Warmth of Other Suns' by Isabel Wilkerson. Profound stories from America's great migration that reveal the hard choices made in search of freedom. This book could quite possibly change the way you see United States."
Judith Horstman of Sacramento
Four "Scientific American" brain books
Fiction: " 'Bring Up the Bodies' is Hilary Mantel's mesmerizing sequel to 'Wolf Hall' (both Man Booker Prize winners). It's Henry VIII's oft-told story, but from the perspective of his 'fixer,' Thomas Cromwell. Gorgeous prose, and gripping."
Nonfiction: "Robert K. Massie's 'Catherine the Great' and Antonia Fraser's 'Marie Antoinette.' The two women lived in roughly the same era but, oh, how differently their lives played out. Catherine maneuvered her way to wisely rule an empire. Marie lost her head."
Gerry Maginnity of Sacramento
Acting California State Librarian
Fiction: " 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck because it's part of the California story."
Nonfiction: " 'Sierra Nevada Byways' by Tony Huegel is for people who like to get off main roads and explore backcountry roads."
Barry Eisler of Menlo Park:
Nine titles in two thriller series ("Inside Out")
Fiction: "Some of the best crime fiction I've ever read is 'The Power of the Dog' by Don Winslow. It's an epic crime story built on America's failed war on drugs. Devastating political and social commentary, and great entertainment."
Nonfiction: " 'With Liberty and Justice for Some' by Glenn Greenwald examines America's two-tiered justice system, where we have one set of rules for the country's elite and another system for everybody else."