Hanson's Eclectic List of Books to Give for Christmas 2016

My friend Doug Connolly interviewed me recently on the Catholic Phoenix podcast.

(Note: Our interview isn't out yet, but as soon as it is, I'll link to it specifically.)

Doug asked me to prepare a list of 5 books meeting the following criteria:

  • I recommend them.
  • Someone might want to give them as a gift.

I came up with the list, and I even went further, adding an additional 5 books as back-up gifts (in case the listener wasn't interested in any of my primary 5).

I definitely recommend them. Whether you'll want to give them depends on you (the giver) and the recipient (whose tastes might run in directions similar to mine — you'll need to discern and use your own judgment).

5 Good Books to Give as Gifts in 2016

Here are the books I recommended on the podcast as gifts you might give to someone for Christmas 2016:

1. True Grit | Charles Portis

By Charles Portis

True Grit first came to me as a gift. Before that, I hadn't known that it was a book before it was a movie. I loved the book.

It is way, way better than the movies. It's a great story, and the narrator — Mattie Ross — is much more interesting in the book than she is in the movies.

I think about Rooster Cogburn when faced with certain kinds of human beings. "You can't serve papers on a rat, baby sister." Amen, Rooster, amen.

Who It's For: Give this book to anyone who likes adventure, guns, or grit.

2. The Four Cardinal Virtues | Josef Pieper

I picked this book up when I was 19. It was a life-changer. Had I not read it, I don't think I would have appreciated either Aquinas or the traditional teaching on the virtues.

Pieper's discussion of prudence is something I keep circling around mentally 20 years after first reading it. I'll still be grateful to Pieper 20 years from now.

Who It's For: Give this book to anyone with a philosophical bent or an interest in accessing St. Thomas Aquinas (Pieper is a good guide).

3. The Sketchnote Handbook | Mike Rohde

I'm not an visual artist. I don't draw. But I like doodling. And I often prefer pen & paper to computers.

In the Sketchnote Handbook, Mike Rohde shows you how to doodle to high effect. It's doodling on another plane: it's sketchnoting.

Who It's For: Give this book to anyone who likes notebooks or who hankers to draw but isn't quite there yet.

Bonus: Mike Rohde has a cool site and a cool podcast.

4. Linchpin | Seth Godin

Godin is good. He's smart and very helpful. This book, I believe, is his own favorite.

It's worth the read for anyone thinking about how the internet may have affected the economy in ways analogous to the steam engine affecting the economy of the past. Or for anyone thinking about what kind of work they want to do in life.

Who It's For: Give this book to anyone who's thinking about work or career.

5. Make It Stick | Peter Brown et al.

This book was one of my favorite reading experiences of 2015. I'm going to give it to myself so that I can re-read it in early 2017 (I borrowed it from the library on the first go-around).

It's about the science of learning. It's written by cognitive psychologists, with a novelist's help. So it's compelling and substantive reading. (Don't let "cognitive psychologists" scare you! It's not boring AT ALL.)

Who It's For: Give this to anyone thinking seriously about either (a) their own learning or (b) their children's learning.

5 More GOOD back-UP BOOKS (If You didn't Like the first list)

If you don't like my primary recommendations, here are the back-up books I recommend:

1. The Dog of the South | Charles Portis

Portis wrote True Grit, which has a vein of humor running through it. But it's mostly an adventure tale with cowboys and a strong-willed, odd young heroine.

The Dog of the South is very different, but just as good as True Grit — perhaps even better.

Ray Midge heads down to Central America to find his wife Norma, who has run off with Guy Dupree. Ray meets Doc Symes along the way. It's a hoot. Truly some of the funniest lines I've ever read.

Who It's For: Give this book to anyone who can read a book and find it funny (not everyone can do this).

2. Leisure: The Basis of Culture | Josef Pieper

If you want to give something philosophical, but my Four Cardinal Virtues recommendation was too heavy, here's something lighter: Pieper's book on leisure.

It's really a longish essay. It's also one of those books that changed my life with a simple idea: work is for the sake of something (leisure) which is for the sake of other things (virtuous endeavor, contemplation, worship).

Who It's For: Give this book to anyone with a taste for profundities made accessible without being oversimplified.

3. Steal Like an Artist | Austin Kleon

If Rohde's sketchnote book is too much for you to consider, here's a smaller book that's still got the doodles: Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist.

Don't worry: you won't be corrupting morals. The "stealing" is really a form of loving, attentive imitation. Kleon is good: smart and helpful.

Who It's For: Give this book to anyone with an artistic bent, especially if that person needs encouraging.

4. A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas | Ralph McInerny

I like Aquinas. I like Ralph McInerny. Both are wise. McInerny gained his wisdom by studying Aquinas. You can gain some wisdom from reading both.

McInerny will help you with Aquinas in this book. He may also make you laugh out loud. He's funny. He made me laugh in this book.

(Note: I saw him give a talk once. He wore a really nice suit. I think he must have been able to afford it because of his Fr. Dowling money.)

Who It's For: Give this book to the philosophical type.

5. A Mind for Numbers | Barbara Oakley

I like books about learning. I liked this book especially, because the message is: "If you think you suck at math, you can get better." I sucked at math in school.

This book is very practical and very accessible to young people (high-schoolers or college kids, and maybe some smartish middle-schoolers, too).

Who It's For: Give this book to kids in school or to parents who want their kids to get better in school (or to yourself, if you've decided it's time to learn differential calculus).