Editor’s note: Theologically ideal or not, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. So, as is tradition, National Review Online asked some family and friends to gather round and offer some advice on gifts to give.
In my experience the most challenging folks to buy for are non-readers and older people who have acquired a lifetime of goods and are not interested in another sweater or some knickknack they’ll have to “treasure” whether they want to or not. My hubby and I have successfully worked past the “we have everything” problem by really listening to little remarks these folks make in passing. Thus, the grandparent who was once heard to murmur “I always wanted to try painting,” got an easel and “begin painting” kit with appropriate canvases and brushes. He’s since passed on, and for a while our siblings thanked us through their teeth for the goofy paintings we all had in our garages and playrooms, but Granddad flicked the burnt sienna and channeled Bob Ross and we were all delighted to see him so happy. The energetic hostess who likes lovely things got a beautiful, snowy white “no-iron” tablecloth with 16 napkins and new candlesticks to replace the high-maintenance stuff she hadn’t realized had gotten so tired-looking. The coffee lovers who have used the same percolator (and same brand of coffee) for 40 years got a high-quality coffee mill and several pounds of interesting coffee beans, all of which they loved showing off to their friends, who promptly ran out and got mills and beans of their own. When Grandma sang a snip of song and said, “I haven’t heard that in years,” we discovered it was “You Don’t Know Me” and found the perfect rendition of it on Ray Charles’ s Modern Sounds in Country Music, to which we added a nice Ella Fitzgerald collection as a bonus. This year, Auntie has mentioned both Claudette Colbert and Laurence Olivier…could be she’ll find DVD’s of It Happened One Night and the difficult-to-get Rebecca in her stocking…
— The Anchoress, a Catholic blogger, writes here.
I think a terrific –and thoughtful –gift are old etchings or prints that mean something to the person receiving the gift I know I gave my son a nineteenth century etching of Washington which was the same view he now has from his condo. One Christmas he gave his brother some Japanese prints which his brother really liked. And I once gave my husband an old print of Venice, a city he once lived in and loves. It is on our living room wall. But if the woman in your life has no wall space I’ll make it really simple. Everyone woman I’ve even known likes jewelry.
— Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.
I’m biased, but I must recommend: A Red State of Mind by Nancy French!
And if you must look to anything else: War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West by Niall Ferguson. The always-provocative British historian looks at the World Wars not as distinct and separate events but as part of a “War of the World” that lasted from 1913-1953. The scale of the devastation even between wars reminds us that perhaps the world does need policing, and the price of passivity can be genocide.
– David French is a senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). ADF is challenging Georgia Tech’s Safe Space Training program in federal court.
The best product I’ve found this year are White Shark popsicles. Totally white–hence clean–but each one is a “surprise” flavor. My kids love them, and no more grape faces or cherry drool! They’re not quite wrappable, but my children are getting coupons in their stockings!
— Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of It Takes a Parent.
For the past couple of years, I’ve made contributions to charitable organizations in the names of various relatives. For example, I donated some money in my brother-in-law’s name to an African missionary who was building a small hospital in Tanzania through a grassroots foundation I’m working with. The cash literally went to buy cinderblocks and cement. Now the hospital is finished and my brother-in-law can see the benefits of the gift.
A larger organization that’s fun for kids to get involved with is Heifer International. They use donations to purchase livestock and fowl and other income-producing animals for people in developing nations. Children can look through the catalogue or Web site and choose a gift to give. Then they can say, “Grandma, I gave a poor family two ducks and a chicken and signed your name!” You also get a nice certificate noting the contribution.
People really seem to like this method and it avoids faking a happy expression over an ugly scarf.
— Susan Konig, a journalist, is author of Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children).
Kathryn Jean Lopez
You can’t beat Susan Konig’s suggestion. The AmericaSupportsYou Defense Department website is a good place to start for some worthwhile (and credible) military-charity ideas.
I’m famous for giving gifts that make people who love me dearly say “what the…?” And so I’m giving everyone I know a copy of Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death. They’ll think it such an odd Christmas gift that they’ll be compelled to read it, and there we will be, reading our way to preserving a culture of life.
Every gal gets a copy of Kate O’Beirne’s Women Who Make the World Worse (now in paperback!).
So do bitter single men (just kidding…).
As you can see, I don’t have to look very far for quality book gift ideas.
A safe choice for everyone on your list: the very funny Spoiled Rotten America by Larry Miller.
Every married couple on my list gets a copy of The Mr. & Mrs. Happy Handbook, by the Fox News Channel’s Steve Doocy. Every dad with a daughter gets Meg Meeker’s Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know.
I’ve recently taken to also giving women on my list “covetable” items from the Feminists for Life store. And many at NR are familiar by now with my fondness for the Ronald Reagan Library’s online store.
All my friends who have graduated from Water Boy but still young enough to be humming the “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” Geoffrey the Giraffe commercial from the 80s will be getting a DVD of Click.
And every Evangelical on my list gets a copy of Finding Faith in Christ from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Just kidding… I’ll be giving out Catholic apologetics to every Mormon on my list just to make up for the guilt from that joke…)
And never forget that NRO has a store and other merchandise options!
One final note on her final note: Myrna Blyth is a very wise woman.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
John J. Miller
Roar Restored, by the staff of the Detroit Free Press. No fan of the Detroit Tigers should go a day longer without owning this 128-page celebration of a season that nobody expected.
Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia, ed. S.T. Joshi and Stephen Dziemianowicz. These three volumes will set you back a few dollars, but for fans of ghost stories and weird fiction, they’re a treasure trove of information. If you spend hours and hours reading this stuff, they’re worth the investment. (Bonus for wingnuts: Includes an entry on Russell Kirk!)
A knife holder for geeks. Not for the family kitchen, and not a gift for your wife or girlfriend–but a conversation-making accessory for a bachelor-pad kitchen. Especially for fans of the movie Psycho.
— John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the author, most recently, of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.
Probably not exceedingly pc of me, but I like to give something that someone would have no way of aquiring on his own. A ham of venison, say, or a brace of mallard ducks. Even a mess of catfish. Something, you know, that took some effort.
– Geoffrey Norman writes from Vermont.
Fr. James Schall, S.J.
Ignatius Press has published a handsome edition of Benedict XVI’s Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Its 108 pages contain as much wisdom as any pages I know. The reconciling of the various meanings of love — eros, phila, agape — is something fundamental to human, and yes, divine living. Benedict is clear, erudite, insightful, and succinct. If you are humble enough to learn from a pope, you and your friends, on finishing this really remarkable little tractate, will be delighted to focus on the things that count.
Likewise, a friend, who was in London, found a copy of Maurice Baring’s Lost Lectures (London: Peter Davies, 1932). I have always loved receiving used books as presents. This book of the English diplomat and writer contains his reminiscences of Eton, Oxford, “The Nineties” (1890s!), and the British Diplomatic Corps. They are enchanting. I had read this book decades ago and found its rereading, as rereading often is, even more charming. In his chapter on “Music,” Baring writes: “The greatest musical treats I have had in my life have been listening to the Russian choirs in the churches of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and hearing the Russian soldiers sing the Prayer to the Holy Ghost at sunset in Manchuria…” I have read few sentences that have made me wonder more about what I have missed, about what is, about the Holy Ghost at sunset in Manchuria. Such is what books given at Christmas are to incite in us.
— Father James V. Schall, S. J., is a professor of government at Georgetown University. He is author of, among other books, Another Sort of Learning.