As your relatives get older, it can get increasingly difficult to find them great gifts. We've created a number of scenarios for giving the best books for each of your adult family members.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
For your mom, the bird-watcher ...
Because she spends her winters in the Field Museum's Hall of Birds: "The Art of Migration" paintings by Peggy Macnamara, text by John Bates and James H. Boone (University of Chicago, $25) Macnamara, artist-in-residence for the Field Museum, blends art and science to present a lovely portrait of the birds of Chicago. In her watercolors, Macnamara zooms in for details of individual feathers and then pulls back to offer context in behavior and habitat. (Consider this book, too, for the person who doesn't know that starlings murmur, but pauses to admire as their clouds swoop across the sky.)
Because she loves language almost as much as the migratory season: "Wordbirds" by Liesl Schillinger (Simon & Schuster, $17.99) "Wordbirds" is a rare thing: A gift book that's fun, nicely packaged and truly worth reading. Schillinger invents new words for 21st century phenomena and presents them alongside 150 bird illustrations by Elizabeth Zechel, "on the logic that, as the sixties rock band the Trashmen put it: 'The bird is the word.'" Consider adding an inscription for your mom next to the entry on "Shoeicide," defined as "The act of destroying your feet by deliberately wearing shoes you suspect or know to be excruciatingly painful, usually out of vanity." Because you know she warned you about that.
For your father who reads too much history …
Because historical novels are the gateway drug to fiction: "Blood & Beauty" by Sarah Dunant (Random House, $27) You might wonder whether the Borgia dynasty would benefit from the embroidery of fiction; their history is already full of murderous drama. And yet, in her novel, Dunant shades in details to present the Borgias as more fully nuanced characters. No, it isn't all factually true, but it illuminates the past — and human nature — in a way history can't.
Because your dad will want to know which bits are historical and which are fiction: "The Borgias and Their Enemies" by Christopher Hibbert (Mariner, $15.95) You know your father won't be able to resist a look back at the record, so save him the hassle of hunting down a biography. Hibbert, the popular historian who died in 2008, wrote this highly readable chronicle of the political intrigue that defined the Borgia family from 1431 to 1519.
For your sister who's expecting …
Because she really misses her coffee: "Expecting Better" by Emily Oster (Penguin, $26.95) Modern pregnancy comes with all sorts of rules that are relatively new (just ask any grandma who's uttered the words, "I didn't breast-feed you, and you turned out OK."). Women go to lengths to follow them, often without asking a critical question: Why? Oster, an associate professor of economics at the University of Chicago, dives into the (sometimes surprising) research to provide women with information to help them decide what's best for them during pregnancy — whether it's coffee or epidurals.
Because she'll enjoy a thoughtful set of essays on motherhood embroidered with humor: "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother" by Julia Sweeney (Simon & Schuster, $26) Most remember Sweeney from her years on Saturday Night Live, but the Wilmette-based comedian put together a smart collection of essays this year about modern motherhood. As you'd expect, there's humor here, but it's also a deeper read about relationships and the unpredictability of life.
For your brother who's obsessed with "The Daily Show" …
Because his real obsession lies with Fox News: "Murdoch's World" by David Folkenflik (PublicAffairs, $27.99) NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik offers a glimpse of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his sprawling News Corp. Using the company's phone hacking scandal in Britain as a hook, Folkenflik presents a fully drawn portrait of Murdoch as a complicated and calculating businessman who built his global corporation up from a small family company in Australia. The book is full of revealing anecdotes.
Because he aspires to be a news anchor (fake or otherwise): "Let Me Off at the Top" by Ron Burgundy (Crown, $22) If your brother believes nearly every situation could be improved by a quote from the 2004 Will Ferrell comedy "Anchorman," your shopping is done. With this surprisingly ambitious novelty book, he'll get 223 pages — 223 pages?! — of new material. Open to a random page, and you'll find Ron Burgundy instant classics such as, "I loved that homemade pipe flute."
For your food-loving daughter ...
Because the best food writing isn't really about the food: "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" by Anya von Bremzen (Crown, $26) And in the case of Von Bremzen, food is really about longing. In one of her childhood apartments, the kitchen was shared by 18 families — and the pots were marked with warnings for would-be meat thieves. Her memoir is framed around a year she and her mother spent re-creating Russian meals, decade by decade, starting with the 1910s and the end of the czars. Von Bremzen knows how to tell a story — poignant, funny, but never lacking.
Because she'll be in the mood to cook: "Please to the Table" by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman (Workman, out-of-print) Since her memoir only includes a handful of recipes, you'll want to pick up a gently used copy of "Please to the Table." Published a year before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the cookbook is an ambitious attempt to collect the regional culinary history — "the joyous cacophony of foods" — of the 15 republics that made up the U.S.S.R. Punctuated with conversational asides and quotes from Tolstoy, Gogol and Pushkin, this is a cookbook you read as much as cook from.
For your son who complains that everyone spends too much time staring at their phones …
Because he's on Facebook too: "Who Owns the Future" by Jaron Lanier (Simon & Schuster, $28) The information we freely provide is the basis of a new economy, and Lanier predicts that the people who are fueling this economy will eventually become its victims. That statement is a bit reductive, but it gives you the gist of Lanier's argument. As dire as this sounds, "Who Owns the Future" is (particularly for a tech treatise) a page-turner with lots of personality.
Because Google is kinda creepy: "The Circle" by Dave Eggers (Knopf, $27.95) In the tradition of "1984" and "Fahrenheit 451," Eggers writes of a dystopian future where transparency turns to tyranny. Mae Holland joins a social media company (sort of a Google-Facebook hybrid whose motto is "All that happens must be known") and eventually winds up wearing a camera around her neck so her followers can view every moment of her life. This book has divided audiences; make sure you read it, too, so you can discuss.
For your Us Weekly-reading, E! Entertainment-watching sister …
Because she's a Belieber: "The Love Song of Jonny Valentine" by Teddy Wayne (Free Press, $24.99) This book comes wrapped in a shiny silver book jacket, but there's a lot more than flash going on in Wayne's novel. It's the story of a Justin Bieber-like pop star coming of age and coming to terms with fame and family dysfunction. It's a moving character study and a sharp satire about American pop culture.
Because she's still got a crush on George Clooney: "Little Known Facts" by Christine Sneed (Bloomsbury, $25) A portrait of celebrity emerges from the story of Renn Ivins, a Harrison Ford-like character who's directing a movie. Sneed shifts perspectives from character to character, allowing readers to see Ivins through each of their lenses. It's a smart Hollywood novel, and you'd never guess the author is an Evanstonian. Sneed won this year's Chicago Public Library Foundation's 21st Century Award.
For that teenager who's just so difficult to buy for these days ...
Because you wish this book had been around when you were her age: "Rookie Yearbook Two" (and you might throw in "Rookie Yearbook One," too), edited by Tavi Gevinson (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95) Whenever I pick these books up, they feel like they're vibrating in my hands: All the raw energy of being a teenaged girl — all of the flowers and rage and fairy dust and anxiety that come with it — has been channeled into these pages. Every high school kid deserves a gang of friends like those who write for "Rookie." They're smart, savvy, and they don't mince words — whether the subject is fashion, friends or sex.
Because you wish this book had been around when you were his age: "Zero Fade" by Chris L. Terry (Curbside Splendor, $12) Kevin is a 13-year-old kid in Richmond, Va., and he doesn't have anyone to take him to the barber shop for a zero fade haircut. He lives with his single mom, his dad is out of the picture, and he's having to figure out how to deal with bullies and his mom's new dating life and his uncle, who recently came out as gay. It's a coming-of-age story any junior high school kid will relate to.
Jennifer Day is editor of Printers Row Journal.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun