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Giving books as gifts? It's not as easy as you think

The best thing about giving books as gifts is also the worst thing about them: they're so personal.

You've got to be very careful about what your gift book says to your recipient. If, for instance, you give a new John Grisham novel to a spouse who's a reluctant reader of anything at all just because you want to read it, your spouse will be able to guess their true (secondary) place in your heart.

So here we are at the News presuming to suggest books to give for the holidays. In every case, thought and caution are advised: what, for pity's sake, are you SAYING to your gift recipient? But then thought went into these -- a lot.

My list here says some uncommonly interesting things. Be not afraid.

For instance, anyone who has avidly followed the presidential election of 2016 -- and has manifested all the communal joy, fury and horror of it all, should know about:

Unprecedented: The Election That Changes Everything by Thomas Lake, edited by Jodi Enda, foreward by Jake Tapper. Introduction by Douglas Brinkley, CNN/Melcher Media, 288 pages, $40

Can you admire and despise a book at the same time? You bet. The achievement of hammering this book together as well and as quickly as was obviously done is little short of stupendous. This is CNN's first-ever endeavor in the instant book business and it is hugely impressive. Jake Tapper begins the book with the exact debate moment that indicated to Tapper "none of Trump's rivals was willing or able to stop him."

CNN's Brian Stelter tells us "Trump played the media like no other candidate in modern history" without really telling us what it says about current American electronic media to be played that way. About the amount of "free media" Trump got right from the beginning, CNN uber-honcho Jeff Zucker says only "I feel incredibly proud of our overall coverage with regard to Trump. People have been critical of the amount of attention we gave Trump in those early initial months but I think that is a testament to the fact that we understood more than most....that Trump had much broader appeal."

Translate that capitulation to ratings however you will. The book is still an impressive illustrated first draft of modern history, whatever your emotional reaction.

Recommended with no qualms whatsoever are:

The '60's: The Story of a Decade in the New Yorker, edited by Henry Finder. Introduction by David Remnick, Random House, 702 pages, $35

No greater compliment can be given to an ardent and discriminating book reader this season than the gift of this. Just as many would hold this year's New Yorker coverage of the political year to be, by far, the best anywhere, the magazine's reaction to the '60's stands now as not only close to definitive but it also counts as some of the greatest writing of its time about anything.

That's true whether we're talking about Rachel Carson's essay "Silent Spring," James Baldwin's "Letter from a Region of My Mind," or Dwight Macdonald's review of Michael Harrington's "The Other America" (which, among other things, crucially influenced LBJ's "War on Poverty").

Updike on Borges? Pauline Kael on "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?" Michael Arlen on TV's coverage of Vietnam?

Yes, there's much more Lillian Ross here than Kael but all of the Ross is justifiable (though the paucity of Kael isn't). But there are remarkable surprises too. Jonathan Miller writing about John F. Kennedy's funeral on TV is one. Another is Jacob Brackman and Terence Malick on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

An exemplary collection of American writing from an explosive and agonizing decade in which American writers were miraculously up to it. A great book of the season.

Television: A Biography, by David Thomson, Thames and Hudson, 414 pages, $45.95

If I had to find five books that ought to be in every movie-loving American home, David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of American Film" would assuredly be one of them. Thomson has spent his life writing about movies. His venture into a "biography" of television has, I think, instantly become one of the great books about television extant.

He is able to think about the medium provocatively, profoundly and originally. He is a man who is able to know what there is to love about Chuck Barris and "The Gong Show" and, at the same time, David Jannssen in "The Fugitive." He is also a man who can tell you what Oscar Levent said on live TV about Marilyn Monroe's religious conversion to marry Arthur Miller that got Levant thrown off the air.

Whether you think of it as a David Thomson book or a book about television is of no matter. Either way, it was a book worth waiting decades for.

The Platinum Age of Television from Lucy to the Walking Dead: How TV Became Terrific, by David Bianculli, Doubleday, 526 pages, $42.50

The subject deserves a whole shelf of books in 2016. Thomson may outline Bianculli's subject from a much more brilliant and innovative standpoint but Bianculli has the irreplaceable advantage of being an extremely smart professional who has spent a lifetime in the trenches as a professional American TV critic. He began in the trade in 1975 and most famously was the critic of the New York Daily News from 1993 to 2007, writing several valuable books along the way.

In this history leading up to the extraordinary TV era we're in now, he has, weirdly, almost nothing to say about so many of the anthology series of early TV that were, at their best, forerunners of the dramatic quality we see now routinely (which include such amazing and now forgotten shows as "The Dick Powell Theater" and, yes, "Bob Hope's Chrysler Theater" which Hope had little to do with except the lending of his name.)

But still how can you ignore a book canny enough to profile such TV creators as Norman Lear, David E. Kelley, Amy Schumer, Mary Tyler Moore, Robert and Michelle King, David Simon, David Milch, Aaron Sorkin, Matthew Weiner, Judd Apatow, Louis C. K. and Carl Reiner?

This will make TV fans very happy indeed.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks, A Novel, by Mark Frost, Flatiron Books, 368 pages, $29.99

"Twin Peaks" fans, obviously, are cultists first, last and always. The usual practice is to concentrate heavily on its more famous co-creator David Lynch as the name partner in the collaboration but Mark Frost is the one most professionals in the TV watcher's trade would credit with being, by far, the most lunatic and tantalizing member of tandem that brought "Twin Peaks" to us. Lynch was the senior partner and prime mover but Frost is the heart of "Twin Peaks" and the lunatic brain of it too.

Here, presented as an "FBI Dossier" that is "classified three levels above Top Secret," is a novel, a graphic circus, and an imaginative feat full of Agent Dale Cooper, Flying Saucers, L. Ron Hubbard, Richard Nixon and other Twin Peaksian things. Until Showtime returns 26 years after the original for a new "Twin Peaks" series in 2017, this will be occasion for ecstasy among Peaksian cultists.,

The Godfather Notebook, by Francis Ford Coppola, Regan Arts, Unpaginated, $50

Is there a favorite movie of the American male of the last 50 years more frequently and more smugly quoted than Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" which he calls here "a metaphor for American Capitalism in the tale of a great king with three sons; the eldest was given his passion and his aggressiveness, the second his sweet nature and childlike qualities and the third, his intelligence, cunning and coldness." Here are Coppola's script and passages from Puzo's novel marked up and annotated and supplemented with plentiful illustrations from the film and its filming.

It will surprise no admirer of the film to discover how very much ingenuity, creativity and analytical thought by Coppola went into creating one of the greatest of all American films (and the springboard for a sequel that was even greater.)

Obviously, an essential book for all "Godfather" devotees. By all means, take it.

And leave the cannoli.


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