Books to Give as Gifts

      It's the holiday shopping season and you can never go wrong giving books as gifts. Book Critic Ellen Heltzel stopped by with great ideas for everyone on your list.


      1. "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America," by George Packer. Public policy geeks often make their case in a tedious way, but not Packer. A staff writer for The New Yorker, he tackles his subject indirectly, peering into the lives of the famous and the unknown to portray an America where the middle class has eroded and money does the talking in politics. Although Packer's progressive sensibilities might give pause to some conservatives, they'll probably see eye-to-eye with his concerns.

      1. "One Summer: America, 1927," by Bill Bryson. Veteran author Bryson is a natural storyteller, and one who uses wry humor to further entertain his readers. In this book, he recaps one summer in America's history in which a flurry of events, most particularly Charles Lindbergh's successful solo flight across the Atlantic, epitomized the spirit of a decade and the rise of America as the world's symbol of success.

      1. "Jack London: An American Life," by Earle Labor. Jack London is best known for such novels as "The Call of the Wild," "White Fang," which were classroom mainstays when the Baby Boom generation was growing up. In this excellent biography about a man who mined material from his exploits on the wild side -- as a sailor, hobo and prospector, to name a few of his pursuits -- you get a picture of the rough-and-tumble world that was the West 100 years ago.

      1. "The Goldfinch," by Donna Tartt. Avid fiction fans, take note: This may be the smartest novel published this year. It's certainly one of the longest, a 700-page-plus doorstopper about a teen-age boy whose world is literally blown up when a terrorist attack kills his mother while they are walking through the galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Left largely on his own, Theo Decker gets mixed up in shady dealings and a mystery that Stephen King praises as a literary tour de force.

      1. Poet #1: "Dog Songs," by Mary Oliver. Oliver's focus on the natural world has made her probably the bestselling poet in the Northwest. Here, in her latest book, she focuses on another topic that fits her work to a T: dogs. This is not her best work, just an endearing offering for anyone who appreciates a canine friend.

      1. Poet #2: "Aimless Love," by Billy Collins. Here, another highly accessible group of poems from the country's former poet laureate, a man who combines humor with brains. No John Milton here, but rather the chance to be amused and bemused by poems with such titles as "This Little Piggy Goes to Market."