This was the year everything was going to be different. From the vantage point of childhood, 2001 was the year that we'd all be space travelers, conversing with oddly-named computers while searching for monoliths on the moon. I wouldn't know what sort of gift to get a space traveler. Something both lightweight and homespun, I suppose. But in the 2001 that we foresaw from childhood, it's almost certain that few of us imagined books as a part of it.

Yet here we are. We've discovered that the moon is devoid of monoliths -- and cheese -- and few enough of us travel in space to even make up an interesting demographic. Computers are mute and helpful tools, not demanding companions with strong personalities. And almost everyone still cherishes receiving the sensuous strength of a carefully chosen book.

After the year we've had, there's something reassuring about that. Something pleasantly homey. Even though this year holiday gifts will include digital cameras -- in both movie and still varieties -- PDAs, computer software and all sorts of other electronic gizmos, it's a safe bet that, once again, the faithful standby gift -- the book -- will be gracing a lot of trees. Almost always a better fit than that other standby gift: the sweater.

Once again January's editorial team has combed the mighty stacks of available books to give you a sampling of the best of what's out there. With literally hundreds of thousands of books published every year, the possible choices are endless, but this small cross-section will give you a good taste of what's available in a variety of genres. Happy shopping! | December 2001