A book makes the perfect gift. Unlike a refrigerator, freezer, a barbecue or even something relatively small like a carpet shampooer or a ferret, books are quite painless to give. A book -- even a big one -- fits neatly into a symmetrical package. The flat sides of a book make it easy to wrap -- even an inelegant book looks elegant when it's nicely packaged up -- and easy to stow until the time comes to give it away. All of this makes it a painless present to store, prepare and -- finally -- to give.

Simplicity in wrapping is not, of course, the only criterion for a good gift. (If that were the case, we'd all just give each other cutting boards and boxes of soap.) Though gift books shine in the ease of wrapping department, as well. A simple unassuming package, sure. Easy to operate and maintain. No special instructions or tools required. But what a gift! Worlds and lives and entire universes can live between those modest little covers.

So what makes a good gift book? That's easy: it must be just what the recipient wants, needs, desires or -- at the very least -- one that will amuse. And just as there are millions of people with differing dreams and interests, there are also millions of books reflecting all of those dreams, addressing all of those interests.

The gift of a book can be extremely intimate, demonstrating your love and affection with your choice (a Kama Sutra would be a pretty sizzling example of that); or it can be the most generic present in the pile -- a beautiful coffee table book that says: I don't know much about you, but I like you well enough to get you something good.

A gift, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, not to mention the giver and the receiver. Which makes putting our gift guide together every year a bit of a challenge. To our way of thinking, a gift book doesn't have to be big and shiny -- though those are always nice. It just has to be what the recipient wants or will like.

With these things in mind, here are some of the books we anticipate will be hot this holiday season. Not all of them will be for everybody, but you should be able to find something for everyone. | November 2002