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Cover Image of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie published by Random House
Cover Image of The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel by Yoko Ogawa published by Picador
Cover Image of The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare published by Laure Leaf
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Holiday Gift Book Picks

abstract:Looking for books for loved ones on your holiday shopping list? There are plenty lists of "best books of 2015" courtesy of reviewers like the New York Times, London Review of Books, The Guardian, and the Globe and Mail—but who wants to browse ponderous lists of 100 to 200 books, the majority of which will miss the mark?

Bookbuffet has culled a modest collection from our own past year of reading and also from a close peruse of the above. We've sprinkled in some gems from the arts, science and business sector. One of these is sure to please most everyone on your holiday gift list.

Reading is a wonderful pastime over the holidays. It helps to bridge the passing year and introduce the next with new inspiration to make the world around us, a better place to live.

Top of our list is a book of poetry. Yes—poetry! We are ambushed by words everyday in our texts, emails and web browsing, but not very many of us read poetry with any regularity and that is such a shame. Poetry makes us appreciate words and the meaning behind beautifully placed words that evoke powerful thoughts and feelings.
The Selected Poems of Donald Hall by Donald Hall
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is just $22
The former U.S. Poet Laureate, now 87, is known for his unpretentious poems about nature; he selected his favorite work for this collection.

Next to poetry comes philosophy. When I started a course in philosophy at Univeristy of Los Angeles, way back when, the professor began his lecture by saying, "In this course I shall endeavor to teach you how to think," period. (my addendum) Everyone needs to dip into a book with philisophical merrit and here's one that intrigues: The Meursault Investigation, By ­Kamel Daoud. Translated by John Cullen. (Other Press, paper, $14.95.) This rich and inventive Algerian novel imagines the ­story of the Arab murdered on the beach in Camus’s “The Stranger.”

We particularly like these books from Fortune Magazine's Best Books as Picked by CEO's


December 06, 2015
The Road to Character, by David Brooks —Reviewed by Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo

Beyond provoking valuable self-reflection and introspection, it sparked a wonderful discussion with my two daughters about why building inner character is just as important as building a career. In fact, the two go hand in hand—the moral compass of our lives must also be the moral compass of our livelihoods.
While Ms Nooyi is a very bright woman, it is a shame that she works for a company that is making money off of bottling flavoured water in plastic.

Letters to Véra By Vladimir Nabokov. ­Edited and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd. (Knopf, $40.) For more than half a century, Nabokov wrote to his wife about his books, his meals and his observations, in exquisite and evocative detail. Every literary person would adore this book.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos
—Reviewed by Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO, Gates Foundation

A standout for me this year was Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos. Osnos spent eight years in China as a foreign correspondent, and his book helped me gain insight into today’s China through stories of people, some well-known and others ordinary.
The Gates Foundation is tackling one planetary scourge after another (AIDS, malaria) and with China being at the forefront of so many hot button issues related to climate change and the environment, human rights and population growth, (those of us in Vancouver witnessing predominant immigrant population from the east) it behooves us to try to understand our neighbours.

With the election of our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, comes an age of recognition for First Nations. The following two books are exceptional. The Right to Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet, by Sheila Watt-Cloutier (Allen Lane, 353 pp; $33)
A unique memoir examining one Inuk woman’s personal relationship to climate change. In her new book Nobel Peace Prize nominee Watt-Cloutier focuses on the relationships— -both human and geographic — between her people and stewardship of the Arctic.

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir, Joseph Auguste (Augie) Merasty, with David Carpenter (University Regina Press, 105 pp; $22)
Merasty is one of about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children to have been taken away from their parent’s homes and put into the abusive residential school system. In this memoir, he recounts the early tragedy of his life and the shameful legacy of settler violence with an achingly and authentic voice.

Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis (Coach House Books, 160 pp; $18)
"Gently philosophical and full of tremendous heart, this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize winning novel imagines giving human cognitive abilities to man’s best friend. They say inside of a dog it’s too dark to read, but Alexis’s investigation into canine consciousness is full of warmth and light."

Why do 70% of wealth transition plans fail? This is the question that Emily Griffiths-Hamilton sets out to answer in Build Your Family Bank: A Winning Vision for Multigenerational Wealth, a book that looks closely at the core causes of wealth erosion and failed transition plans and offers a set of strategies for building successful wealth transition plans that will benefit many generations. Emily Griffiths-Hamilton is a chartered accountant and Investment Advisor who brings three generations of experience to the subject of succession and wealth transition planning. Her maternal grandfather, veterinarian Dr. William Ballard, was one of North America's greatest dynamic wealth creators. Her father, Frank A. Griffiths, FCA, built a highly successful sports and media empire. Griffiths-Hamilton herself has been the co-owner of a National Hockey League team, the Vancouver Canucks; a National Basketball Association franchise, the Vancouver Grizzlies; and a state-of-the-art arena.

In follow-up to private citizens interest in giving their children the benefit of their life's work, is a book that asks the question whether our children will have the same opportunities as we did? Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam. Simon & Schuster; 386 pages; $28 and £18.99 The most important divide in America today is class, not race, and the place where it matters most is in the home. In a thoughtful and persuasive book, the former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government analyses the growing gulf between how the rich and the poor raise their children, adding a liberal voice to long-standing conservative complaints about family breakdown.

Satantango by László Krasznahorkai, translated by George Szirtes
The winner of this year’s Man Booker international prize, set in a Hungarian town where the drunken villagers are deceived by a newcomer who might be the devil. Theo Tait wrote in the Guardian: “This is an obviously brilliant novel. Krasznahorkai is a visionary writer; even the strangest developments in the story convince, and are beautifully integrated within the novel’s dance-like structure.”

If you are a lover of all things Netflix, you'll be familiar with the popular series "Portlandia", the deliciously quirky and clever writer Carrie Brownstein. FYI there's a wonderful interview with the author on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross about this book, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir, by Carrie Brownstein. (Riverhead, $27.95.) How the Sleater-Kinney guitarist (and co-star of “Portlandia”) found herself through music.

The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen.
This has just won best translated book awarded by Three Percent, a resource for international literature based at the University of Rochester. Judges said it pushes the novel “into bold new territory” and is “radiantly original”. Following the lives of characters including Joe, a clothing company sales manager in an unnamed western country, his wife Maria and customer Reagan, it’s a “Chinese vision of the west”, said the Independent, and a “delirious cross-cultural hall of mirrors”.

Death by Water, by Kenzaburo Oe (Grove Press, $28)
The Japanese Nobel Prize winner confronts the legacy of World War II in this novel about a writer investigating the drowning of his father.

For the lover of planes Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker (Knopf; 352 pages; $25.95) Chatto & Windus; £16.99 A highly readable account, as moving as it is unexpected, of what flying means, by an airline pilot with a gift for words. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry lives again."

Thirteen Ways Of Looking by Colum McCann (Random House, $26)
In this short story collection written after he was the victim of assault, the National Book Award-winning author tackles crime, writing and coping with loss.

For the history buff in your life, here are two books that delve into our troubling century.

  • Guantánamo Diary. By Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Edited by Larry Siems. (Little, Brown, $29.) A longtime captive has written the most profound and disturbing account yet of what it’s like to be collateral damage in the war against terror.
  • The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq. By Emma Sky. (­PublicAffairs, $28.99.) The Briton who was the political adviser to American Gen. Ray Odierno from 2007 to 2010 offers an important and disturbing memoir.
  • Also from the Forbes' CEO list is Intel's CEO, Craig Barrett. The Martian: A Novel, by Andy Weir

    ...At a time when we depend more and more on big institutions to solve our business and social problems, the real solutions are crafted by individual actions and initiative. This is true in the business world, where ideas from individual researchers or entrepreneurs can create mega companies overnight, and in the social sector, where such actions as high performing charter schools run circles around a moribund K-12 education system. Best we all remember that the next meaningful advances will come from individual initiative rather than massive governmental programs. After all, Google, Facebook, Uber, microloans and countless other success stories were not products of big government.

    Purity by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28)
    In Franzen’s latest, a young woman takes up with California anarchists then travels to South America to work for a Wikileaks-type organization headed by a charismatic German activist.

    M Train by Patti Smith (Knopf, $25)
    The rock musician follows up her National Book Award-winning “Just Kids” with this reflection on life as an artist and a human being.

    A History of Photography in Fifty Cameras by Michael Pritchard (Firefly Books, $29.95) A meta-gift for photography lovers, this modest photo book presents the history of photography as told through 50 cameras, from daguerrotypes to digital.

    Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Mountaineers books, $29.95)
    Vyn’s dynamic photos of birds are the focus of this book, a story of the Cornell Lab’s work that’s a virtual encyclopedia of our feathered friends.

    H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
    Macdonald, a poet, historian and falconer, renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essence — and her own — in this breathtaking memoir. Unmoored after the death of her father, she retreats from the world, deciding to raise and train a young goshawk, a brutal predator, in solitude. The hawk accompanies her into the wildest reaches of grief and her own nature, a place of darkness and surprising light, evoked in prose that mingles poetry and science, conjuring and evidence.

    The most engrossing book I read this year was The Givenness of Things (Virago), Marilynne Robinson’s celebration of the irreducible complexity of human beings.

    The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor
    —Reviewed by Melanie Whelan, CEO, SoulCycle
    This book opened an ongoing conversation on our team around the relationship between employee happiness and productivity. Achor overturns the conventional belief that happiness is a natural outcome of success. Through practical research, experiences and anecdotes, he illustrates that happiness that will actually lead you to success. Happy people tend to work harder, collaborate better and be more productive. This in turn leads to better results. SoulCycle is and always has been an inherently positive experience and one of the things Achor’s book validated for us is that a meaningful commitment to employee well-being is a huge part of why we’re successful. We’ve integrated the book as a resource for our entire organization.

    The Centrist Manifesto, by Charles Wheelan
    —Reviewed by Michael Porter, Harvard Business School professor

    The performance of the U.S. economy is weaker than we have experienced in generations, in terms of jobs, wages and economic opportunity for the average citizen. This reflects a structural decline in U.S. competitiveness, in well known problem areas such as education, workforce skills, infrastructure, corporate taxes, health care costs, regulatory costs, and an unsustainable budget. Yet the U.S. has failed to make meaningful progress in any of these areas for a decade or more. Instead, our nation’s economic strategy has degenerated to monetary stimulus.

    At this moment in our history, I have come to believe that politics has become the fundamental constraint holding back the U.S. economy and our ability to bridge the many divisions we face. Neither political party delivered the leadership and solutions orientation necessary to address America’s problems. The public is frustrated. No matter who is the next president, we need a Congress that can compromise and get things done.

    The Centrist Manifesto has helped me understand the ‎root causes of political gridlock and why it has only gotten worse. The book also puts forth a bold new idea for how to change this, that can work even as soon as 2016.

    Links to Top 2015 Book Lists

    • The New York Times Best 10 books of 2015: Whether you agree with this short list or not, it's nice to know people made a concerted effort to grind down the top 100 list.
    • Fortune's Best Books Picked by CEO's
    • The Economist's Best Books of 2015
    • The Los Angeles Times has 148 books listed.
    • Not a pick list, but rather a great shopping list of books from one of our favourite publishers, The New York Review of Books:



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