If your dad is frequently seen loitering over the stove with a wooden spoon in one hand and a French paperback in the other:
Balzac’s Omelette, Anka Muhlstein
“Tell me where you eat, what you eat, and at what time you eat, and I will tell you who you are,” intones this little book about the way food evokes character, atmosphere and social climbing in the novels of Honoré de Balzac. We never knew Balzac was so delicious. Plus, it’s small enough to be read in one hand while you torch the créme brulée.
If your dad is a science fiction loving literary intellectual with a cutting sense of gallows humor:
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, Charles J. Shields
Maybe it’s just us, but we’ve always considered Vonnegut the favorite author of all dads — maybe because we got our first taste of him from our own daddy’s shelf of frayed paperbacks. This is the first authoritative biography of the man, and dads of all kinds will love immersing themselves in his flawed genius and life story. If we may make another suggestion: you probably will too.
If your uncle is a little bit… off:
The Sisters Brothers , Patrick deWitt
This rip-roaring, bang-up American picaresque will have your dad (and all his brothers) laughing, thinking, and considering bringing out those old cap guns, just to see if they still work.
If your dad (like everyone else) fell hard for Game of Thrones this year:
A Dance With Dragons , George R.R. Martin
The long-awaited fifth novel in Martin’s epic fantasy series is a must — but only if he’s gotten through the first four. Be stern — the show doesn’t count.
If your dinner table was full of stories that began “actually, that derives from a practice in Ancient Rome, where…”:
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern , Stephen Greenblatt
This book comes with enough pedigree to satisfy even the most suspicious of dads: it won both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for non-fiction. Brilliantly written and utterly captivating the whole way through (even if your dad-o usually sticks to novels), the book tells the story of how ancient Roman philosopher Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things changed the world — when it was rediscovered some 1500 years after its writing.
If your dad has more DVDs than you do:
Life Itself: A Memoir , Roger Ebert
The best known film critic of our time, Roger Ebert lost his ability to speak in 2006 due to complications from thyroid cancer treatment — but the loss of his voice has only made his writing stronger, and in this memoir, he tells his whole story for the first time. Plus, the book is filled with wisdom that you may just hear your dad repeating, like this gem: “I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.” Yes, sir.
If your dad’s always talking about getting a boat:
The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
Ondaatje’s newest novel chronicles a 11-year-old Michael’s passage from Sri Lanka to London onboard the Oronsay in the 1950s, a trip filled with adventure, imagination, and the magical discoveries of childhood. We think your dad might find something to identify with here, even if he’s not the sailing type.
If your dad likes adventure and whimsy in equal measure — or if you were a child who threw their rubber duckies around the room:
Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them , Donovan Hohn
Hohn’s charming quest to find the 28,800 rubber bath toys lost at sea in 1992 devolves into a quixotic odyssey that takes him from the Hawaiian seas to Chinese toy factories to the Arctic circle. As the title suggests, it’s just like Moby Dick — except with ducks.
If your dad is a superfan… of anything:
The Whore of Akron: One Man’s Search for the Soul of LeBron James , Scott Raab
This is not a book about LeBron James. Well, it is, but the meat of the book is about Scott Raab, the author, as he details his own obsessive, raving, near-insane fandom, his monolithic hatred for the traitorous LeBron James and his undying devotion to Cleveland. If your dad has ever been a serious fan of anything, we think he’ll love this completely unhinged account.
If your dad always worries about you getting mugged living in the big city:
Zone One , Colson Whitehead
This will give him something else to worry about. In a good way.