East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Gifts for writers, readers and other adventurers

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Wool socks, scarves and other knitwear, that’s what Christmas is to a lot of us. Case in point: as a Christmas gift, my brother just bought me a wool cap to replace the one that got picked from my pocket a few days ago while we were in a crowd.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, wool cap thieves are a thing.
But what about a list of gifts for readers, writers and in general the sort of people that reads Karavansara?
My marketing guru assures me these posts have a huge impact during the festive season.
Let’s see if he’s right.
Oh, and yes, there’s affiliate links in this post – feel free to ignore them.

I’ll start with a book I have not read yet, but I have watched develop almost day by day: author and adventurer Alastair Humphreys wrote this book in public, so to speak, involving his followers on his mailing list in the process. The Doorstep Mile is a book about finding what it takes to live adventurously, and that can mean different things to different people – to some it can mean crossing a desert on foot, to others it can mean start writing and mailing stories to magazines and publishers, or maybe drop the car and start moving around on a bicycle. Having read a number of books by Humphreys, and having watched this one grow day by day, I feel like recommending it, while I go through my copy (that I just received as a gift – thank you Simone!)

Next up, MacGyver’s knife, aka the Victorinox Tinker Pocket Knife. Purists and nerds will remember Mac used a variety of models, from both Victorinox and Wenger, but this was the basic he started with: it’s cheap, it’s a classic, even the Pope owns one and can really be useful in a bind. It’s not like you’ll go disassemble bombs using this and a paper clip, but a sturdy blade, a set of screwdrivers, a can opener, pliers and the other tools in this one have proved to me quite useful through the years – despite the fact that I am a pretty sedentary sort of guy.
If you feel funny, you can add in the gift package a roll of duct tape and a single paperclip.

Also, really, don’t be afraid to give it as a gift to members of the fairer sex – practical-minded women out there actually seem to prefer a good pocket knife to some perfume they would never wear. And I know, “Wow, darling, a knife! That’s exactly what I wanted!” does sound a little weird but… ah, maybe it’s just me hanging out with unusual women, who knows.
But if you feel awkward, keep in mind there’s a lady0’s version of the Victorinox Classic, with a file and scissors, and a pink body.
Me, I’d rather go for the Tinker.

Just as I recommend anything by Alastair Humphreys, I recommend the books by Tristan Gooley, but having to make a choice, I put on this list The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs, because it’s the sort of thick sturdy book you don’t feel sorry for carrying in your backpack, and because while giving a full overview of what we can read from the landscape, it also inspires you to go out there and take a walk. I have two copies of this, one in hardback and one on my Kindle. An awareness of what the territory is telling us is essential for the adventurer, can provide handy insights to the writer, and it’s an almost forgotten skill from which we all can benefit. Get the book, get out there, walk, have fun, look around. Perfect.

One of the books I’ve most often given as a gift in the last few years is C.G.L. Du Cann’s Teach Yourself To Live. This sturdy, beautiful reprint of a 1950s offbeat self-help manual is at the same time a tongue-in-cheek gift and a great source of down-to-earth but not commonplace philosophical observations of a Stoic bend. Written in a beautiful, self-deprecating style (I can’t help hearing it in my head in the voice of Stephen Fry) , it is actually a great little book, and a great gift idea.

From the same publisher, and in the same line, Nigel Tangye’s Teach Yourself to Fly is an artifact from another time. An all-in-one primer on flying an aircraft, written on the eve of the Battle of Britain to give the basics, as clearly and as quickly as possible, to young men that had never sat on a plane before, and were supposed to fly and fight in the air for their country. What is incredible is how such a utilitarian book manages to be well written, even poetic at times, clearly the work of a man who loved the sky.

Yesterday I mentioned the Plan B of my Plan B, and talked about tarot reading. The tinned version of the Smith-Waite Tarot Deck is a thing of beauty, an exact replica of the first modern divination tarot ever produced, and it’s perfect for carrying around – the ideal gift for a writer or an adventurer, that can be used as entertainment, as writing aid (I wrote a book about this, you know), and as a conversation opener. You can even try and buy yourself dinner by reading tarot, should everything else fail. The box comes with a handy booklet that will teach you the essentials.

As specific gift for writers go, you get fancy pens and notebooks, and writing handbooks. Now, unless your target is someone that collects handbooks like I do, they might get it wrong, but hey, it’s a though world, right?
Lawrence Block’s Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel is a great handbook, and a great read from a true colossus in the field – and one that’s been going the self-publishing way for a few years, now. If you have to try your luck and risk giving a writing handbook as a gift to your loved one, you might as well go for a good one. And this is the best.

Food. Once we’ve covered philosophy, flying a plane and writing books, we need food, and one of the best food books I’ve read this year is Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Bowl Food, that is exactly what it says on the cover: a collection of international recipes for one-stop meals that get served in a bowl. Perfect food to eat on the go, maybe while you are sitting at the PC revising your story, or out on the porch contemplating your next adventure. Or maybe you just need a bite while you finish the book you are reading. You feel adventurous? Splurge an extra buck on a nice ceramic soup bowl – IKEA has some nice ones, but you can find something interesting at your local thrift shop, too. Check that the one you pick goes in the microwave.

Oh, and do not believe those fools out there – it’s perfectly fine to give a recipe book as a gift to a man, their testosterone levels will not suffer.
Their diet, on the other hand, might improve.

Another great book I read this year is called Coping Skills, by Dr Faith G. Harper, a fast and quirky mental health handbook with simple, clearly-explained strategies to survive stressful situations and trauma. Because life can be tough, and hit hard and low, and we need all the tricks we can manage to put together. Quite an interesting read, no matter what your lifestyle can be. And funny, which is a plus, in a book like this – because giving a book about surviving trauma can be pretty awkward but the humor in this makes it a lot simpler.

And this is it for this Christmas – there’s a lot of other stuff out there, like book reading lights and shaving kits and mugs, that will make a reader, a writer and possibly an adventurer happy, but I’ve tried to give you a few offbeat ideas.
All in all, Christmas is a time for getting back in touch with people we’ve not been hearing for too long. A little humanity is a great gift.
Together with a MacGyver knife.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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