The Zen Habits List of Perfect Books for Perfect Gifts

Post written by SysBots.

I intended to do a “Zen Habits Gift Guide”, full of frugal and green gifts that I like, typical of the gift guides you see everywhere at this time of year.

Then I revised the post to show ways to avoid consumerism — to give no gifts, or to give experiences instead of crap that will clutter people’s lives, to give consumables and hand-made things. But the post took too much research and I got lazy.

So here’s my third attempt at a post on gifts. This is exclusively on books, because, hey, books are one of the best gifts you can give, and you can even find them used sometimes if you’re trying to be frugal and green. Or give ebooks, which I personally love, and they’re usually cheaper and use far less resources than print books.

I’m listing some of my recommendations below, but this is not an endorsement to go consumerist crazy and get into deep debt. I cheerfully call bullshit on that great tradition. Remember, giving doesn’t have to cost a ton of money, and you don’t need to fall for the corporate propaganda. Be better than that.

That said, here’s a list of stuff you can spend your money on, many of them published by corporations. Enjoy, in the spirit of reading and knowledge and love.

1. My book. I would be remiss not to mention my print book, The Power of Less, partly because it helps me to pay the bills around here, but also because I think it’s a good gift for anyone who is looking for some simplicity in their life. And who isn’t, these days? The Power of Less will help your loved one to take control of a life that’s become too much, to simplify information streams and to-do lists, to form good habits in the face of previous failures, to declutter a home and workspace filled with junk.

Buy it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders, or an independent bookseller near you.

2. Ebooks. Ebooks are great because they aren’t printed on dead trees, and if you buy one of mine, you can buy them once and give copies to many. Here are ebooks I offer for cheap:

  • Zen To Done, the best-selling productivity ebook, a book that simplifies productivity.
  • The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life, my latest, a series of articles on minimalism in many facets of your daily life.
  • The Zen Habits Handbook for Life, basically the core articles of Zen Habits, showing you how to live a simpler, happier, motivated life.
  • Essential Motivation Handbook, a joint ebook with Eric Hamm, designed to be a motivation resource when you need it most.

3. Awesome novels. You can’t go wrong by giving a novel as a gift. The novel has an unquestionably magical power to transport the reader into new worlds, and that is both necessary and unmatched in today’s world of technology. I could give a long list of a couple hundred excellent novels I’d recommend, but I’m going to limit myself to a handful that I read or re-read this year, and absolutely loved.

  • The Pleasure of My Company: A Novella by Steve Martin. I don’t think of Steve Martin as a writer, but in this tiny little book, he’s created a wonderful, wonderful read. I’d read Steve Martin’s Shopgirl and enjoyed both the book and the movie, but The Pleasure of My Company is even better. I can’t believe I hadn’t read this or even heard of it until recently.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Not really a novel, and not particularly new, it’s still a really gripping tale. I don’t know why I never read this before — maybe it sounded too depressing or something, but boy was I wrong! This was an amazing memoir, and usually I don’t like memoirs at all. Such great stories, and overall it’s a moving and superbly written book. You won’t believe this woman’s childhood — at the same time unbelievable, sad, funny, inspiring, unconventional, brave. If you haven’t read this book yet, please please do!
  • Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn. Two beautiful books by Jonathan Lethem, one of my most favoritest of current writers. All his stuff is good, but these are my two favorites right now, and you can’t miss by giving either as a gift.
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Wonderful little historical fiction novel set in the mountains during Communist China under Mao, about the magical powers of reading.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Historical novel, utterly fascinating tale of white people raised by the black help, set in Jackson, Mississippi just as the civil rights movement was taking off. Really well done.
  • Bel Canto. This isn’t a new book, but if you know someone who hasn’t read this book by Ann Patchett yet, but who loves reading, give this book to them. I love all her stuff actually but this is the best.
  • Read more of my novel recommendations here: 50 Amazing and Essential Novels to Enrich Your Library.

4. Personal development books. Also known as “self-improvement books”, these are popular this time of year as people look to change their lives for the better. There are lots of books I could recommend, but I’m going to highlight just a few:

  • Unclutter Your Life in One Week. The fantastic Erin Doland of (a must-read blog) just published a book I love and think you’ll enjoy very much. Highly recommended if you’re looking to declutter.
  • Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love. Author, blogging friend, and career expert Jonathan Fields wrote the perfect tome for creating the life you want doing the work you’re passionate about.
  • No Impact Man. Written by Colin Beavan of the No Impact Man blog, full of great tips for reducing your impact on the Earth in a practical way, without having to go live in a cabin in the woods.
  • 365 Ways to Live Cheap. Written by Trent of The Simple Dollar, one of the best at extremely practical advice on living a frugal life.
  • The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. From Gretchen Rubin of, yes, The Happiness Project blog, it’s not out yet (will be out Dec. 29, 2009) and I haven’t read it. But I know Gretchen’s writing, and there isn’t a better writer on creating happiness in your life.
  • The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man. For the men in your life, this isn’t about how to win the “chicks” or get six-pack abs … it’s a refreshing guide to being a gentleman, a lost art in today’s world. By Brett of The Art of Manliness blog.
  • 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget. Similar to Trent’s book, written by the authors of the excellent Wise Bread personal finance blog, the title says it all.

5. Even more books you’ll love. Some of my other posts on books:

  • 50 Amazing and Essential Novels to Enrich Your Library
  • 20 Amazing and Essential Non-fiction Books to Enrich Your Library
  • 10 Books That Shaped My Life, and 40 Others I Love
  • 7 Current Writers I’m In Love With
  • Best All-Time Children’s Books

For other books that I recommend, see the Zen Habits bookstore on Amazon link. I get a small cut from each sale made there. In fact, if you click through and buy other products from Amazon (not just the books I recommend), I will get a cut. So feel free to click through and buy anything you like from Amazon, if you were planning to buy it anyway. Don’t buy a bunch of useless products just for me.

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