From history buffs, to science nerds, to puzzle aficionadas, book-loving dads will cherish these reads that will give you both something to talk about.
Do you and your father bond over sports? Then give him the latest bestseller from Swedish author Frederik Backman (A Man Called Ove), about the Bears of Beartown, a high school hockey team poised on the edge of greatness, who serve as a rallying point for an entire little town in a big forest…until their star player’s overwhelming sense of privilege threatens to ruin everything. As in Bachman’s previous books, the Swedish setting and details are charming but almost irrelevant to his handling of the universal threads that bind together indviduals into communities and families. In this case, he also does a brilliant job of exploring the competing loyalties of these players to their team-mates, the sporting tradition, and their most basic human values. Because as Backman himself warns in the book, “Never trust people who don’t have something in their lives that they love beyond all reason.”
The Cuckoo’s Calling
You used to do puzzles with your father. Now you swap thrillers. For a really absorbing brainteaser, give him J.K. Rowling’s first mystery novel published under the name Robert Galbraith. Her tough guy detective is so convincing, you’ll almost believe the author is a down-and-out British veteran who lost his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan and has a genius for inspiring confidences: “People liked to talk; there were very few exceptions, the question was how you made them do it. Some were amenable to alcohol; others liked a spotlight; and then there were those who merely needed proximity to another conscious human being. A subsection of humanity would become loquacious only on one favorite subject; it might be their own innocence, or somebody else’s guilt.” The investigation of a supermodel’s suspicious death is meticulously plotted and fiendishly twisty; no matter how clever your dad is, we can practically guarantee he won’t figure out whodunit before the end.
Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
Does your dad have a green thumb? Michael Pollan’s thoughtful, beautiful book of essays about modern man’s place in the natural world could inspire even the most urban and urbane to start planting, or, as he put it, to find “a place where we can meet nature halfway,” and the book is a wonderful springboard for conversation. The best-selling writer and food activist is both witty and profound in his discussions of our drive to own land, the fight to impose a lawn, the optimism behind tree-planting, the implications of old roses, and more. Christopher Buckley put it best in Vanity Fair, “As a non-gardener, I never expected to stay up late and laugh out loud at a book like this, but I’ve been permanently Pollan-ated.”
How Angel Peterson Got His Name: And Other Outrageous Tales of Extreme Sports
Warning: This book may make you and your dad laugh till you cry. Gary Peterson is best known for Hatchet, a prize-winning winter survival novel for teens, but these hilarious anecdotes are based on his own crazy real-life boyhood adventures in upper Minnesota, back in the days when “There were no helmets…other than old football helmets made of stiff leather or army surplus ones made of steel (some with bullet holes in them) and they were so heavy that they caused more trouble than wearing nothing. Harvey Klein had some luck wrapping his head in cardboard with electrician’s tape wound around it; that worked fairly well till his bike hit a bump and the eyeholes rotated so he couldn’t see anything and he flew off the road and took out most of a pretty good stand of cucumbers with his face.”
To Kill a Mockingbird
No list of this kind would be complete without Harper Lee’s masterpiece about race, class, gender, and justice in a small Alabama town. In many ways TKAM is first and foremost the story of Atticus Finch: a keen-witted lawyer of unfailing courtesy, unflinching integrity, and possibly America’s most beloved literary dad. Forget about Go and Set a Watchman, that old manuscript that was dug up from Lee’s papers and published last year that showed Attiticus in a more sinister light. TKAM stands on its own merit, and so does its hero, who tells his daughter why he took the crucially important case he knew he’d lose: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Born to Run
Was classic rock the soundtrack of your childhood? Does your father still keep all his old concert posters in the basement or the den? Then Bruce Springsteen’s critically acclaimed bestselling memoir may be just the gift he’s looking for. If the two of you love the intimate, authentic voice Springsteen brings to his music and want to know him better, you won’t be disappointed by this beautifully written, almost painfully honest autobiography–written strictly without the aid of a ghostwriter. As Rob Sheffield puts it in Rolling Stone magazine, “Born To Run digs into how this most ostensibly down-to-earth of rock stars still seems so maddeningly mysterious, so unfathomably complex, still driving himself and his band to keep topping themselves night after night….It turns out Bruce Springsteen doesn’t quite understand [it] either. That’s why this book exists.” But after finishing the book, you and your dad may decide The Boss was actually born to write.
The Gene: An Intimate History
Perfect for science dads. If your dad took you on nature walks and helped you with chemistry labs in high school, this is the book for him. Very few writers can tackle a difficult subject with the breadth, depth, and ease that Siddhartha Mukherjee, a practicing oncologist and writer for The New Yorker, brings to this study of the human genome, or as he himself puts it: “The story of the birth, growth, and future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science: the ‘gene,’ the fundamental unit of heredity, and the basic unit of all biological information.” Much as he did with his Pulitzer Prize-winning book about cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies, Mukherjee combines elements of personal memoir, history, science, medicine, biography, philosophy, ethics, and individual patient stories to create this brilliant, profound and yet ultimately readable book.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
So your dad loves to grill? Don’t give him another apron with a clever meme about men who cook. Instead, get him bad boy celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s tell-all memoir about the sweaty, grueling, but ultimately addictive world of creating haute cuisine. Bourdain knows everything about food, cooking, and kitchens, and his earthy, funny, passionate writing style is practically irresistible, even if you completely disagree with him: “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.” Just be prepared for a gourmet snack when you read or discuss this book—anything less delicious would be letting the author down.
Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union During the Civil War
No matter how big a Civil War buff your father is, we can practically guarantee that he hasn’t seen Thomas B. Allen’s account of the African-American heroes who risked their necks over and over again to bring valuable intelligence to the Union, trading on “that quality of invisibility”that came from being constantly underestimated by a slaveholding society. We know he’s never read it because, in one of those arbitrary marketing decisions so common in the publishing industry, this gem of a book is hidden away in National Geographic’s children’s line. But the content is easily complex enough to engage an adult, and the slim, square volume itself, printed on heavy cream stock and illustrated with archival photos and original etchings, is handsome enough for a nice gift.
A River Runs Through It
If you and your dad love the great outdoors, you’ll revel in this book. And if you saw the movie with Brad Pitt, you’ll be prepared for the wonderful read ahead. The worst thing about Norman Maclean’s American classic, published when he was 76 years old, is that he never wrote any others. How do we pick the best thing about it? Maybe it’s the idyllic, unspoiled setting of Montana in the 1920s, the archetypal, Biblical storyline of the fly-fishing minister and his two sons, one so good and one so wild, or maybe just the unforced beauty and wisdom of Maclean’s prose. As he himself writes, “It is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted.”
By Ariel Zetlin