Books for Fathers Day: Or, Books for Every Kind of Dad

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on June 10, 2010

This is the first year that Father’s Day shopping will be a breeze. Because even if your dad is a golf pro, executive AND gadget hoarder all mixed into one, sometimes Sky Mall just can’t deliver. Written Word is here to help.

Step 1: Stereotype your dad.

Step 2: Find that stereotype on our chart.

Step 3: Pick the one Daddy hasn’t read yet.

Step 4: Click the book and buy it.

Step 5: Revel in the accolades and jocular shoulder punches as your dad opens the perfect gift.

Easy as 1 2 3 4 5.

Books for the Sports Dad

Open by Andre Agassi Open, by Andre Agassi The autobiography of Andre Agassi who, defying the professional league, doesn’t offer a pristine, white-shoes-and-shorts version of the pro tennis world, but rather one showcasing the misery, pressure, and loneliness of child star turned pro athlete. From tortured youth to drug-addled champion, you get a look into the life of a star — and a look into some of the seamier sides of the Association of Tennis Professionals.

Money ball by Michael LewisMoneyball:The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis The business of baseball. When Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane was faced with a budget smaller than that of nearly every other MLB team, he developed a whole new system of success: observe and interpret the stats no one else was looking at, recruit guys who had talent no one else was noticing, and negotiate the hell of it (and them). The cast of baseball players comes alive in a book that will interest any sports dad with a mind for business.

A Season on the Brink by John FeinsteinSeason on the Brink, by John Feinstein Be it hurling chairs across the basketball court or marching proudly down the sideline in his trademark red sweater, Bobby Knight is not one to hold back. And neither does this book (which in part explains why it remains one of the best-selling sports book of all times). Outrageous to the point of comedy, here we get an insider’s peak at the U of Indiana’s difficult ’85-’86 season. Hint: difficult does not sit with Mr. Knight very well.

500 worlds greatest golf holes by George PeperThe 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes, forward by George Peper What exactly makes a great golf hole? Here Peper and the rest of the Golf Magazine’s editors identify the top one-tenth of the top 1% of golf holes on the planet. With rich pictures and descriptions to boot, the golfer dad will have a whole new bucket list by book’s end. Side note: Call me crazy, but does the title of this book sounds like there are 500 worlds, each with one top golf hole?

Books for the Literary Dad

The Count of Monte Cristo by DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas Your literary father should have already read this. If not (and tried to skate by on the Gerard Depardieu film, which in it’s defense, was not half bad) get it for him. Lauded as one of the best books ever written ever, you get mystery, intrigue, romance, sword fights, revenge, and witty social satire to boot. Set in late 18th- and early 19th-century France, men wearing tights has never been so enthralling.

brothers by Andrew Blaunerbrothers, edited by Andrew Blauner A tribute to every man who was a brother, or grew up with a brother. This collection of short stories and essays from some of today’s most popular authors, from Sedaris to Wolff, Kaczynski to Orr, explores what it means to be a brother. Nostalgic and intimate and real, this book will continue to resonate.

Underworld by Don DelilloUnderworld, by Don Delillo This book is a hefty one – even in paper- back. If I wasn’t so worried about the backlash I would receive regarding the destruction of books I might be tempted to describe how I ripped my first paperback copy of Underworld into 5 sections for increased portability on a backpacking trip through Louisiana. But that’s not what is important. What is important is that this non-linear po-mo extravaganza twists and turns through a labyrinth of characters, decades, Cold War scares, the art of waste management, and baseball. In short: it’s a long and delicious read.

Rabbit Angstrom by John UpdikeRabbit Angstrom: A Tetrology, by John Updike For Dad’s going through a mid-life or post-mid-life crisis, there is no better solace that John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom. Because as bad as it can get sometimes, at least he isn’t as bad off as ol’ Rabbit, right? Angstrom’s slow, down-ward spiral is “meticulously recorded by one of the most gifted American realists”* — and spiced up with some pretty gritty sex scenes. You don’t want the old man to get bored now, do you?

Books for the History Buff Dad

Masters and Commanders by Andrew RobertsMasters and Commanders, by Andrew Roberts Four men. Four years. Masters and Commanders is the joint biography of Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Brooke – the heartbeat of the Anglo-American alliance in WWII which beat anything but regularly. How did these men, with vastly different opinions and personalities, work toward a common purpose? Your dad will tell you, just as soon as he is finished reading.

Horse Soliders by Doug StantonHorse Soldiers, by Doug Stanton Who knew the U.S. armed forces still trained soldiers for combat on horseback? Set in the war-ravaged mountains of Afghanistan, this small unit of men ride alongside Northern-Alliance Afghans opposing the Taliban. Sometimes criticized for its thrilling sensationalism, this is the book of choice for the dad who likes his (albeit recent) history tinged with excitement.

The Dirt on Clean by Katherine AshenburgThe Dirt on Clean, by Katherine Ashenburg What is it to be “clean,” exactly? Ashenburg guides us through the wake of an ever-changing ideology regarding Western cleanliness, from the pristine post-travel Odysseus to the “water = bubonic plague” misinformation that spanned centuries. Just don’t blame me if Pops decides to forgo showering for a few days.

A Peoples History of the World by Chirs Harman A People’s History of the World, by Chris Harman For the Dad who plowed through A People’s History of the United States in 4 days, this guy sweeps across history, from the Stone Age to the New Millennium. It’s a book that, for once, denies the notion that “the winner writes history” and attempts to recall all of human life in terms of class: ordinary people forming the complex societies that got us to where we are today. This book is now over a decade old, but was released in paperback in 2008, giving it that fresh “new” feel.

Books for the Non-Fiction Dad

Natural Acts by David QuammenNatural Acts, by David Quammen The prolific naturalist, writer and literary scholar has combined some of his top columns from Outside magazine in this debut book. With topics ranging from the sea cucumber to magnolia trees, Malthusian population dynamics to sex among aphids, it is interesting, informative and nature writing at its best.

Where men win glory by Jon KrakauerWhere Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer From the man who brought you such past-Father’s Day gems as Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s new odyssey recounts the story of Pat Tillman, the NFL athlete turned Army Ranger who died as a result of friendly fire in southeastern Afghanistan in 2004. Interviewing family members and fellow soldiers and drawing heavily from Tillman’s journals and letters, Krakauer deftly maneuvers through the scandal of government cover-up and the muddled notion of “hero.” Like all Krakauer’s books, this one is a page turner.

Shanteram by Gregory RobertsShantaram, by Gregory David Roberts This book isn’t technically a non-fiction. It says novel right on the cover. But because it is based on the true story of Mr. Roberts, I will let it slide. And you’ll be glad I did: this is a huge story showcasing an India very unknown to most foreigners. Roberts escapes Australian federal prison and flees to India where he meets a whole new world of people (some more savory than others). A story of punishment, passion, loyalty, regret, and redemption, you’ve never been more willing to overlook the occasional ornate and romantic passage Roberts seems to enjoy so much.

Word Freak by Stefan FatsisWord Freak, by Stefan Fatsis The tell-all tale of professional Scrabble’s highest echelon: these people live for those tiny tan tiles. Fatsis, a sports reporter for the Wall Street Journal, finds himself captivated by the history, characters, and obsessions that make up the world of competitive word play. Wacky, humorous, and utterly addicting, we join Fatsis as he begins his own infatuation with word lists, strategies and the coveted 1600 rating.

Books for the Retired and Bored Dad

Girl with a dragon tattoo by Stieg LarssonThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson This Swedish-come-international sensation has more buzz surrounding it than roadkill on a hot day. Dark-hearted and complex, this thriller twists three stories into one “I need to find a good stopping place before bed” novel. Moody and deviant Lisbeth Salander teams up with investigative journalist Mikael Bomkvist to ravage through 40 years of mystery and deceit surrounding the disappearance of a 16-year-old girl. Riveting characters and a fairly brutal depiction of the darker side of Sweden (who knew there was one?) make this a 2010 must-read (though not for the faint of heart).

Sharpes Rifles by Bernard CornwellSharpe’s Rifles, by Bernard Cornwell The great thing about this book is that, if Dad likes it, you won’t have to worry about the next 23 holidays. Because that’s how many novels there are in this series. Based around the adventures of Richard Sharpe, a British solider in the Napoleonic Wars, these historical fictions meander across 7 years of various Peninsular War campaigns, Sharpe’s adventures in India, and his return to England as a part of the 95th Rifles. As an added perk, Sean Bean plays a steamy Richard Sharpe in the television series that coincide with the books.

The Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum Chances are your bored and retired father is already a fan of the feature films starring Matt Damon in the titular role of Robert Ludlum’s most famous character. This Father’s Day, grant him the back story (and all the bits Hollywood left to the imagination) with this, the first in the three-book series.

Books for the Adventure Dad

Born to Run by Christopher McDougallBorn to Run, by Christopher McDougall Adventure Dad’s have found a kindred spirit in McDougall, who attempts to prove that not only is running extremely long distances totally natural for humans, running barefoot is the only way to do so. He assimilates into a remote tribe of Tarahumara Indians in Mexico’s Copper Canyons who are known for running extraordinarily distances with no injury – and no cutting-edge running technology. Join him in the mecca of marathons as he pits Mexican Indians, American ultra-mathoners and some of the biggest names in the running world on a 50 mile course through the heart of remote Mexico.

Desert Solitaire by Edward AbbeyDesert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey Crotchety and not a little eccentric, Edward Abbey combines his three summers living alone in a trailer in Utah’s Moab Desert into one blazing pseudo-memoir. This book is perfect for the man who believes that mass-America no longer has it in them to appreciate nature the way it deserves to be appreciated (i.e. not in a car). Abbey may or may not go a little nuts during his time in Moab’s sun, but it leaves us with a satisfying and often humorous tale of “the last” “real” outdoorsman.

Touching the Void by Joe SimpsonTouching the Void, by Joe Simpson The story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’s perilous climb and subsequent disaster in the Peruivan Andes is considered one of the most amazing pieces of mountaineering lore ever. In 1985, after breaking his leg on a descent, Joe Simpson found himself dangling in a deep crevasse, help up by the belay rope of climbing partner Yates. Yates couldn’t see or hear Simpson and, to save himself, decided to cut the belay rope. Simpson fell down the crevasse and then hopped/crawled the five miles to camp with no food or water in snow. It took 3 days. The book is nearly as thrilling as the actual adventure.

Books for the Dad Who Doesn’t Read

FoxTrot Sundaes by Bill AmendFoxTrot Sundaes, by Bill Amend The Fox family (Jason, Peter, Paige and their parents Roger and Andy) live a chaotic, yet amusing life. Perfect for a comic strip. This conglomeration of color Sunday strips will bring Dad back to the days when you were a teenager… and how glad he is that you both made it through alive.

The Complete Cartoon of the New Yorker by Robert MankoffThe Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, edited by Robert Mankoff 656 pages of the best cartoons The New Yorker ever published — does it get any better?

Uncle Johns Bathroom ReaderUncle John’s Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader It seems like the older they get, the more time they spend in the bathroom. Give them the gift of fun facts and amusing anecdotes with a book from the Bathroom Reader’s Institute (yes, that’s a real thing). It’s also a gift to yourself for your infrequent visits home when you eat too much of Ma’s stewed meats and find yourself parked on the pot for 45 minutes.

Books for the Funny-Guy Dad

Plum Island by Nelson DemillePlum Island, by Nelson DeMille Plum Island has virtually no literary merit. The murder mystery/threat of biological warfare makes for a rousing plot, but one far from transcendent. John Corey (the main character) is arrogant to the point of comedy. Women fall for him like plastic chess pieces on a windy day. But while they prevent Plum Island from ever taking a place in the Canon, these three qualities produce something equivalent to the Ultimate Man’s Book. Corey has a wit that works well on paper (I get kicked in the shins when I try it in real life) and it keeps this story light and humorous as it clips along. Your dad may never be able rattle off ironic quips while being shot at on a boat in a hurricane, but he will appreciate it when a fictional character can.

A supposedly fun thing by D F WallaceA Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace With razor sharp wit and more footnotes than the most recent translation of Boethius, DFW writes a collection of essays that can simultaneously produce side-splitting laughter and the kind of headache your only find in advanced-level physics classes and sophomore year Literary Theory. With subjects as varied as the Illinois State Fair, a Caribbean cruise, the Canadian Open and a review of contemporary fiction, there is no better book for the dad who likes his humor with a hint of pretension intellect.

The Pleasure of my company by Steve MartinThe Pleasure of My Company, by Steve Martin Steve Martin is a funny guy. But what Dad might not expect in this book is the rich, profound, and elegant little story of the obsessive compulsive life of Daniel Cambridge. Imagined romances and visits from his social worker break up his otherwise restrictive lifestyle, which comes crashing around him in a series of unexpected events. Two parts poignant, lots of parts priceless; for the funny dad with a sensitive side.

A Confederacy of Dunces by J K TooleA Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole Big and energetic, this book combines comedy and tragedy into a several-hundred paged opus. Ignatius is big-mouthed, flatulent and crude. When forced to find a job, he meets a fabulous selection of characters – most of them women whom Ignatius either loves or loves to hate. Toole’s suicide, before the book had even found a publisher, adds a layer to melancholy to a debut novel with so much promise.

Books for the Nerdy Dad

The meaning of it all by Richard FeynmanThe Meaning of it All, by Richard Feynman What do you get when a Nobel-winning physicist ponders the biggest questions in science? A complex series of lectures, originally ruminated in 1963, which are actually entertaining and easy to understand. Probably one of the only physicists with the intellect and social know-how to even consider speaking in layman’s terms, Feynman enlightens us on his opinions of everything from the subatomic to the cosmic — with a little bit of human nature thrown in too.

The elegant universe by Brian GreeneThe Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene Quantum mechanics and general relativity are both accepted models of how the universe works. The catch is that quantum mechanics only works on the very small scale, and general relativity only works on the very massive scale. Apply them to a situation that combines a very large mass in a very small volume (say the universe in the first nano-seconds of existence) and our understanding of the way things work crumplese like a soggy paper cup. The Elegant Universe is an introductory attempt to unite quantum mechanics and general relativity into (are you ready for it?!?) a Unified Theory of Everything. Be impressed.

The Photographer by Guibert Lefevre LemercierThe Photographer, by Emmanuel Guibert, Guibert Lefevre and Didier Lefevre In a book that is at the same time a documentary and a graphic novel, three men depict a war-ravaged Afghanistan under the thumb of the Soviet Union. Traveling with a French contingent of Doctors Without Boarders, Lefevre snapped pictures of their difficult journey through the tumult of war. The combination of photographs and illustrations make for a book that will reach far beyond the world of comic book geeks.

Why buildings fall down by Levy and SalvadoriWhy Buildings Fall Down, by Matthys Levy, Mario Salvadori, and Kevin Woest In the aftermath of some of the most grisly structural fails in history, these engineers write a lighthearted tell-all of what happened. Be it buildings, bridges or dams, this book has the gift of hindsight on cracks, crumples, and full on collapses– and recommendations for future structural improvement. Is Dad considering buying a house?

Books for the Sci-Fi Dad

far north by marcel therouxFar North, by Marcel Theroux Postapocolytpic traveling. Hmmm…sound familiar? It may ring of The Road, but where McCarthy excels in existentialism, Theroux prevails in plot. The only survivor of global warming in remote Siberia, Makepeace Hatfield attempts to find civilization. She does – but it subsequently sold into a slave gang. Whoops. Here is her story, chock-full of despair, emptiness, and (oddly enough) optimism. It’s the feel-good post-apocalyptic novel. Who knew that was even possible?

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory DoctorowDown and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow Welcome to Disney World — with a twist. Far into the future where all the problems of the world have been solved (even that silly annoyance we know as death) and wealth is measured by one’s likability, the only thing left for Jules to work toward is perfecting Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. But things go awry when Jules is unexpectedly shot and dies. Don’t worry. That isn’t the end of the story.

Air by Geoff RymanAir, by Geoff Ryman The UN uses a remote village in Karzistan to test their radical new quantum technology, essentially implanting the internet into everyone’s brains. It doesn’t work quite as planned — Mae Chung is left in quantum limbo with half her own thoughts, half the thoughts of a dead women. She is granted the ability to see both the past and the future and struggles with a whole new level of information overload. A highly literate sci-fi novel, this is the book for the dad who loves political commentary masked in an enthralling story.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret AtwoodOryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood In a future-fiction that is terrifyingly believable, Atwood depicts a world that has taken scientific inquiry one step too far. Snowman, one of few survivors, tells the story of how the world dissolved in rich flashbacks. Meet Oryx and Crake, the two other sides of Snowman’s love triangle, who are up to their armpits in a dangerous cocktail of social inequality, genetic technology, and too many Chickinubs. Which is the better option: to continue down the same tragic path on which we currently reside, or wipe out the current human race in hopes to start fresh with a superior breed?

*Thanks, Joyce Carol Oates.

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amanda June 10, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Forget Father’s Day. You just reminded me to order the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, a book that’s been in the back of my mind for awhile.

I’m always pick out the most depressing books for my dad. Marley and Me (we all know what happens at the end) and the Road (sure, it’s about a dad and son, but it’s a downer.)

Thanks for not making your Father’s Day book list all about Golf.

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