You may be thinking it's a bit late for this post. It is, but I'm confident it will be helpful for other holidays (or birthdays) and I have yet to finish Christmas shopping myself.
You cannot always know what book another person wants and if you figure out a title they'll love they might have already bought it for themself. The solution is a giftcard. How do you make it seem more thoughtful? Figure out which bookstore they like. Do they prefer Borders, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon? Are they near an independent bookstore? Find out with Indie Bound.
My personal recs:
Chain: Borders - They've got great discounts including weekly coupons and reward dollars.
Independent: Book People (Austin, TX) - This store contains an interesting selection of gifts as well as books and carries autographed copies of local and visiting authors' books. Those not in Austin can shop online.
Chain secondhand: Half-Price Books - Okay, if you try to sell your books to them they'll give you crap. Don't do it. Otherwise they're a good deal.
Independent secondhand: Katy Budget Books (Katy, TX) - Now this is where I sell my books.
2. Serial Readers
Sometimes you want to encourage the habit of reading in a family member or friend, but it's much easier to gift someone who loves to read already. And what's the easiest way to please them? Peek at their shelf (call someone else to do it if you live to far away) and figure out what series or authors they read. Buy the newest. They have the newest? Narrow down their taste to subgenre. Find someone on the net who knows something about the genre even if you don't.
3. The Young
They might not be serial readers yet, but they will be if you get them young. Just go with what you loved as a child. My suggestions? Amelia Bedelia, Lyle Crocodile, Where the Wild Things Are, Stellaluna, Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Frog and Toad, The Berenstein Bears, Clifford, and Mercer Mayer.
4. The Uninitiated
See #1. Yeah, you'd love to hand them the book that changes their world. Save it for any old day and just buy a copy to pass along. A gift is about giving someone a little bit of joy. With a giftcard they can find a book they think sounds interesting or spend the money on a non-book item in the store. Whatever makes them happy.
So what was my biggest book purchase for Christmas?
The Clash by The Clash
I had to get this for my dad. I'm not usually into table books, but this one is eye-catching, beautifully assembled, and full of interesting info. I can still remember the first time he gave a Clash CD to my sister and I, so I hope he enjoys the book.