There are a couple of reasons that I love getting books as gifts. For one thing, I almost never buy books, so it's really nice to actually own a book, which means I can lend it, add it to the book shelf, and re-read it at my leisure. The second reason is that it's a great way to get exposed to books that just aren't on my radar. I tend to keep going back to authors that I love, but sometimes it's hard for me to just grab something I've never heard of at the library to read.
For Christmas, my mom gave me a book called The Hare With Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. It's the story of the authors family, following a collection of netsuke as they are passed from one generation to the next, and moved across three continents. I had never heard of netsuke before: they are tiny Japanese carvings, originally purely functional, which were used like toggles to fasten pouches hanging from men's belts. They evolved into finely carved works of art, which were eventually collected by Europeans in the early 1900's.
The book is fantastic. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in history or art; it's really well written and informative and original. I have seen an advertisement for an illustrated edition since I read the book and that makes sense; there are wonderful descriptions of the netsuke, which were often animals or peasants, but I really wanted to see all of the hundreds in the collection. I've included pictures of a few of my favorites below, but you can see more of them at the authors website, as well as learn more about the book.