Here I thought I had solved half your Christmas shopping needs and helped do a good turn for the world, and now it turns out all I’ve done is provide a stocking stuffer. Still, here’s the deal. It’s a book called The Plot Thickens, the brainchild of mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark. She asked 11 others to join her and write a short story for this book. The only ground rule: The story they wrote had to include a thick book, a thick fog, and a thick steak.

The stories they came up with are marvelous.

Why would these hot-selling authors agree to apply their talents for free? Simple. There are something like 40 million adult Americans who can’t read. Royalties from the book go to Literacy Partners, which runs an adult literacy program.

Frankly, I didn’t expect much when they sent me the book. But what fun! One story for each of the 12 days of Christmas. Or 1.5 stories for each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah. (The Jewish kids always did seem to have more homework.) The writing is really sharp.

So I figured: Buy half a dozen of these from one of the online bookstores at 30% off, and you have half a dozen of your holiday shopping problems solved months in advance. Not your Major Gifts, to be sure, but your boss? your secretary? your friendly next-door neighbors? Only problem: the hardcover seems to have been replaced by an inexpensive mass market paperback edition. This makes a considerably less impressive gift, but a great stocking stuffer.

Why am I telling you all this now, in August? Because (a) Christmas is around the corner, (b) it makes me feel so smug — and relaxed — to get all this stuff wrapped up well in advance, (c) it will give you plenty of time to read one copy yourself — maybe even over Labor Day weekend.



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