Well, OK, since it's "Black Friday" and everyone is talking about holiday shopping , I'll join the chorus and talk about book shopping or, more importantly, book giving (and that includes giving them to yourself). Since I was a kid I've always loved getting books as gifts and since I got seriously interested in photography in my teens, I've loved getting photo books. Fortunately my father was a photographer and my mother loved art and books. My mother also knew how much a single book could change someone's life and bring them the inspiration they needed. She was very good at finding just the right book for me at the right time in my life.
When I was about 15 and going through that typical teenage angst about what my life meant and what I might do for a living someday, my mother gave me Edward Steichen's autobiography A Life in Photography. It literally changed my life. I practically slept with that book (in fact, I probably did fall alseep with it in my bed) and found it enormously comforting and inspiring to read about Steichen's career told in his own words. It was probably no small coincidence that she chose Steichen's book as the first big monograph she bought me because I'd met him as a kid (though I didn't have a clue how important he was at the time). The next year, based on Steichen writing so much about how important Alfred Stieglitz was to him, I asked for (and got) Dorothy Norman's biography of Alfred Stieglitz, An American Seer. Reading that book was such an exhilarating experience for me that I could barely sit still while I read it. Stieglitz was responsible for giving many of the great photographers their first public exposure in his famous "291" gallery and he forever changed the course of photography and art (he was also married to Georgia O'Keeffe, who has always been my favorite artist). Around that same time my mother met Ansel Adams by chance (and talked his ear off, I'm sure) in Yosemite Valley and the next year my parents gave me his amazing book The Camera. It's the best book on camera technique ever written--and it always will be.
It was in reading those books (and many others that I got as gifts) that I discovered that photography was more than a hobby, it was a passion, a way of seeing the world, a way of living--and that photography was as high a form of art as any other. My head was nearly exploding with photographic inspiration in those days and my poor parents probably realized that giving me all of those books wasn't helping their cause in getting me to take up more financially-stable career like being a lawyer or a carpenter or flipping McDonald's burgers, for that matter.
I guess the point is that books can change people's lives. Books still change my life everyday. I love the idea of these new electronic readers like Kindle (from Amazon) and Nook (from Barnes and Noble), but there is no thrill equal to opening the covers of a brand new book and discovering the worlds within. I will always be grateful to my parents for having a houseful of books and for turning me on to the treasures of knowledge, inspiration and adventure that they offered.
If you know someone who has an interest in photography (or any other subject, come to think of it), consider giving them something that will last them a lifetime and might change the way they look at the world (and themselves): a great book. Whether it's a monograph that shares a photographer's life work or a how-to book that helps them develop their own talents, books are an amazing bargain. I've always felt (and this isn't just because I write books for a living--because I buy a lot of books) that if you pay $25 or $50 for a book and get one great life-changing idea from it, you've just got the bargain of a lifetime. I've put a page of Amazon links to photo books on my main site and maybe they'll give you some ideas. But if you really want really want to experience the fun of giving someone a book, spend a few hours in a local bookstore and touch and explore the books yourself--and while you're buying books for other people, maybe you'll buy one for yourself. You deserve it!
Oh, wait, I almost forgot to plug my own new book Winning Digital Photo Contests! Wheww. Glad I remembered. Happy shopping.