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Gift Guide: Literature

by Ali Hibbs on December 6, 2012


For the first time since 1977, there was no Pulitzer Prize awarded for fiction. Similarly, there hasn’t seemed to be any singular buzz-book this year—barring perhaps 50 Shades of Grey or J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel, reportedly about British real estate or corporate accounting or something. Be not dismayed, though, there are plenty of good reads on bookstore shelves.

Junot Diaz followed up his wildly popular Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao with This Is How You Lose Her. The book follows Dominican-American Yunior on a quest for love, slowly stripping back layers of machismo to access the tender and vulnerable core from which that emotion issues forth. Zadie Smith’s newest, NW, revolves around the neighborhood of Jamaican immigrants in North West London where the author grew up. Families converge and  depart, weaving an intricate web of relationship and loss. Blasphemy is Sherman Alexie’s latest collection of short stories. The book pairs 15 new stories with 15 of his most famous, making this a sort of compendium of contemporary Native American story. Since founding McSweeney’s and a whole literary genre in its wake, Dave Eggers has become an increasingly topical novelist, turning out a new work exploring some current event every couple years. Just as he’s explored Hurricane Katrina and Sudanese lost boys in the past, he turns his attention to the economic crises, following a businessman’s attempts to provide for his family in A Hologram for the King.

In the posthumous category, celebrated Chilean novelist Robert Bolaño’s unfinished Woes of the True Policeman has made its way into print. Just like his most famous work, 2666, the book follows an academic through political turmoil, romantic misadventure and the dark underbelly of human consciousness. Both Flesh and Not  is a fitting title for the late David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays, published in the years prior to his death. Topics range from tennis to Terminator 2, but fans would be happy to read his take on most any subject.

A couple of structurally interesting books have been released recently. Mark Danielewski, famous for his meta-horror novel House of Leaves, follows suit with The Fifty Year Sword, a novel told through five narrators, some of whom are children, variously described as a long prose poem and a ghost story. Cartoonist Chris Ware is known for his methodical and beautiful visual storytelling. He’s outdone himself with Building Stories, which comes as a box of 14 books, booklets, magazines and newspapers, all exploring life in his beloved Chicago. It isn’t new, but if someone you love loved the recent film adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, get them the paperback. It’s even more astonishing than the movie.

I don’t know anyone who personally read any of these satirical coffee table books that come out almost every year around this time, but they do seem like a great gift—and I do secretly lust for them myself. Stephen Colbert is up to usual schtick in America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, skewering the genre of historical rebirth so common among conservative pundits. The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information sounds a little bit like the Internet in book form, placed next to your toilet. Certainly you know someone who could appreciate such a thing.