And now, it’s finally my turn. For those of you still shopping for holiday gifts, a frenzied desperation has probably set in. For those of you who have already finished (you virtuous ones, you! Bask in the smugness.), you’re probably thinking how nice it might be to sit down in a warm corner and read a book and have no one and nothing bother you for JUST A FEW MINUTES. PLEASE.
In any case, there’s a special stripe of madness in the air at this time of year. The list that follows will, I hope, provide guidance, comfort, relief, or (at the very least) something to scoff at. These are some of my favorite books of the year. I love them ridiculously and attempt to foist them on unsuspecting people at every turn. I’ve organized my selections by the kind of person I imagine might enjoy them, but please feel free to trample my fanciful divisions and dole them out as you please. Or, you know, keep them for yourself.
|This is Me.|
THE LOVE LIST #12: MEGAN KURASHIGE
by: Tina Fey
I’m generally leery of books written by Famous People, particularly when they are about Being Them. But this book is genuinely hilarious. The kind of hilarity that causes you to snort beverages out your nose and shake uncontrollably while sitting in public spaces because, for some reason, you imagine that laughing out loud will be less socially mortifying than looking like you’re having some sort of fit. It’s also warm, intelligent, often self-deprecating humor, written by someone who comes off as being a Good Egg and not a snarky beast. Which is refreshing. For full enjoyment, I recommend the audio version, narrated by Tina Fey herself.
by: Helen Oyeyemi
This novel is completely bizarre, completely beautiful, and ridiculously fantastic. A riff on the myth of Bluebeard, it hands you two adoration-worthy characters who then trot off through a sequence of connected short stories, putting on different masks and different voices, but somehow remaining magically recognizable. It’s a violent and surreal love triangle between a writer, his wife, and an imaginary woman. It’s a story of fictional serial murders. There’s something full-blooded and vivid about the book, and I can only compare the experience of reading it to smashing a stained glass window and jumping up and down on the pieces with glee.
FOR YOUR EQUALLY BRILLIANT AND EQUALLY SHARP BROTHER:
by: Kevin Wilson
Oh my dear heavens, how I ADORE this novel! It hits on all my sweet spots (quirk, but not too much quirk; striking imagery; clear and cutting prose; wit; wobbling right on that edge of magic and reality) and it manages to be both discomfiting and warmly welcoming. I highly, highly recommend it, and since I’ve reviewed it before, I’ll just be lazy and copy some of those words here:
This novel is so lovable, so smart, sharp, and bizarrely funny, that it overcame my long-held prejudices against the brilliantly dysfunctional family saga. The Fang family is odd. In fact, the four characters who make it up--Caleb and Camille (Mr. and Mrs.), Buster and Annie (brother and sister)--are downright weird. Caleb and Camille are performance artists, the kind of people who wreck carefully planned havoc on ordinary life in order to say something, to make the quotidian into an occasion that is probably surreal, embarrassing, and shocking, but, at the very least, unforgettable. They throw their children (child A, child B) into their pieces and, predictably, leave them with scars. Annie becomes a drunken, moderately successful actress. Buster grows up to be a moderately successful journalist who persistently fails to finish his second novel.
But as their story becomes increasingly strange, the family Fang becomes increasingly less so. They grow familiar. They have hearts and warmth to them. They refuse to be limited by quirk, turning into people who you want to spend time with and want to get back to. They put on performances full of flashy, unlikely incident for each other and for themselves, but they are so tenderly written that you feel like you're standing on stage right next to them, watching their faces while they read their lines.
by: Neil Gaiman
I know, this book is a decade old. But, this year, Harper put out a special 10th Anniversary edition, so if you haven’t yet read this very sprawling, very enjoyable novel about gods, roadtrips, and America, this is an excellent time to remedy that. The text is a bit different, a bit expanded. Think director’s cut. And the cover is quite handsome and sophisticated in rust and charcoal, so even if your reader is the kind of person who might balk at carrying a fantasy bestseller around, they’ll find nothing cringe-worthy here. Also, Michael Chabon calls it, accurately, “Dark, fun, and nourishing to the soul.” It says so right on the cover, but I just thought I should point that out.
FOR THAT MARVELOUS PERSON YOU CALL (OR WANT TO CALL) YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER:
by: Ben Loory
These short (sometimes very short) stories are like tiny bonbons with a boozy center that somehow explodes on contact with your mind and transforms into something enormous, like a cathedral, or an ocean, or a love affair, or one of those absurdly perfect renditions of outer space that you can only see in planetariums. Seriously. I think they would be fine doled out as a pre-sleep nightcap, as a remedy to boring dreams.
by: Joshua Foer
I loved this book so hard that I campaigned enthusiastically to get everyone I know to read it as well, just so I could talk about it with them. My friends shook their heads at my crazy, shiny eyes, but after reading it themselves, they were generally converted. It’s one of those non-fiction books that manage to make you feel like being a human being is just the biggest stroke of luck you could possibly have. Joshua Foer explores the science and culture of memory by committing the journalistic stunt of training for and competing in the U. S. Memory Championship. He digs up all kinds of delicious, delightful tidbits about memory and presents them in a way that makes you feel like you’re walking through the most extraordinary museum in the world, looking at things that you’ve both never seen before and been familiar with your entire life.
FOR YOUR BELOVED PARENTS:
by: Yottam Ottolenghi
As a general rule, one wants one’s parents to be as healthy and happy as possible. It makes life better for everyone involved. This is the “healthy” cookbook that I’m most excited about this year (I gave into my lust and bought a copy for myself while I was supposed to be shopping for other people). I love vegetables, but the recipes in this book make me want to wallow in vegetables and stuff my face with them, to the obscene degree that is probably more expected from something like chocolate. The photography is drool-inducing and the recipes are both straightforward and unapologetically exact.
by: Jean-Baptiste De Panafieu
This book is so beautiful. Completely classy in black and white, it collects an astonishing series of photographs of animal skeletons. But, unlike many coffee table worthy books, it also has a satisfying and well-written text to accompany its visual indulgences. Jean Baptiste De Panafieu, who wrote the text, is a serious scientist (hello, doctor of biological oceanography!) and Patrick Gries is an accomplished photographer whose work with the Paris Museum of Natural History is both unusual and completely brilliant.
FOR YOUNG-ISH PEOPLE OF YOUR ACQUAINTANCE:
by: John Green
I have not read this yet. Also, it is not out yet. But, I am so utterly certain of its brilliance and so excited by the fact that John Green is doing an event with Kepler’s at the lovely Fox Theater in January that I am putting it on this list because tickets would make an excellent present. You can pre-order tickets HERE, and it’s a wise thing to do because they will absolutely sell out. John Green’s books have reliably made me both laugh like a fool and cry uncontrollably in public spaces. They’re like emotional joy rides that make you feel better and think harder about being a human being. The few people I’ve known who’ve gotten their hands on the ULTRA-SECRET advance manuscript of this new novel have told me it’s the best one yet. So, pre-order away.
by: Holly Black
I love fictional cons, heists, and capers. This series (well, trilogy, of which only the first two are out so far) is one of the few that I read for utter and guilt-free pleasure. The characters are so well-drawn and enjoyable that you are crushed when you come to the end of each book because you want to spend more time with them. The stories are full of a mafia-type magical community, lies, double-crosses, and young people having kind of terrifying adventures.
by: Delia Sherman
If you’ve read any E. Nesbit or Edward Eager, the feel of this novel will be familiar. But the daring way in which it takes some of the trappings of an old-school story of magical transport and lays into them with the American South, slavery, and some of the most engaging and complex (yet not irritatingly or boringly so) characters I’ve read about this year, is breathtaking. I’m a latecomer to Delia Sherman’s work, but this novel has made me an extreme and vocal convert. Come on, now, everyone should read it! If it gets the attention it deserves, I think this one deserves a nomination for the Newbery.
by: Colin Meloy
Everyone and their mother is recommending this book. And I have to jump on the bandwagon because it’s absolutely beautiful. The novel itself is a fun romp through a magical forest with talking animals and strife between different factions. But the delicate, funny, detailed illustrations lift the entire thing to prime read-aloud, let’s-share-the-experience-and-make-heartwarming-memories level. The first full-color plate that I came across made me smile in such a goofball-ish way that the man sitting across from me at the café asked me if he had cappuccino foam on his face.
Right. That’s my list. Not comprehensive at all. I’ve certainly forgotten many books I loved. But, seeing as this has just reached the fifth page on my word processor, I think I should leave you now. Go forth, my beauties! Buy books! Read books! Wrap your gifts and wish you were reading books! I wish you the happiest of holidays and the very best for the new year.