Holiday Books

The busiest shopping days of the year are coming up soon, which means a couple of people out there might be looking for good books to give as gifts. Here are some that have delighted me over the past year and thus are on my list to give as gifts for readers looking for intelligent and entertaining reads:
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson. This is simply an extraordinary novel, regardless of the fact that it's being marketed as a book for "young adults". It's one of those books I'll probably always try to have extra copies of, just to give away whenever I encounter someone who hasn't read it.

  • My favorite novel from last year, The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, is now out in paperback. I loved the hardcover just for its shape and weight and design, but the paperback has preserved most of the interior design, and so now an inexpensive and easily-available copy is ready for a whole new batch of readers.

  • (Other favorites from last year have also come out in paperback, including Magic for Beginners, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, and Divided Kingdom.)

  • Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer. I could be accused of bias, since I once met Mr. VanderMeer (in a dark alley in a forgotten city), but this novel has received accolades from far and wide, so I know my admiration and enjoyment of it are not anomalistic. (In fact, I'm trying to like the book a little bit less these days, because I'm uncomfortable agreeing with so many people.) I recently forced a friend to buy Shriek, a friend who does not generally read fantasy fiction, and she reported to me that she finds it both compulsively readable and extraordinarily disturbing. She has been having strange dreams about mushrooms, she said. She worries that there are other books in the world like this. I said she should not worry, because there are not.

  • Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century edited by Justine Larbalestier. In a year that seems to have produced some good anthologies, this is the one I have found myself returning to most frequently, because the mix of stories and critical essays creates such a compelling conversation.

  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. I seldom read history books cover-to-cover, but this one I did, and I've found myself recommending the book again and again to various and sundry people. (For a taste of what the book has to offer, see this article, much of which was incorporated into the book. There's also a lot available at Mann's website. For lots of discussion of the book, check out this post at Making Light.)

  • James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips. This is a book I'll be giving to people who profess no interest in science fiction, but who have some interest in 20th century gender issues or just like interesting life stories, because though Alice Sheldon became best known as the woman who wrote the fiction published under the name James Tiptree, Jr., Julie Phillips tells the truth of her life so well that it is simply a fascinating portrait of a human being.

  • Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology edited by John Kessel & James Patrick Kelly. I'm not much interested in defining "slipstream", if there even is such a thing, but this anthology makes a fine gift simply because it's got a bunch of good stories in it. Anthologies can be pretty hit-or-miss, and this one is just about all hit.

  • An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society by Jennifer Terry. Of all the books I've encountered while working on my masters degree, this is the one I have found most illuminating and invaluable. It's a big, rich book, with revelations on every page about the intersections of science, medicine, and identity in the U.S. in the 20th century. The writing is remarkably lucid for an academic text, and the stories Terry has to tell are amazing.

  • Map of Dreams by M. Rickert and The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford. 2006 been a good year for short story collections, but Golden Gryphon Press may have published the two best, at least of collections marketed as SF. Rickert and Ford are very different writers, and though neither book is perfect, each shows a commitment to both imagination and art that is rare this days. They are collections of wonder and thought, and, as such, make marvelous gifts.

  • Last Evenings on Earth is a short story collection I have just begun reading, and I'm entranced. Bolano's writing is deceptively straightforward, seemingly artless, and yet by the end of each tale, it feels as if an entire novel's worth of life has opened up. Having only read a few stories, I'm already planning on giving this book to a number of different people.

  • The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian is another book I must admit not having finished yet. In fact, I've only read the first 60 pages or so, and it's a big book. I have no idea when I'll be able to finish it. I'm not worried, though, because it's a book I'm perfectly happy to live with, a book that promises riches -- the opening pages are among the most original and spellbinding of any new novel I've read in years. I'll be giving copies of this to friends just so there are people I can call up late at night and say, "Did you read that sentence on page x,y,z? That paragraph on page u,v,w? Isn't it amazing!"

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