Welcome back, everybody! I hope your Thanksgiving (or, if you're not American, your Thursday) was full of family, friends, and lots of food. Now, it's back to business. Like last year, I thought the best way to greet the "official" Christmas season was to remind everyone that books make the best gifts. Here are some of my top picks, all buzzworthy and published in 2010, that might inspire your shopping list:
Room by Emma Donoghue. The hype around this book was built all year, and when it was finally released this past fall, the book definitely lived up to it. In it, five-year-old, Jack, and his mother are confined to a tiny room, greeted only by the disturbing "Old Nick." Their room is simultaneously thought of as Jack's entire world and his mother's torturous prison.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Another young narrator. Another fantastically told story. Pretty much anything by Jennifer Egan is guaranteed to be great.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. Fans of Sedaris' nonfiction already own this, but if you have a short story lover on your shopping list, this is a nice gateway into Sedaris' pitch perfect essays. Plus, it's cute and quirky, and has that trademark cynicism we all know and love.
Also, obligatory shout-out to J. Franz's Freedom. I know we're all sick of it and him, but it really is quite good. It'll make a perfect gift for the literary snob or MFA student in your family.
You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier. I bought this book earlier this year because I am one of those people who have embraced technology, yet slightly fear that we're headed toward a science fiction dystopia because of it. This book helps to create a balance and teaches you not to fear or criticize technology because you'll only get left behind. But, don't let technology control you either. Moral: remain human.
The Autobiography of Mark Twain: Vol. 1. We've waited 100 years for this. It's certainly on my Christmas list, and if you have anyone to buy for who also loves satire, literary icons, cultural relevance, and general curmudgeon-ry, this is the perfect gift for them too.
Life by Keith Richards and Just Kids by Patti Smith are also top nonfiction picks for the music fan on your list.
Sci-Fi and/or Fantasy:
The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. This is Book 2 of The Strain trilogy. I'm currently reading it and it is just as scary and exciting as the first. The Strain is a lot like the other major grown-up vampire novel this year, The Passage, but to me, The Passage just couldn't hold my attention enough for this type of novel. Del Toro and Hogan have similar "viral" vampires and a diverse cast of characters, but, to me, they just get the genre in a way that makes their series work better.
Mockingjay and/or a Hunger Games boxed set by Suzanne Collins. That's right. I took this out of the YA recommendations.
Faithful Place by Tana French. I know I recommended her other two books last year, but she came out with a new one in 2010, so I must continue my personal mission of making everyone in the world a Tana French fan. She is simply fantastic and takes the mystery genre to a place that reaches far beyond that aisle in the supermarket.
** Curtis Brown promo alert ** Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackman, who was formerly repped by our dearly departed Nathan Bransford, but still a proud member of the CB family. Rock Paper Tiger has a kickass heroine, an exotic setting, and a pace that's head-spinningly fast (in a good way).
The Duff by Kody Keplinger. Kody is a friend-o'-blog, but even if she wasn't, The Duff is still one of the most refreshing pieces of realistic YA to come out in a while. Bianca, the main character, is the "duff" of her friends (designated ugly fat friend) and through that label, she becomes one of the strongest female characters to hit the YA shelves this year.
And for the fan of the paranormal:
Matched by Ally Condie. Get ready, this book comes out tomorrow! Much-hyped and even featured in Entertainment Weekly, who always give YA the respect it deserves, Matched is being compared to 1984, The Giver, and Never Let Me Go. Set in a "perfect" society, Cassia begins to think for herself and questions the nature of her world.
** Curtis Brown promo alert ** Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready. I recommended her two adult novels last year, but Jeri published her first YA this year and it is just plain fantastic. Aura is a teenager who can see and speak to ghosts, which isn't exactly weird since everyone else her age and younger can too. When her boyfriend, Logan, dies, and she meets the hot! new boy, Zach, she's trapped in a love triangle with the ghost she loves and the living boy who can help her unlock the secret of her generation's abilities.
OK, you got me. I'm not a fan of picture books. Or rather, I don't have the appropriate expertise in knowing good vs. bad picture books. But, buying Of Thee I Sing, Barack Obama's picture book for his daughters, just might stimulate the economy.
There were a ton of great books published this year and it's impossible for me to list them all. Hopefully these remind you of what's been celebrated (with good reason!) this year and lead you in the right direction.
Happy shopping season! And - your annual reminder - books make great gifts, but they make even better gifts when they're bought at your local indie bookstore. Or at a Borders, which is basically an indie at this point. Sigh.