If you're anything like me, you still haven't gotten those holiday season gifts for your friends and family this year. But alas! Have no fear for this list is here. We've got a little something for everyone (including yourself)! So stop by the shop before the New Year and get your people the reads they need before the weather takes its turn for the worst, as we all know it eventually will.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Pick up this book, flip through the first few pages, and examine the character list at the beginning. If that little activity doesn't convince you of the excitement, intrigue, and possibility found within this incredible book, then nothing I say will. The book centers around the tumultuous history of Jamaica and the story of the attempted assassination of 'The Singer' whose character is shaped around the life of Bob Marley. Gangsters, CIA agents, corrupt policemen and politicians, Rolling Stones journalists, hitmen, and even ghosts populate this impressively complex and creative book. A Brief History of Seven Killings was awarded the Man Booker Prize this year, and in my experience, that is more than enough reason to take a chance on it. You won't be disappointed, and you can be assured that the person you gift it to won't be either.
City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
For this one, I'm just going to list a series of buzz words and you can determine if this one is a book for you. (Answer: IT ABSOLUTELY IS)
New York City in the 1970s. Extremely wealthy family's fall from grace. Patti Sullivan. Punk Rock. Drug use and abuse. Murder mystery. Detective story. LBGT protagonists. Fan zines. Debut author. Comparisons to Don Delillo, David Foster Wallace, and Jonathan Franzen. And a quote from the blurb, "an unforgettable novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock n roll: about what people need from each other in order to live... and about what makes the living worth doing in the first place." This is the best book I read all year.
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Some of the most inventive and innovative fiction you'll find. This story was written in collaboration with workers at a juice factory in Mexico, and is a meditation on art and history. It's crazy, scintillating, and imaginative. Valeria Luiselli, author of previous works Sidewalks and Faces in the Crowd, is one of Mexico's greatest writers and her fiction, translated by Christina MacSweeney, is a joy to read. It is hilarious, gasp-inducing writing that will leave you wanting more. From the opening line, "I'm the best auctioneer in the world, but no one knows it because I'm a discreet sort of man. My name is Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, though people call me Highway, I believe with affection." If that wasn't enough to convince you, it's published by the good folks at Coffee House Press.
Dog Medicine by Julie Barton
At 22 years old, Julie Barton recently graduated from college. She was struggling with severe depression. She was at a loss as to where to turn next. In the throes of darkness, she decided to adopt a Golden Retriever, and this decision had a profound effect on her well-being. After Julie brought Bunker, her adorable dog, into her life, her mental health drastically improved. It was as though caring for that lovable drool machine allowed her to see that caring and demonstrating love for another was what brought you into the light. This is a story about resiliency, friendship, and the bond between a woman and her beloved dog. Sue and I both absolutely adore this book, and so will the dog lover in your life.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
This book of poetry/criticisms/essays has been reprinted a handful of times. It's landed on the New York Times best sellers list (which is quite the feat for a small press [HOOWWLL!]) It's also one of the greatest expositions on the depth of both personal and communal struggle of racial inequity. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to hear Ms. Rankine give a presentation at the Loft Literary Center, and was blown away by the power of her presence, and you can feel that power in her words. This book is required reading, and I hope that everyone has the chance to connect with it's magnitude. This book is for the socially conscious niece or nephew who seeks a greater understanding.
At The Sky words by Thressa Johnson, art by Amoreena Tarvas
To put it simply, this book is incredible. When you hold this object in your hands, the energy that went into its creation exudes from its every pore. Thressa's words are so visceral, so captivating, that you can feel her chanting them in the back of your mind as you read. Amoreena's images are gorgeous and mesmerizing that you could look at them for hours and still discover nuance. This book was born through the efforts of a community, and it is a reminder of the strength one finds in friendship. Pick this one up for the friend who loves art, yoga, poetry, beauty. And in the process, you'll do the world a favor by introducing them to the wonderful work of the Minneapolis press, Beard Poetry.
Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
In my view, New Directions Publishing is the cream of the crop when it comes to translation writings, and this is a prime example. Eka Kurniawan is Indonesia's greatest living writer. This book tackles the difficult and deadly past of Indonesia's 20th century, from genocides and murders to colonizers and despots, and creates a work of art that exposes the atrocities with forceful beauty and grace. Beauty is a Wound is haunting and daring, filled with ghosts and the dead whom walk the Earth. This is a challenging and rewarding read like none other.
The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
I'll let Alden Jones from The Rumpus pitch you this one. His words are on this great novel are crisp. "The Small Backs of Children takes us on a harrowing journey that begins in a war-shattered town in Eastern Europe, where an American photographer captures an image of a young girl blown forward by a blast that kills her entire family. The photograph wins 'The Award' and the girl retreats into anonymity and art, taken in by a widow in her farmhouse. Soon, a group of American artists decide they need to find this girl and bring her to the US. This is the part of the plot I can distill neatly in an introduction. Packed in around this narrative framework are fractured stories of devotion, art-making, sex, power, meditations on love and the gendered experience, and—as always with Yuknavitch—the life of the body. The Small Backs of Children is balanced on a sex-art-death trifecta that has become the Yuknavitch signature."
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, an essential voice in American discourse.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, a you'll-need-a-box-of-tissues type book.
The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami, fiction that offers more truth than our histories.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra, beautiful, brilliant, powerful.
Not on Fire, But Burning by Greg Hrbek, like Interstellar meets Donnie Darko, meets Station Eleven.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal, for the foodie in the family.