I’m one of those people who think books are the ideal gift. This may be because I am a voracious reader and am projecting my own wants onto others, but really, what other gift is relatively gender-neutral, one-size-fits-all, and priced just about right? I’ve read some exceptionally good books this year, so I thought I’d share my reading list in the hopes one of these titles will suit that person you are struggling to gift this holiday season:
First, I cannot say enough about The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. I’m only halfway through and it’s already supplanted The Secret History as my favorite novel of all time. Henry Skrimshander is a baseball prodigy, shortstop for the Westish College Harpooners with a perfect error-free record, until he makes a wild throw that beans his best friend and roommate in the face. From there Henry just can’t get it back, and the planet goes off axis. Set at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin, with a cast of characters whose names range from the banal (Mike Schwartz) to the inspired (Guert Affenlight), the world of Westish College is a fully-realized, fully self-contained universe. This is a highly literary social novel about youth, promise, failure, redemption, and the nature of love. It’s about baseball the way Friday Night Lights was about football. A flawless choice for the man in your life, or anyone who finds genuine joy in a truly well-written read.
I also loved this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for literature, A Visit From The Goon Squad, and that was before I realized the author (Jennifer Egan) is the older sister of my junior prom date. The Goon Squad follows record-executive Bennie and his troubled assistant Sasha back-and-forth from the 80′s to the not-too-distant future, around the world and down the street, as their lives intersect, collide, and loop back again. The book’s format is no more linear than its storyline, and yet there’s a masterly order to it all. It’s a genius social commentary on our lives and times. Perfect for the hopeful cynic on your list.
The Tiger’s Wife is popping up on many top-ten lists this year, and with good cause. Tea Obreht brings us a tale of Natalia, a young doctor in the war-torn Balkans struggling to care for the wounded and get to the bottom of her grandfather’s death. Woven throughout are a series of interlinked folk stories about a man who cannot die, and a woman who fell in love with a tiger. Because of the exotic names and places, this is one of those books that just doesn’t read well on a tablet – you need to be able to flip to past pages and revisit who/what/where every now and then. This one is for the reader with chronic wanderlust.
Even more fantastic (in the “fantasy” sense, not in a quality-of-book sense per se) than The Tiger’s Wife is The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern. Celia and Marco are star-crossed in all respects – doomed to fall in love, and doomed to compete against each other in the mysterious tents of Le Cirque des Reves, a traveling circus that appears without warning and disappears without notice. The characters are real magicians, and the setting is purely magical. This is a book for your best dreamy girlfriend or sister.
And finally, my heart broke and mended over and over again while reading The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman. Gilman’s memoir is about the joys and struggles of raising her young son Benjamin, who arrived on this earth hamstrung by sensory integration delays and rocketed beyond his years by hyperlexia, a disorder that manifests itself in obsessions with words and precocious reading without actual comprehension. Motherhood, as we mamas know all too well, is hard. Raising children is the most important, and most frightening, job there is. And when your kid comes with challenges – especially in terms of brain function, a subject about which there is a scary lack of information – every priority and dream you ever set for yourself needs to be reorganized. And you’re going to do it, because love will make you. This is a beautiful book about understanding, patience, tenacity, and commitment, ideal for the mama bears among us.