At this time each year, two major things happen: everyone starts telling you what the best books of the last 12 months are, and you start trying to find nice gifts for the people in your life. Books, of course, make excellent gifts. They’re weighty but not too large. They’re often beautifully designed. And they (usually) communicate a certain respect for the cultural and intellectual qualities of the receiver.
But books as gifts also come with hazards. Giving one is a not-so-implicit demand that the receiver must actually read it. Where does your friendship stand a month from now if they read it and hate it? Are you maybe just giving them a book to show off your own cultural and intellectual qualities?
It’s enough to make you just buy a gift card. But don’t give up. Fiction Advocate is here to help, with a list of some of the best, and worst, books to give as gifts this holiday season. We’re happy to present the 2015 Twelve Book of Christmas/Your Chosen Winter Holiday.
1: BEST BIG BOOK TO GIVE: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
An ensemble piece like Love Actually, except instead of Christmas in Britain it’s the collapse of civilization in 1970s New York City. There’s been a lot of hype around this one. Believe it.
2: WORST BIG BOOK TO GIVE: Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
A young man with no responsibilities, and no apparent consequences for his actions, complains about the ridiculous writing job and extraordinary adventures that he falls into. I’m sure other stuff happens but I gave up around the part where he uses a laptop charger cord to masturbate. This book is a solipsistic hellscape of narcissism, entitlement, self-destructive behavior and bullshit masquerading as a commentary on our digital age.
…if for some reason that sounds good to you.
3: SUREST BET TO GIVE: Slade House by David Mitchell
Beautifully designed on the outside, a page-turner on the inside. Literary enough for your snob friends, accessible enough for your Dan Brown friends.
4: RISKIEST BET TO GIVE: Jillian by Halle Butler
Is it too much like the TV show Girls? Is it too much like your actual, depressing life? Or is it exactly the right amount of bleak, contemporary, hilarious realism? At least one person in your life will absolutely adore this book. But choose carefully.
5: COOLEST NERDY BOOK: Hamilton by Ron Chernow
This may be your best chance to show both your nerd cred and your cool cred by giving a doorstop historical biography that is also the basis of a hip-hop Broadway sensation. Read here if you need more convincing.
6: JUST PLAIN NERDIEST BOOK: Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe
You know, things. Like “Bags of Stuff Inside You.” And “Stuff You Touch to Fly a Sky Boat.” Totally normal, socially well-adjusted things.
7: MOST FUN BOOK TO EXPLAIN: MORT(E) by Robert Repino
“Giant intelligent ants take over the planet, and a cat with opposable thumbs rises up against them, but he’s in love with a dog who hasn’t been transformed yet, and there might be a few humans alive, but they’re dressed like raccoons because they’re hiding. The whole thing is a critique of organized religion. You’ll get it. Just read it, you’ll get it.”
8: MOST FUN BOOK TO NOT EXPLAIN: Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself by Anneli Rufus
“Thought you could use this!”
9: BEST TITLE: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
You see this title and you say “Really? No, that can’t be true. Oh fuck, of course it’s true. Which means it’s the greatest title I’ve ever heard. And now I have to read it.” (It’s good inside, too.)
10: WORST TITLE: The Whites by Richard Price
It’s supposed to be really good and I want to read it, and it has nothing to do with race. But you run too much of a risk that your dumbass cousin or Fox News-watching brother-in-law is going to take an interest and start a conversation about how all lives matter.
12: BIGGEST AMOUNT OF BOOK: 3000 Classic Books USB Drive
For your family member who likes to buy white tube socks by the hundreds at Costco (and has never heard of Project Gutenberg).
12: LITTLEST AMOUNT OF BOOK: Iterating Grace by Koons Crooks and Anonymous
In 26 unforgettable pages, an anonymous writer takes the douchebags of Silicon Valley over his or her knee and spanks them in the most literary way possible.
Michael Moats and Brian Hurley