Tag Archives: David Mitchell

The Twelve Books of Christmas (or Your Chosen Winter Holiday)

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.

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1: BEST BIG BOOK TO GIVE: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

City on Fire

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.

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2: WORST BIG BOOK TO GIVE: Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen

Book of Numbers

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.

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3: SUREST BET TO GIVESlade House by David Mitchell

Slade House

Beautifully designed on the outside, a page-turner on the inside. Literary enough for your snob friends, accessible enough for your Dan Brown friends.

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4: RISKIEST BET TO GIVE: Jillian by Halle Butler

Jillian

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.

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5: COOLEST NERDY BOOK: Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Hamilton

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.

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6: JUST PLAIN NERDIEST BOOK: Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe

Thing Explainer

You know, things. Like “Bags of Stuff Inside You.” And “Stuff You Touch to Fly a Sky Boat.” Totally normal, socially well-adjusted things.

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7: MOST FUN BOOK TO EXPLAIN: MORT(E) by Robert Repino

Morte

“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.”

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8: MOST FUN BOOK TO NOT EXPLAIN: Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself by Anneli Rufus

Unworthy

“Thought you could use this!”

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9: BEST TITLE: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

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.)

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10: WORST TITLE: The Whites by Richard Price

Whites

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.

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12: BIGGEST AMOUNT OF BOOK: 3000 Classic Books USB Drive

3000 Classic Books

For your family member who likes to buy white tube socks by the hundreds at Costco (and has never heard of Project Gutenberg).

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12: LITTLEST AMOUNT OF BOOK: Iterating Grace by Koons Crooks and Anonymous

Iterating Grace

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

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Circle of Lives

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Like deja vu all over again.
Status: Guess I’ll see you next lifetime

In lieu of 500 words on why you should read Cloud Atlas, I offer you the trailer for its film adaptation, and tell you that I am very, very, very excited about it.

I feel compelled to also mention that unraveling the book is part of its charm, so be warned that the video below may warrant a mild SPOILER ALERT.


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Do you want to trade paperbacks?

– Michael Moats

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I Was Elected to Lead, Not to Read

The Daily Beast looks at the President Obama’s reading list since 2008. Lots of Lincoln and more than one Roosevelt. And I wonder if he liked David Mitchell’s “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.”

(Click the image for a larger version.)

UPDATE: National Review reports on the president’s vacation reading list.

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Inventory: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell / Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
This is an ace book.
Status: Get it

ON IT’S COVER, “Black Swan Green” is touted as “Great Britain’s Catcher in the Rye,” which sent me into its pages with instant skepticism. We’ve been burned on this point before, on just about any novel that follows an emotional adolescent with a distinctive first-person voice. While BSG is undoubtedly not another The Catcher in the Rye it is the first book I’ve read – possibly the first book in history – that bears up under this praise. David Mitchell provides an excellent glimpse at the tender adolescent Brits of the 1980s, the boys who grew up to become Radiohead and Blur, as well as their tormentors who went on the be Oasis.

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Mantel earned the Booker Prize with this one.
Status: Currently seeking reader

“WOLF HALL” IS ALSO SET IN ENGLAND, but takes place roughly 450 years prior to “Black Swan Green.” Henry VIII is pushing through his divorce and remarriage via (re)formation of the Church of England, a process largely overseen by his unlikely adviser, Thomas Cromwell. Despite being at the center of this British lit, Cromwell’s story feels distinctly American: the poor son of an abusive father, he rises to the King’s court through cunning and aptitude. He is respectful but unbowed by title, humane in his judgments and progressive in the democratization of faith that enables King Henry to have what he wants. (N.B: This interpretation may have to do with my current reading on Alexander Hamilton, another impoverished, polymath upstart who found himself the closest adviser to the head of state during another time of tumultuous change.) The story’s episodic structure and the fact that so much happens offstage keeps readers at arm’s length from Cromwell, who is nevertheless an engaging and sympathetic not-quite-narrator.  The effect is important to the overall effort, but is difficult for Mantel to sustain over 600 pages. That’s the worst thing I can say about this book, the second-worst being that when I finished I felt instantly like I needed to read it again right away.

Do you want to trade paperbacks?

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