Alright, we are really getting down to it now. Maybe it’s time to get a little daring with your book gift. Here are some high-risk, high-reward book gifts.
Tudor Roses: A knitter who receives this book as a gift will have one of two reactions; “You have got to be kidding me!” (at which point make sure you have that receipt) or “Oh, it is ON NOW!” (at which point indulge in an internal self-high-five). Fashion, history, and beautifully complex and challenging patterns from one of the top names in the craft world. And yes, there is a pattern for a Mary Tudor sweater to hang on your wall in your living room as indisputable proof to all who may enter, that you totally rule.
Satantango & Seiobo There Below: To some readers, Laszlo Krasznahorkai is the most important novelist nobody is reading. The way he marries beautifully lyrical and complex ballet-like sentences with a crushingly bleak and profoundly cynical outlook on life resonates powerfully with some readers. Laszlo might very well be the greatest living writer in the world, but his work is difficult. Satantango is a rain-drenched novel of Hungarian peasant squalor spiced with whom may or may not be spies in service to a totalitarian government, whose two “protagonists” are a bombastic gadabout, who may or may not be in control of the whole situation, and a morbidly alcoholic and paranoid doctor who almost never leaves his estate. Oh, and one of the most brutal scenes (though with a fairly low level of actual violence) I’ve read. (And I’ve read Sade and Palahnuik.) Seiobo is a precise-to-the-point-of-obsession meditation on art and perfection. At times, the writing is as beautiful as anything you've read, but the conclusions Krasznahorkai leads you to aren’t the usual ones beautiful sentences lead you to. Odds are, whoever you give these books to has never read anything like them before (I hadn’t) and sometimes, that makes the perfect gift.
Tampa & The Virgins: It is always risky to give books that explore sex and sexuality as a gift, so already the level of daring is high for both of these books. Oh, and the narrator of Tampa is a pedophile. For pretty obvious reasons, Tampa was one of the most talked about books of the summer, but it was also critically acclaimed. As many readers finished the book with nothing but praise as readers who closed the book in disgust. The Virgins, though less of a trigger risk, focuses on the challenging, awkward, and often painful relationship between sex and adolescence. Even when sex doesn’t happen, it can still be a major, even deciding, force in our relationships. Erhens is able to capture all of that and more, while writing one of the most interesting narrative voices I’ve read this year. It is a beautifully written novel.
More Than This: This YA novel is about as emotionally intense as you can get, without being a Holocaust story, and still be appropriate for teens. (Though, now that I think about it, there’s a chance it is a Holocaust story.) More Than This starts with the suicide by drowning of the novel’s hero. What follows is a Matrix-like dystopian fiction that plays with the idea of storytelling, while touching on human trafficking, child abuse, and bullying. Smart, compelling, well-written, but intense and full of triggers. This is perfect for an intelligent, intense, brooding teenager, but at this level, it’s a risk.
An Afghanistan Picture Show & Book of Dolores: William Vollman is a daring dude. If he wants to know what riding the rails is like, he doesn’t do a few interviews, he rides the rails. If he wants to learn about poverty, he goes to places where poor people live. When he writes about prostitutes or smoking crack...well, you get the picture. An Afghanistan Picture Show is about the year he spent after college...trying to fight for Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Book of Dolores is pictures of and writing about Vollmann’s female alter-ego. (Whom he created when working on a book about femininity, of course.)
The Columbian Mule & He Died with His Eyes Open: Who doesn’t love a couple of dark cynical mysteries where you don’t like any of the characters, the good guys (if there are any) don’t win, and ultimately life is nasty, brutish, and then over in a nasty, brutish, meaningless flash of insignificance? Well, a few people actually do, and if you know one, either one of these Send You to the Internet for a Cat Video mysteries will be a welcome relief from all the books where “justice prevails" that end up cluttering the night stand after every holiday.
Damned by Chuck Palahnuik: You know that line, the one you’re not supposed to cross? Chuck Palahnuik has made a career and built a rabid fan base, triple-jumping over that line. Damned and Doomed are the first two books in Palahnuik’s retelling of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Instead of Dante being guided by Virgil in search of Beatrice, it is Madison, a teenager who suffered an embarrassing death. Now she must navigate the endless telemarketing center of Palahnuik’s Hell AND figure out how she got there in the first place and how she’s going to get out. For the right person, Palahnuik is the author for whom he or she has been unknowingly pining. For the wrong person...well, that’s what gift receipts are for. If they love Damned make sure to pick up the sequel, Doomed.
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