9 books to buy the readers in your life this holiday

Illustration for article titled 9 books to buy the readers in your life this holiday
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

It’s never a bad time to give books as gifts. But with brick and mortar stores struggling to stay open—especially during the coronavirus pandemic—buying a book from your neighborhood bookshop means you’re not only potentially giving a thoughtful present, but also helping out your local economy. Don’t tarry, though; if you plan on placing an order through your local store or online this holiday season, be sure to do so as soon as possible. The American Booksellers Association says that printing and shipping delays due to COVID-19 will likely slow arrival times the closer the holidays get. So go ahead and make some tough decisions now (should you get your sister the Allie Brosh or the Raven Leilani?), click “purchase,” and do some reading of your own while you wait.

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2 / 10

Solutions And Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Gallery)

Solutions And Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Gallery)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Fans of Allie Brosh have had to wait a full decade for the follow-up to Hyperbole And A Half, the instant-classic collection of her webcomic-derived storytelling. But the resulting book benefits from the delay—it might be just as good, if not better, than Brosh’s debut. Her comic sensibility is still a riot, but there’s 10 years of hard-earned experience (and a far more uncertain world) to confront now, and that more mature voice leavens what was already a deeply empathetic and humanistic perspective with a world-wariness (and -weariness) that’s even more relatable. The writing is precise, the illustrations evocative and funny as hell—here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another decade before getting Brosh’s next book.
Read The A.V. Club’s review of Solutions And Other Problems. Buy on Bookshop.

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3 / 10

The Best Of Me by David Sedaris (Little, Brown)

The Best Of Me by David Sedaris (Little, Brown)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

You may already be familiar with the bulk of the new David Sedaris collection, The Best Of Me; with the exception of one new essay, these are pieces you’ve read in magazines, heard on the radio or in live appearances, or own in other volumes. But while The Best Of Me might prove most useful and most tickling to newcomers, for the Sedaris-acquainted, the book zooms out to show the connective tissue that goes beyond the withering wit and the you-can’t-make-this-shit-up-but-you-can-embellish-it anecdotes. It locates and elevates the family saga and the love story that, as the author’s focus shifted from his younger, angrier, more desperate self, wound up inspiring both his funniest and most poignant work. Sedaris built a reputation through a willingness to expose so much of himself to the reader. Here, in the battles with French mice and the inevitable appearance of The Rooster, he gives us his best—as an author, if not always as a person.
Buy on Bookshop.

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4 / 10

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Susanna Clarke knows how to make it count. Sixteen years after publishing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, that weighty, whimsical, and extremely English alternative history, Clarke returned this year with a book that, despite lacking the girth of its predecessor, is every bit as involving. Piranesi follows its title character through the endless halls of the labyrinth he lives to explore, itself a rich fantasy world unpacked through Clarke’s economical language and incongruous tokens. What emerges is a mystery, thoughtful and sad, and quietly revelatory musings on solitude that hit all that much harder as the country stares down a winter lockdown. If we’re doomed to a season of loneliness, we might as well lose ourselves in art that understands it.
Buy on Bookshop.

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5 / 10

Luster by Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Luster by Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

One of the hottest books of the year, Raven Leilani’s Luster was not only an instant New York Times bestseller when it was published this summer, but the novel also earned the debut writer the prestigious Kirkus Prize in Fiction. Beyond its superlative accolades, Luster is an incredibly readable novel whose lush, lyrical prose anchors its steadily paced story. While the plot centers around the lonely protagonist’s burgeoning relationship with a white man twice her age, this Gen Z bildungsroman also illustrates a young woman’s financial, professional, and artistic struggles, and what it’s like to be one of the only Black people in a room. It’s sexy and poignant and often incredibly funny. We recommend this for those who like their comedy cut with a healthy dose of melancholy.
Read The A.V. Club’s review of Luster. Buy on Bookshop.

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6 / 10

African American Poetry: 250 Years Of Struggle And Song, edited by Kevin Young (Library Of America)

African American Poetry: 250 Years Of Struggle And Song, edited by Kevin Young (Library Of America)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Edited by acclaimed writer and poetry editor of The New Yorker Kevin Young, this anthology features the writings of 250 poets from the colonial period to today. The collection serves as a painfully necessary reminder that American literature has never been an exclusively white medium. It highlights work that lays bare the adversities faced by Black Americans throughout our country’s history, glorifies a rich culture, and muses on mundane moments of life through a Black lens. Struggle And Song also provides enlightening biographical information and historical context that add additional weight to the work—from legends like Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, to contemporary torchbearers like Ross Gay, Claudia Rankine, and Natasha Trethewey, to newest mainstays like Hanif Abdurraqib, Saeed Jones, and Morgan Parker.
Buy on Bookshop.

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7 / 10

A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, And A Fight For Democracy by Jane McAlevey (Ecco)

A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, And A Fight For Democracy by Jane McAlevey (Ecco)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

The latest from veteran organizer Jane McAlevey, A Collective Bargain combines history, analysis, and recent case studies to make the argument that unions are uniquely positioned to not just improve workers’ lives but also help solve many of the crises our country faces, from massive income inequality to climate change. While chronicling the campaigns of nurses in Pennsylvania and teachers in L.A., McAlevey also dispels many of the misconceptions surrounding organized labor. And with Proposition 22 having just passed in California, the scholar’s insights on the gig economy are especially relevant: “Billionaires… have so skewed the discussion that we no longer debate a worker’s right to strike or even their freedom to assemble in their workplace through a union. With the rise of Silicon Valley, we now argue over whether a worker is even a worker.” Recommended for anyone interested in general union history or looking for a primer on organizing.
Buy on Bookshop.

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8 / 10

The Recognitions and J R by William Gaddis (NYRB Classics)

The Recognitions and J R by William Gaddis (NYRB Classics)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Here are not one but two reprinted doorstoppers to help the most stalwart of bibliophiles in your life get through the long winter. William Gaddis’ debut novel of artistic fraud and forgery, The Recognitions was dismissed by critics when it was published in 1955, only to be deemed one of the great American novels in the following decades. Gaddis’ sophomore effort, the satirical J R (1975), follows a greedy, canny sixth-grader as he runs a paper empire from out of a phone booth at school. “No one was more determined than Gaddis was in these two novels to hold modern America, bankrupt in every imaginable way, to account,” said New York Review Books editor Edwin Frank about the press republishing the books. Byzantine and kaleidoscopic, both The Recognitions and J R are big, “difficult” novels, but undeniably alive and more than worth the (literal) heavy lifting.
Buy The Recognitions and J R on Bookshop.

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9 / 10

The Last Great Road Bum by Héctor Tobar (FSG x MCD)

The Last Great Road Bum by Héctor Tobar (FSG x MCD)

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Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Part fact, part fiction, The Last Great Road Bum follows the wild, peripatetic life of Joe Sanderson, who dropped out of college in the ’60s to hitchhike across the globe, visiting, by his estimate, 70 to 80 different countries throughout his short life. Traveling from Jamaica to Vietnam to Nigeria, Sanderson would ultimately die fighting with the guerrillas in the civil war in El Salvador. Inspired by writers like Thoreau and Hemingway, Sanderson wrote prolifically, leaving behind a significant archive of letters, notebooks, and journals, which Tobar used to write the Great American Novel that Sanderson himself could not.
Buy on Bookshop.

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10 / 10