Novel ideas

Gifts for a literary holiday

Forget about silk-screened T-shirts, mix tapes or even the Sharper Image catalog of wonders; there’s nothing as personal as a book. For every personality, every reading level, there’s a book out there waiting to provide that lucky Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa celebrant with a few hours—maybe a few weeks—of pleasure. To help you unlock that potential for joy, here are a few tips for the best books to buy this holiday season.

For Your Globe-Trotting, Hop-Scotching Pal, Wherever the Hell He is These Days

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute. This bizarre, touching little travelogue tells the story of Julio Cortozar and Carol Dunlop’s 33-day journey along the Paris-Marseilles freeway in 1982 in journals and drawings that capture the mess and muss of travel.

For Your Hot Granny

No one loves a late bloomer quite like a sassy older lady, so indulge her naughty sweet tooth with Bowl of Cherries, 90-year-old Millard Kaufman’s hilarious (and ribald) debut novel about a young man who bumbles from one misadventure to another before landing in a prison cell in Iraq.

For Your Colbert-Watching,, Nation-Subscribing, Anger-Fatigued Friend Who Believes There’s Nothing Left to Learn About This Craven World

It all makes sense—Katrina, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the Israeli wall, Halliburton—in Naomi Klein’s authoritative polemic, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which explores the relationship between shock therapy (either economic or military) and the spread of free market ideals. Package with Blackwater (Nation Books) by Jeremy Scahill and stand back while your friend’s head explodes.

For Dad, Who Hunkers Down with One Big Biography

Outside of Robert Caro’s narrative on the life of LBJ, John Richardson’s ongoing study of Picasso is probably the most ambitious and magnificent biographical project in the world. His latest volume, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, follows the sacred master/monster out of World War I and up to the summits of fame.

For Your Nature-Loving Friend

Eliot Weinberger’s metaphysical essay collection An Elemental Thing provides a stirring glimpse into the way societies around the world live in tune with the seasons, while Rebecca Solnit’s collection, Storming the Gates of Paradise, explores the politics of place with a stylish remove reminiscent of early Joan Didion.

For the Dedicated Fictionista in Your Circle

Dinaw Mengestu’s heartbreaking, exquisitely made The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears tells the story of three African refugees making their way in Washington, D.C., long after they’ve given up on realizing their wildest American dreams.

For Your Friend, the (Enlightened) Bible-Thumper

Write a sweet card, praising his or her open-mindedness, and enclose a copy of Christopher Hitchens’ razor-sharp God is Not Great.

For the Journaler in Your Life

Stare straight down into the powerful filament of Joyce Carol Oates’ working mind with The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982, a period when she published an astonishing 29 works of fiction, criticism and poetry.

For Your Do-Gooding Friend

In Poor People, William T. Vollmann traveled the globe, from Cambodia to Sacramento, asking the people he met, “Why are you poor?” The impressionistic, rhetoric-free book that results is a kind of Let us Now Praise Famous Men for our time.

For Your Lover

There is a rightness and terrible melancholy to every sentence of Hisham Matar’s debut novel, In the Country of Men, which tells the story of a young boy who is entrusted with a secret much larger than him.