I love getting books as presents. The neatly wrapped stack of books under the Christmas tree every year is my version of a Lexus with a giant bow on top. (And hey, credits for e-books are pretty great, too, I suppose.)
So consider this list my personal wish list (hint, hint)—or, as it’s really intended, a guide to the 13 best new book releases, perfect for every character on your holiday shopping list.
This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz
I’ve just begun this set of interconnected short stories, and I am astonished by the depth of Diaz’s writing. It’s a master class on how to write. Yunior is Diaz’s alter ego, and This is How You Lose Her follows the intelligent, awkward, cocky young Dominican through his various encounters with women, and what he and they do to blow up their relationships. It’s touching and brazen all it once. Yunior is also the narrator in Diaz’s Pulitzer winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
NW, by Zadie Smith
I’m halfway through this one, and it’s a challenge, but sometimes Smith’s books are. Her prose is once in a generation though, so I’ll follow her anywhere. This is the story of two childhood friends who grew up in the housing projects of London and the twists of fate and self-destruction that continually course-correct their lives. I know nothing about this part of London, and at times the story is very inside, but what becomes of Leah and Natalie will definitely draw you in.
A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers
I haven’t read this one yet, but I loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and my people loved Zeitoun, so I think it’s a safe bet. Eggers has moved from the personal to the universal over his last several books, and this, his latest, is about a struggling business man’s attempt to fix his broken life. Despite taking place in Saudi Arabia, Hologram is a parable for post-recession life here in America.
Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
The brilliant McEwan’s latest novel revolves around protagonist and spy Serena Frome. She’s beautiful and brilliant and she falls for her mark. Sounds like literary fiction for Bond fans. Also, if you haven’t yet, you should definitely read McEwan’s soul-shattering Atonement.
For the Whimsical Friend (Who Also Liked The Night Circus)
The Elephant Keeper’s Children, by Peter Hoeg
This one is a bit fairy story, a bit religious meditation, and a bit farcical sibling romp. When Peter’s devout parents go missing, he and his siblings take on the task of finding them and along the way encounter curious characters and madcap adventure.
Astray, by Emma Donoghue
How to describe a book that sets out to span all incomes, races, creeds, desires, time periods, wishes, and wandering souls? That’s the beauty of a short story collection. With a general theme of seeking that which eludes, and a corollary through all the stories that will be explained in the end, this is a collection for the reader who wants it all.
Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, by Jake Tapper
From ABC News' Senior White House Correspondent and Twitter favorite (of mine) Jake Tapper comes this detailed account of one of the deadliest battles in the United States’ ongoing war in Afghanistan and the subsequent investigation that shed light on Combat Outpost Keating (COP), where the attack took place. COP needn’t have even existed, and U.S. soldiers were sitting ducks. Tapper breaks it down in this latest look at the longest war in American history.
We haven’t had a female President yet, but we’ve had three Secretary of States who are formidable women with fascinating life stories. Albright, President Clinton’s SOS from 1997-2001, was born Marie Jana Korbelová in Prague, and her family spent the next 15 years navigating the political minefields of pre- and post-WWII Europe. Albright’s family survived Nazi occupation, the Blitz in London, and the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, and not without heartache and tragedy. Prague Winter is a personal and historical look back at a significant time in Albright’s formative years.
Alexander McQueen, the artist, the fashion god, the celebrity, committed suicide at 40 years old, never becoming the cynosure of the fashion industry he surely would have. Anne Deniau, the only photographer allowed backstage at his shows, put together this collection as a tribute to the late icon. It will make a great (and gorgeous) accessory to your coffee table.
Unterzakhn, by Leela Corman
Graphic novels have taken over the world. While many may still be read with white gloves on, like the comic books they share a geeky fan base with, they are also for the traditional fiction reader—the lover of great storytelling. Unterzakhn is about two sisters in early 20th century New York, a time period that can never be too mined, in my opinion. Their gentle father, their very different choices, their reach for the good life—it probably won’t end well, but how lovely that the story can be seen and read. Also, it’s written and illustrated by a woman, which is pretty rad.
A Journey Beneath the Surface, by Olivia Laing
If you loved Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, than this may be the perfect companion piece. Nursing a badly broken heart, Laing decides to walk the 45-mile river in which Virginia Woolf drowned, ruminating as she goes on the deep history of the English countryside and the effect of the natural world on her on woes and worries.
I’m always asking people what they are reading—I think it says a lot about who they are, what they value, and what they love, and I’ve been surprised sometimes. So this collection, which asks leading cultural figures what their ideal bookshelf would look like, is at the top of my list (figuratively, anyway). It’s the “stranded on a desert island” game, but just books, and accompanied by wonderful illustrations. Some of my favorite writers, journalists, meme-makers, and chefs are included, and I can’t wait to find out what they can’t live without.