8 Novels to Give as Holiday Gifts
And the independent bookstores or publishers where you can buy them
We hope you all had a safe, restful and festive Thanksgiving weekend! As the holiday shopping season opens, we thought it would be helpful to share some of our favorite novels since our last gift guide that friends, family—or you!—might enjoy. The books are listed in alphabetical order by author, and we’ve included an independent bookstore or publisher where you can easily order them, like:
'If on a winter's night a traveler' by Italo Calvino
‘If on a winter’s night a traveler’ is a book about books: the agony of writing them; the indifferent efforts to market, produce and distribute them; and, most importantly, the joys of collecting, reading and trying to understand them. You, the reader, are the male protagonist. You’re trying to read Calvino’s novel, except you can’t. It cuts off abruptly. You try to find the remaining pages, guided by the book itself (yes, the book acts as the narrator), but instead, you find an excerpt of another novel with a completely different setting and cast of characters. It suddenly cuts off, too. You continue your journey to finish that novel, but are detoured through several others. One feels like Russian literature. Another, Japanese. A third, a spy novel. Calvino reminds us that we must always keep in the back of our mind a space to appreciate beauty and joy in literature. ‘If on a winter’s night a traveler’ was given to me as a gift, and I encourage you to share it with others, because:
Buy it from The Lit Bar (via Bookshop.org) for $14.71.
'The Hearing Trumpet' by Leonora Carrington
‘The Hearing Trumpet’ is as surreal as a Hieronymus Bosch painting. It follows 92-year-old protagonist Marian Leatherby, whose family has sent her off to an old-folks home. Turns out, the facility is run by a cult, and during Marian’s time there, she has an adventure that involves a magical painting, out-of-season snowfall, earthquakes, unnatural bee behaviors, the appearance of a mythical creature, the opening of a gateway to hell and the arrival of a wolf-headed woman. I understand this book might not be for every reader, but it could be right up the alley of anyone who loves weird books. I couldn’t put it down. Each page was a delight. I was like:
Buy it from The New York Review of Books for $15.95
‘The Transit of Venus’ by Shirley Hazzard
This story follows Grace and Caroline Bell, two young sisters who emigrate from Australia to post-war England after their parents die in a ferry accident. We see their loves, their joys, their heartaches, their infidelities and their darkest secrets. Every page is packed with beautifully constructed sentences and evocative turns of phrase, and I littered the book with underlines and marks to remember them. I tweeted about this book: ‘It's got some of the best writing I've encountered in a while. A sweeping story over several decades. Gut punches. Love. Betrayal. It's a tour de force. I was emotionally wrecked.’ If you know someone looking for an intense, beautiful and heartbreaking book, I strongly urge you to get them ‘The Transit of Venus.’ My rating:
Buy it from Strand Book Store for $18.
‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman
When we meet protagonist Eleanor, a 30-year-old working in the accounting department of a Glasgow graphic design company, we see she is not completely fine, although she believes she is. She is content to live a mostly solitary life. Her weekends are spent at home in a vodka-induced oblivion. Once a week, she has a conversation with her mother, whom she calls Mummy. We learn that Eleanor has suffered multiple traumas, which have left her with a scar on her face—and a deeply held secret. Through Eleanor’s story, we are reminded about the importance of friendship and the power of a friend’s patience, love and support to help us figure ourselves out and to change our lives for the better. This book reminds us of the value of human connection, and I think anyone who receives it would enjoy it. I was like:
Buy it from Books Are Magic for $16.
'The Passion According to G.H.' by Clarice Lispector
This novel is narrated by G.H., a prominent sculptor, who intends to clean out her former maid’s room. She enters the room and discovers the maid had already emptied it of possessions, but as she inspects a wardrobe, she sees a roach causing her to panic. She slams the wardrobe’s door on the insect, trapping it and causing it to endure a slow death. This inspires an existential, metaphysical and spiritual crisis, which G.H. recounts for the rest of the book, including her mystical revelations about the meaning of life, death, love, art and God. The writing is scary good, and I often felt like I was encountering Shakespeare, where I understood all the words but struggled to fully comprehend their meaning and nuance. If you know someone up for a challenge, get them this book. ‘The Passion According to G.H.’ is beautiful and confounding, like:
Buy it from Greenlight Bookstore for $15.95.
‘Hurricane Season’ by Fernanda Melchor
A witch has been found murdered in a small Mexican town. We learn how and why the murder happened through the narration of several characters—including a 13-year-old girl who’s run away from home and a nosy neighbor with a vendetta—who are either involved in or witnesses to the crime. But this is no murder mystery. Rather, it’s an exploration of the darkness, fear and base sexual urges contained in the human soul and how they can be projected onto others with deadly consequences. ‘Hurricane Season’ isn’t for everyone, but consider it for someone you know who’s up for a powerful and unflinching novel. It was shortlisted for a Booker Prize, longlisted for a National Book Award, and had me like:
By it from Cafe Con Libros for $16.95.
‘The Sea, the Sea’ by Iris Murdoch
As noted in last week’s newsletter, Charles Arrowby is a famous director who has just retired from London’s theater world and bought a house, called Shruff End, on the coast. Arrowby is a vain, arrogant and self-centered man, puffed up by fame and success in the theater and at bedding actresses. He claims he’s incapable of loving any woman other than his first love, a teenage crush named Hartley, who has been out of his life for decades. When Arrowby discovers that Hartley lives nearby, he views it as a sign they are destined to be together. His behavior becomes increasingly bizarre and irrational, and his plotting, scheming and illogical interpretations of reality make for riveting reading. ‘The Sea, the Sea’ is beautiful and intense. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I highly recommend it.
Buy it from The Center for Fiction for $20.
'Interior Chinatown' by Charles Yu
National Book Award-winner ‘Interior Chinatown’ embodies Shakespeare’s famous maxim that all the world’s a stage and that we’re merely the players. The book is structured like a screenplay, complete with setting descriptions and the characters identified as roles. Protagonist Willis Wu describes himself as ‘Generic Asian Man,’ and is a background character in American life and in the country’s great black-and-white racial drama. Yu’s screenplay structure feels clever, creative and playful, and allows him to skewer both the entertainment industry and America’s overall racial narrative, where Blacks and whites are the central characters and every other group is relegated to mere extras. It blends humor and historical facts, and is a triumph of style and metaphor. It’s a good book and a quick read, and hopefully you’ll agree that:
Buy it from Bel Canto Books for $16.
Looking for more? Here are some ideas from past BoG gift guides:
From 2020: The highlights include ‘The Book of X’ by Sarah Rose Etter, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo, ‘Family Lexicon’ by Natalia Ginzburg, ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen, ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry and ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk. Read the full guide here.
If you’re looking for some nonfiction, I’d recommend:
‘The Story’ by A’Ziah King
'The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration' by Isabel Wilkerson
‘Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations’ by Mira Jacob
‘They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us’ and ‘Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest’ by Hanif Abdurraqib
‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City’ by Matthew Desmond.
Before you go:
ICYMI: Review #173
Read these: Here are some other bookish gift guides from:
Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!
Until next time,