Believe it or not, I'm literate. I spend a lot of time reading pop novels, because that's what I like to read. I'd like to think that one day I'll battle through Ulysses, or even engage some of the Hemingway tomes I've bought for my boyfriend. I have books by Virginia Woolf and fully intend on reading them. It should be noted here that one of the reasons I have yet to read Mrs. Dalloway is that my emotionally unstable siamese peed on it (along with Microserfs by Douglas Coupland and Averno by Louise Glück) when I left it out on the kitchen counter, which is, apparently, her new favorite place to assert her authority. The truth, however, is I probably wouldn't have read it yet anyway. Though, it may be noted, that I have a ton of books by decorated poets. And I've read most of them.
The point is, I think, that pop novels make for great holiday gifts. I've read all of these books, and thusly can give my stamp of approval. I'm even gifting some this year (I feel safe saying this because my giftees either have an aversion to internets or to blogs). And, as tacky as it is, Happy Holidays to all two of you who read this blog. And a happy new year, or whatever.
( And, yes, I'm aware that I'm a bit late for Hanukkah, but that never stops the cashiers at Macy's from saying "Happy Holidays." I recommend avoiding that place right now, it's a zoo. A zoo filled with steroid-enhanced wildlife that may or may not have recently snorted cocaine.)
A Tale of Two Sisters by Anna Maxted
I read this one last year, picked it up because it's by one of the only chick lit authors I enjoy, Anna Maxted. But it surprised me. This is as much a warm, heartfelt book about taking responsibility for one's own place in life as it is a punchy comedy. The story takes turns between the perspectives of two sisters, Lizbet and Cassie, as they struggle through their relationships (Lizbet is single but committed, whereas Cassie is married but questioning her vows), their jobs (editor and lawyer, respectively), and their feelings for eachother just as a surprise, followed by a tragedy, hit the family. Perhaps it sounds a bit cliche, but trust me when I say that this is Maxted's best book, rife with wit and cynicism, and a great gift for any woman in the family.
The Seas by Samantha Hunt
What I love most about this book is its insane romanticism. Let me pause. It's not insane because it's romantic, it's romantic because it's insane. Or is it? The narrator has a special idealism in the face of imminent tragedy, and is convinced of certain paranormal experiences - most prominently she believes she's a mermaid - that really define the ebb and flow of the story. She is engaged a doomed love affair with a much older Gulf War vet, and lives in a small ship-building town, that, despite giving no specific geographical location, reminds me of northern Maine. It's the spirit of this book that has caused me to already gift it twice.
Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland
It's not really about religion. Its characters, in various states of spiritual decomposition, don't have a platform on Christianity. In the wake of a high school tragedy, the four narrators of this story are all determined to move forward. Some get there faster than others, and, like you might expect from Coupland, each character's progress is interwoven with the others'. Like most of Coupland's work, this novel leaves both an apocalyptic and a hopeful aftertaste.
Songbook by Nick Hornby
This was actually given to me a few years ago, by my childhood best friend. It's nonfiction - part memoir, part music journalism, with Hornby's musings on his 32 favorite songs. This makes a perfect gift for a music-lover - the friend who has a story for each of his favorite songs. You know, the "Oh the first time I heard this I was driving down Congress Street with Joe..." friend. It's also a quick read, so it's not like you'd be burdening him with the chore of reading War and Peace. Unless, you know, he's into that sort of thing.
Cockatiels for Two by Leo Cullum
Leo Cullum is among my favorite New Yorker cartoonists. And cat cartoons never cease to be funny. This book, comprised entirely of his cat cartoons, is a no-miss gift. Unless your recipient is a dog person. For him, there is Cullum's book of dog cartoons. But that one doesn't interest me nearly as much.
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
For lovers of fixed-verse poetry and cat fanatics alike, children and adults, this Eliot classic is a pleaser. I mean, who wouldn't love a poem about Jennyanydots, or Macavity the Mystery Cat? These poems are entertaining and nostalgic, and most fun read aloud!
Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates
A coworker recommended this book to me as she said it reminded her of having gone to college in a rural, eastern location, much like I did. It takes place at an all-girls college in New England, where one girl's obsession with a professor of literature, and, in turn, his wife the art teacher, quickly becomes unhealthy. While dark, Beasts is a compelling read that draws a narrow line between art and self.
Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates
When I initially purchased this book from half.com, I suspected that it might be a young adult novel. The cover art, I suppose gives it away. I mostly didn't care, as a) Joyce Carol Oates is awesome and b) I like kids' books. What surprised me was the careful, strong narrative Oates crafted using two teenage misfits as protagonists, and, in the aftermath of so many school shootings and bomb threats in the 90's and 00's, the way she tackles such an incident without gimmick or glamor. This is the sort of smart, funny novel that teenagers should be reading, and that adults can certainly get a kick out of, too.
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
This was the first Murakami book I read. I know, he's a huge buzz name right now, but hear me out. Your contemporary-literature-loving friend probably doesn't have this one. It's not one of Murakami's more well-known novels, but perhaps it should be. I admit, I chose it not on its merit, but on the fact that it was the shortest of the Murakami novels that were on sale at the Strand. I don't regret this. It mostly takes place on a remote island off the coast of Greece, in search of a woman who has disappeared, seemingly, without a trace. While Murakami is, arguably, hard to read, once you discover the elaborate mystery and romance of this novel, it's difficult to put down. I, for one, missed my stop on the train at least once while reading it.
Latin for Even More Occasions by Henry Beard
Okay, this was geek-love-at-first-sight. Henry Beard may not be a creative genius, but I can't say I haven't enjoyed this book a little too much. And I'm certain that anyone with an interest in Latin, language, or Greco-Roman studies will get a kick out of this. This is especially useful for the holidays: Cogito sumere potum alterum.
Slam by Nick Hornby
I haven't finished reading this yet, so I can't give you an absolutely definitive opinion. But, I can tell you that Nick Hornby's first young adult novel is a hoot. It takes on both heavy and light-hearted subjects with the sort of narrative voice that I have enjoyed In every other Hornby novel that I've read through the eyes of Sam. Sam is a 16-year-old skater (not an ice-skater, mind you, a skateboarder) living in London. He has girl trouble. And there's very little not to enjoy about his story.
Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland
Another Coupland novel that I devoured this past year, Miss Wyoming is as delightful as it is frightening. Frightening in the sense that, yes, this is the human condition. It skips about in time, narrating both the history and current affairs of a former teen pageant queen and a washed up movie star. Susan Colgate has survived a plane crash followed by a year-long disappearance, John Johnson has survived a drug overdose followed by months of self-prescribed homelessness. They both have survived, as you can imagine, some extremely odd family dynamics. As the story switches perspectives and carves out each surprise, you find yourself putting faith in the aforementioned human condition, and the odd little mission that this pair ultimately have set out to achieve.
There you have it. Happy shopping (read: may you not venture into any malls or department stores). And, if you're wondering what to get me, here's my very own Amazon wish list. I like presents.