A short list of books we (the editors) love to gift again and again, including a few new much-awaited sequels.
For the college student
The Idiot + Either/Or by Elif Bautman
The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.
Selin is the luckiest person in her family: the only one who was born in America and got to go to Harvard. Now it’s sophomore year, 1996, and Selin knows she has to make it count. The first order of business: to figure out the meaning of everything that happened over the summer. Why did Selin’s elusive crush, Ivan, find her that job in the Hungarian countryside? What was up with all those other people in the Hungarian countryside? Why is Ivan’s weird ex-girlfriend now trying to get in touch with Selin? On the plus side, it feels like the plot of an exciting novel. On the other hand, why do so many novels have crazy abandoned women in them? How does one live a life as interesting as a novel—a life worthy of becoming a novel—without becoming a crazy abandoned woman oneself?
For the millennial with an SRRI prescription
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
Solutions and Other Problems includes humorous stories from Allie Brosh’s childhood; the adventures of her very bad animals; merciless dissection of her own character flaws; incisive essays on grief, loneliness, and powerlessness; as well as reflections on the absurdity of modern life.
For the friend who “never got into social media”
The Goon Squad + The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs.
Bix is forty, with four kids, restless, and desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious”—which allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share your memories in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes.
For the queer who read tarot cards before the apps
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Luz “Little Light” Lopez, a tea leaf reader and laundress, is left to fend for herself after her older brother, Diego, a snake charmer and factory worker, is run out of town by a violent white mob. As Luz navigates 1930s Denver, she begins to have visions that transport her to her Indigenous homeland in the nearby Lost Territory. Luz recollects her ancestors’ origins, how her family flourished, and how they were threatened. She bears witness to the sinister forces that have devastated her people and their homelands for generations. In the end, it is up to Luz to save her family stories from disappearing into oblivion.
For the dad-figure in your life
Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
In these gorgeously written and timely pieces, prizewinning poet and author Ross Gay considers the joy we incite when we care for each other, especially during life’s inevitable hardships. Throughout Inciting Joy, he explores how we can practice recognizing that connection, and also, crucially, how we can expand it.
For the mom-figure in your life
Florida by Lauren Groff
The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.
For the friend going through a Big Change, prose edition
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
This is the long-awaited new story collection from Denis Johnson. Written in the luminous prose that made him one of the most beloved and important writers of his generation, this collection finds Johnson in new territory, contemplating the ghosts of the past and the elusive and unexpected ways the mysteries of the universe assert themselves.
For the friend with kids
I’ll Get to the Bottom of This! + 24 Minutes to Bedtime! by Daniel Kwan (illustrated by Sean Lewis + Felicia Chao)
I’ll Get to the Bottom of This! tells the story of a rhyming dog detective who sets out to discover who’s to blame for a multi-car pileup that has drivers trapped in a tunnel. The detective takes his line of questioning so far that he enters a suspect’s body to question her organs, her brain, and her electrons, before being spat out into the universe in order to question the origin of cosmic energy itself.
24 Minutes to Bedtime! brings the multiverse to the bedtime story. The story follows Winston, who invents a time machine that allows him to time jump around his house, narrowly avoiding his increasingly agitated parents and their efforts to brush his teeth, change his PJs, and just tuck him into bed already. Everything goes smoothly until Winston encounters alternate versions of himself in alternate timelines, forcing him to confront his choices head on.
For the friend who likes puzzles
Halfway from Home by Sarah Fawn Montgomery
When she left a chaotic home at eighteen, Sarah Fawn Montgomery chased restlessness, claiming places on the West Coast, Midwest, and East Coast, while determined never to settle. But it is difficult to move forward when she longs for the past. Now her family is ravaged by addiction, illness, and poverty; the country is increasingly divided; and the natural worlds in which she seeks solace are under siege by wildfire, tornados, and unrelenting storms. Turning to nostalgia as a way to grieve a rapidly-changing world, Montgomery excavates the stories and scars we bury, unearthing literal and metaphorical childhood time capsules and treasures. Blending lyric memoir with lamenting cultural critique, Montgomery examines contemporary longing and desire, sorrow and ache, searching for how to build a home when human connection is disappearing, and how to live meaningfully when our sense of self is uncertain in a fractured world.
For the friend who only references Vonnegut
What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side. In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates. In “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments. And in “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think,” a key keeps a mystical diary locked (for good reason).
For the friend addicted to the news, prose edition
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit
“In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses.” So begins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and on the intertwined politics of nature and power. Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the roses he reportedly planted in 1936, Solnit’s account of this overlooked aspect of Orwell’s life journeys through his writing and his actions—from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left) to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism.
For the Carmen-Maria-Machado-obsessed
The Naked Woman by Aromnía Somers
When The Naked Woman was originally published in 1950, critics doubted a woman writer could be responsible for its shocking erotic content. In this searing critique of Enlightenment values, fantastic themes are juxtaposed with brutal depictions of misogyny and violence, and frantically build to a fiery conclusion. Finally available to an English-speaking audience, Armonía Somers will resonate with readers of Clarice Lispector, Djuna Barnes, and Leonora Carrington.
For the person who “wants to get back into reading”
May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks
May We Shed These Human Bodies peers through vast spaces and skies with the world’s most powerful telescope to find humanity: wild and bright and hard as diamonds. A whole sideshow’s worth of heartbreaking oddballs and freaks.
For the friend with the best outfits, prose edition
These stories cut across generations and continents, moving from the fraught halls of a public school in Flushing, Queens, to the tumultuous streets of Shanghai, China, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. In the absence of grown-ups, latchkey kids experiment on each other until one day the experiments turn violent; an overbearing mother abandons her artistic aspirations to come to America but relives her glory days through karaoke; and a shy loner struggles to master English so she can speak to God. Narrated by the daughters of Chinese immigrants who fled imperiled lives as artists back home only to struggle to stay afloat—dumpster diving for food and scamming Atlantic City casino buses to make a buck—these seven stories showcase Zhang’s compassion, moral courage, and a perverse sense of humor reminiscent of Portnoy’s Complaint.