As many booklovers know, there’s no better feeling than giving a book you couldn’t put down to someone who loves reading as much as you, but of course, deciding on the book to give can be a tricky process. What sort of stories do they like? Are they open to something new, or do they tend to stay with their favorite genre? Do they have time to read a 600-pager, or would they give a novella a try?
Whatever you’re looking for, the staff at Texas Book Festival wants to help! This week, we’ll be listing a few (or in some cases, quite a few) of the books we’re giving as gifts to friends and family this year. You can start with Lea’s picks here, or continue on to Lydia’s list below.
Her Body and Other Parties: With her debut (but for many, eagerly-awaited) collection of dark, fabulist stories, Carmen Maria Machado joins the ranks of Angela Carter, Kelly Link, and Helen Oyeyemi (meaning she is also joining some of my favorite-ever writers). These delightfully unsettling and disturbingly realistic stories of women encountering mystery, magic, and violence are a perfect mix of modern fantasy and fairy tales for the queer feminist revolution.
The Nakano Thrift Shop: For my friend who loves to read but rarely finds the time, I’m giving Hiromi Kawakami’s story of a young woman who works in a thrift shop, observing her coworkers, customers, and eccentric employer through their daily lives. Episodic in structure but as off-beat, unexpected, and meandering as a stroll through your favorite thrift shop, this book is a delightful, character-driven slice of life.
Provenance: Perhaps the most fun I’ve had reading this year (and really, I have a lot of fun reading). A post-colonial, post-gender tale of interplanetary diplomacy gone awry, Ann Leckie’s fourth book takes place in the same universe as her Imperial Radch trilogy, but takes a different approach to different questions with the same tone of playful gravity and the same wildly imaginative insight. A perfect gift for any reader partial to Science Fiction, adventure, and/or great stories.
It’s Not Like It’s A Secret: Misa Sugiura’s beautiful story of first love is also an insightful exploration of the different kinds of racism and prejudice people of color experience, the ways in which cultural tradition can both nurture and restrict, the many ways teens grapple with being queer and coming out in today’s cultural climate, and how poetry and literature can guide us through even the most difficult times. A perfect gift for anyone who loves modern day YA, poetry, and thoughtful coming-of-age stories.
Ill Will: Perhaps one of my favorite books of the year, Ill Will is a perfect gift for horror fans and literary fiction snobs alike. There are no jump-scares or marauding clowns or otherworldly creatures in this book (spoiler alert, I guess), but this tangled story of a father, his brother, and his son all stumbling through their murky past and devastating present with a mix of loyalty, fear and resentment will keep you wide awake just the same. Dan Chaon is the master of slow-building dread and the creeping sense that all your secret, most paranoid fears have been true all along.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: The perfect gift for my younger sister who also loves rollicking historical adventures and slow-burn, rewarding romances, I’m giving Mackenzi Lee’s YA novel about three teens’ sometimes-decadent, sometimes-disastrous Continental Tour. Lee’s insightful treatment of queer romance, realistic portrayal of disability and the long-reaching effects of abuse, and message of female empowerment make this book so much more than just an exciting romp through 18th century Europe.
The Bedlam Stacks (and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street): My most surprising read of the year! I admit I didn’t know Natasha Pulley’s writing before reading The Bedlam Stacks, but was quickly carried away in the current of Pulley’s lovely prose and dreamlike magical realism, rooting for her intensely likable characters. I finished the book in one day (even after I managed to drop it in the pool), then immediately went out and bought The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (luckily it was fine to have read them out of order). I’ve been recommending the two to everyone I know since. I’m giving these two books to several of my good friends who share my love of gorgeous magical realism, fascinating history, and tender, respectful portrayals of queer love.
Hello, Universe: for my young cousin, who has re-read Wonder more times than she can count and likes “real life stories” about kids her age finding their bravery and standing up for their friends. With a clever mix of folklore, family, and brand-new friendship, Erin Entrada Kelly’s story of a timid boy, a lonely girl, two self-proclaimed psychic sisters, and a bully learning from very bad examples will resonate with any kid (or grown-up) who has ever felt like an outsider.
The Stone Sky: I’m giving this book to everyone. This third and final installment to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy did more than deliver on the promise of the two previous books: it sailed well past my wildest hopes for the ending. With the Broken Earth trilogy, Jemisin (who by the way is the first black author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel and the first author in 25 years to win it twice in a row) has written a ground-breaking story of a mother searching for her daughter through a shattered world while she struggles to overcome not only the current environmental disaster but also the brutal racism directed toward people like her. The Broken Earth Trilogy is a must read for everyone who’s ever given a thought to our world’s future and the heavy past our society carries.