Well, you’ve done it again. You’re a thoughtless piece of human garbage who couldn’t get your shit together enough to purchase or make a thoughtful, personal gift for the only people in the world who love and care about you. This procrastinator’s gift guide is for you. You can find all of these fine books wherever fine books are sold. Pick them up at your local independent bookstore, or find one at the airport on your way home to your loved ones.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Who would like it? Lapsed Catholics, anyone who appreciates bawdy wordplay.
Why? In her memoir chronicling her life growing up with a married Catholic priest for a father, poet Patricia Lockwood displays a preternatural ability for comedy, her language mashing up sex and religion with so much humor and verve that readers will find themselves highlighting nearly every passage. Lockwood’s prog-rock-playing father/Father is one of the funniest (real-life) characters of the year.
Word By Word by Kory Stamper
Who would like it? Anyone who considers themselves a student of the English language; actual students of the English language (i.e., English majors); people who freak out about the word “irregardless.”
Why? Kory Stamper crafts a surprisingly thrilling exposé about the life and times of a lexicographer. Word By Word has chapters about defining the word “bitch,” the life-sapping story about a janitor disrupting months of work while at Merriam-Webster, and, yes, a compelling defense of the word “irregardless.” If these sound like thrilling topics, Word By Word delivers on the goods and then some. You’ll never look at the word “take” the same way.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
Who would like it? People with anxiety and/or OCD; people who have friends or family with anxiety and/or OCD; readers who like smart, concise prose; fans of YA; people who think they hate YA.
Why? John Green occupies a coveted sweet spot in YA fiction, with books that often appeal to as many adults as they do teenagers. Turtles All The Way Down treats mental illness with a lot of empathy and heart without whitewashing its oft-debilitating effects. If that sounds like a drag, don’t worry—there’s also a mystery to solve, relationships to reckon with, and a mysterious New Zealand lizard.
Who would like it? Feminists; fairy tale fans; those who want to stay in the know with contemporary short fiction.
Why? A lot of people were already talking about this genre-bending debut short-story collection before it was nominated for a National Book Award (it went into a third printing before its official pub date), and it has since earned only more praise. In lush, daring prose, Carmen Maria Machado writes the body, queerness, sex, and womanhood with utter fearlessness, each story creating its own original form.
The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan
Who would like it? Divorced dads; Walmart shoppers; anyone who laughs at their own or others’ pain.
Why? No living writer combines the mundane and the sublime, the high and the low, quite like West Virginian Scott McClanahan. In his autobiographical novel, the Crapalachia author chronicles the before, during, and after of the narrator’s marriage to a woman named, you guessed it, Sarah. It’s worlds funnier and more poignant than that description might suggest.
Theft By Finding by David Sedaris
Who would like it? Readers looking for piecemeal material to read during a relaxing bath; anyone who’s ever tried to keep a diary.
Why? Like any David Sedaris offering, Theft By Finding is funny, cutting, and weirdly affecting. The whole book is composed of diary entries from the acclaimed essayist, going as far back as 1977, when he hadn’t found his voice but still observed the absurd better than most. Fans of Sedaris will see the writer gradually coming into his distinct, bone-dry humor. By 2002 many of the diary entries read like his acclaimed work in miniature. It’s the perfect sort of book to read snippets at a time, before bed or in a hot bath.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Who would like it? The independent teen in your life; adults who likes coming-of-age stories.
Why? Erika L. Sánchez’s National Book Award-nominated YA novel follows the rebellious Julia in the aftermath of the death of her older sister, an exemplar of Mexican femininity. The bicultural coming-of-age story manages to maintain a sense of humor while dealing with dark topics. Chicago native Sánchez was already an accomplished poet when Perfect Mexican Daughter was published this year, and our own Danette Chavez says the book’s prose is “as poignant as it is incisive.”
Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick
Who would like it? Dystopia lovers; Man In The High Castle watchers; anyone who likes Dick, really.
Why? Philip K. Dick has given pop culture some of its most indelible, powerful stories, and adaptations of the prolific author’s work shows no signs of slowing down. Electric Dreams collects 10 of his best short stories, including “Autofac,” an early sci-fi imagining of self-replicating machines; “The Commuter,” about reality shifting; and the Cold War-political allegory “The Hanging Stranger.”
The Grip Of It by Jac Jemc
Who would like it? Horror film fans.
Why? Like a good horror film, The Grip Of It keeps you enthralled, building a creeping sense of dread before going into the full-fledged horror territory usually reserved for the screen. Anyone who enjoys feeling spooked will find something to love in Jac Jemc’s haunted-house story, which follows a young couple seeking a country retreat from their city lives and relationship problems. As you might guess, the house they move into isn’t going to help.
Who would like it? Tolkien admirers; readers of dark poetry; shadowy souls of myth.
Why? The Lay Of Aotrou & Itroun, an early work from the prolific author unavailable for more than 70 years, tells the tragedy of a Breton Lord and Lady. Their woe-filled story involves a magic potion, a malevolent fairy, and betrayal. Add it to your dreary friend’s collection of non-Middle-earth Tolkien, next to The Legend Of Sigurd And Gudrún, The Fall Of Arthur, and The Story Of Kullervo.
Bonus: The Trump Leaks by The Onion
Who would like it? Everyone
Why? Yes, we have selected a book put out by our sister site The Onion as the cap to this guide, and no, we don’t consider it an ethical breach. The truth is we saw the enormous amount of work that went into turning something as monstrously bad as the Trump presidency into something so damn funny. Within the pages of the handsome Trump Leaks hardcover is a snapshot of the first year of the shitstorm administration as seen through an absurdist lens, and that’s saying something, considering how absurd it is to begin with.