10 books you should read in December, including Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit And Glamor Of An Icon

10 books you should read in December, including Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit And Glamor Of An Icon

Also check out Outside Looking In: The Seriously Funny Life And Work Of George Carlin and A Dangerous Business from Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley

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Clockwork from bottom left: No One Left To Come Looking For You (Image: Simon & Schuster); The Book of Everlasting Things (Image: Macmillan); Roses, In The Mouth Of A Lion (Image: Flatiron); Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit And Glamor Of An Icon (Image: Harper); How Far The Light Reaches (Image: Little, Brown); A Dangerous Business: A Novel (Image: Borzoi); 21-Hit Wonder: (Image: Matt Holt/BenBella); Outside Looking In: The Seriously Funny Life and Work of George Carlin (Image: Applause)
Clockwork from bottom left: No One Left To Come Looking For You (Image: Simon & Schuster); The Book of Everlasting Things (Image: Macmillan); Roses, In The Mouth Of A Lion (Image: Flatiron); Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit And Glamor Of An Icon (Image: Harper); How Far The Light Reaches (Image: Little, Brown); A Dangerous Business: A Novel (Image: Borzoi); 21-Hit Wonder: (Image: Matt Holt/BenBella); Outside Looking In: The Seriously Funny Life and Work of George Carlin (Image: Applause)
Graphic: Libby McGuire

December brings a wave of new books just in time for the holiday shopping season. The A.V. Club has sorted through the best of these options to highlight 10 titles we’re most excited about, including the first authorized biography of screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, a nervy whodunit from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley, and an illuminating deep dive into the life of George Carlin, one of America’s most important comedians.

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A Dangerous Business: A Novel by Jane Smiley (December 6, Borzoi)

A Dangerous Business: A Novel by Jane Smiley (December 6, Borzoi)

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Image: Borzoi

Set in gold rush-era California, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley’s latest melds historical fiction with a nervy whodunit. Young widow Eliza, a Michigan transplant to the brand-new state, discovers she can make a steady if not entirely safe living as a prostitute in Monterey (though simply existing as any kind of woman is a “dangerous business,” her madam quips). She befriends the fearless Jean, who services women clients at a different establishment. After local working girls go missing, the two suspect foul play, but local authorities are uninterested. Inspired to investigate by Edgar Allan Poe’s detective Dupin, the duo begins to flex their observational and logical skills in the pursuit of justice and hunt for the killer—or killers.

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The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton (December 6, Grand Central Press)

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton (December 6, Grand Central Press)

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Image: Grand Central Press

Born in the eye of a hurricane—and named after the same devastating storm—Wanda is shaped from the start by forces of nature. Living in coastal Florida, on the front lines of the ever-worsening effects of climate change, Wanda and her dwindling family adjust and survive as best they can. Cli-fi with a tinge of the fantastic, The Light Pirate deftly imagines societal collapse: unable to keep pace with the destruction caused by global warming, the federal government simply abandons the state. (Brooks-Dalton has taken on the end of civilization before; her novel Good Morning, Midnight was adapted into Netflix’s The Midnight Sky.) While most evacuate, Wanda, who has an unusual connection to the water, is determined to adapt.

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How Far The Light Reaches: A Life In Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler (December 6, Little, Brown)

How Far The Light Reaches: A Life In Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler (December 6, Little, Brown)

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Image: Little, Brown

Past a certain depth in the ocean, no natural light can penetrate. Journalist Sabrina Imbler’s How Far The Light Reaches is more than illuminating; it is incandescent. Across 10 deeply personal essays, each of which takes as its focal point a different marine creature—octopus, sperm whale, yeti crab—Imbler juxtaposes the beauty and horror of aquatic life with the beauty and horror of human experience, taking familiar concepts (body image, family dynamics, sexuality, consent) and exploring them in an astonishingly fresh light. Imbler’s prose is probing and nimble, taking the reader on unexpected journeys and bringing a jolt of energy to the realm of science writing.

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Roses, In The Mouth Of A Lion by Bushra Rehman (December 6, Flatiron)

Roses, In The Mouth Of A Lion by Bushra Rehman (December 6, Flatiron)

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Image: Flatiron

Born and raised in Corona, Queens, Razia is a dutiful daughter, a first-generation Pakistani Muslim in a tight-knit community vividly brought to life by author Bushra Rehman. Razia’s Quran-teaching mother hadn’t been allowed to attend school as a girl but had always wanted to learn; she supports her child’s love of reading but demands she avoid anything “guna”—talking to boys, wearing immodest clothes, listening to popular music—sins that could impede entry to heaven. As Razia makes new friends and travels outside the borough for high school, her world broadens. Chafing at the imposed limits, she is unable to see the harm in loving music and thrifting—or having feelings for a girl. When her parents find out, Razia must decide whether she will contain the rebellion in her heart to please them or pursue her own happiness.

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Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit And Glamor Of An Icon by Kate Andersen Brower (December 6, Harper)

Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit And Glamor Of An Icon by Kate Andersen Brower (December 6, Harper)

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Image: Harper

Plenty of books have been written about the indigo-eyed screen goddess, but this is the first authorized biography of Elizabeth Taylor. It arrives with the support and blessing of Taylor’s estate, but that’s not to say the ugly dings and scuffs of Taylor’s life have been buffed out. Journalist Kate Anderson Brower (who covered the Obama White House) brings a reporter’s thoroughness to Taylor’s life, tapping interviews with Taylor’s children and friends as well as the estate’s archive for new material including letters, transcripts, and even excerpts from an unpublished biography Taylor’s mother wrote about her daughter. You might not think you’ll be drawn into the story when so much of it seems to already have been told, but not unlike one of Taylor’s performances, Brower’s book captures your attention and won’t let go.

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No One Left To Come Looking For You by Sam Lipsyte (December 6, Simon & Schuster)

No One Left To Come Looking For You by Sam Lipsyte (December 6, Simon & Schuster)

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Image: Simon & Schuster

It’s early 1993 in New York City in Sam Lipsyte’s darkly funny punk noir, and Jack Shit, née Jonathan Shit, née Jonathan Liptak, is on a mission to keep his quickly fracturing band together for one last gig. But first he’s got to find his treasured bass—along with his missing lead singer, the Banished Earl. Soon a goon turns up trying to sell the instrument; then an old punk mentor falls victim to a grisly crime. With vicious thugs on his trail and an ambitious but deadbeat blonde-haired real estate developer lurking in the background, Jack ramps up his efforts to get to the bottom of the mysteries and put on a kick-ass farewell show. Lipsyte’s eye for detail and ear for dialogue keep the story rolling at a fabulous and funny clip.

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21 Hit Wonder: Flopping My Way To The Top Of The Charts: Adventures In Songwriting by Sam Hollander (December 6, Matt Holt/BenBella)

21 Hit Wonder: Flopping My Way To The Top Of The Charts: Adventures In Songwriting by Sam Hollander (December 6, Matt Holt/BenBella)

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Image: Matt Holt/BenBella

You may not know Sam Hollander’s name, but you’ve almost certainly heard his music. Over the course of his more than three-decade career as a songwriter and producer, he’s had nearly two dozen Top 40 hits and worked with legends from Carole King to Ringo Starr. But it wasn’t quick or easy. From the age of 13, the music-obsessed Hollander knew what his calling was and pursued it tenaciously. Recounting his career missteps, false starts, and dead ends, he shares plenty of self-deprecating anecdotes (like the time he nearly nailed Teddy Pendergrass in the head with a cassette tape, or how his demo literally put Clive Davis to sleep), along with tips for aspiring songwriters. It’s a charming read (and a name-drop goldmine)—and 100 percent of Hollander’s proceeds from the book go to the Musicians On Call charity.

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Francis Rothbart! The Tale Of A Fastidious Feral by Thomas Woodruff (December 13, Fantagraphics)

Francis Rothbart! The Tale Of A Fastidious Feral by Thomas Woodruff (December 13, Fantagraphics)

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Image: Fantagraphics

This “graphic opera” from artist Thomas Woodruff, the recently retired head of the School of Visual Arts’ illustration and cartooning departments, is gorgeous and beguiling from beginning to end. Hand-lettered with lush color paintings and moody charcoal drawings, Francis Rothbart! is a supremely sui generis illustrated story told alternately in melodic prose and rhyming verse. The infant son of nudist balloonists, Francis is orphaned in the wild by a lightning strike. Protected and nurtured by an ensemble of affectionate animals and maternal magpies, he survives and grows into a strong youth, with subsequent lightning strikes seeming to imbue him with otherworldly powers. After twins from a nearby town discover his presence, Francis attempts to connect with the locals via progressively stunning costumery, with decidedly dramatic results. Fans of arty graphic novels will want to move this oversized hardcover to the top of their reading pile immediately.

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Outside Looking In: The Seriously Funny Life And Work Of George Carlin by John Corcelli (December 15, Applause)

Outside Looking In: The Seriously Funny Life And Work Of George Carlin by John Corcelli (December 15, Applause)

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Image: Applause

Compiled using a wide array of secondary sources, Outside Looking In may not break new ground, but it nevertheless provides a tidy and illuminating overview of the life and oeuvre of one of America’s most important comics. Writer John Corcelli divides George Carlin’s evolution into four chronological parts that form the structure of his meticulous biography: class clown (the early years, not the 1972 album), jester, poet, and philosopher. A chapter on Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor adds context to the landscape Carlin emerged into and evolved from. Corcelli, whose previous biography covered another American innovator, Frank Zappa, gives plenty of insight into Carlin’s other influences (ranging from his mother and childhood neighborhood to Danny Kaye and Paul Krassner) and those he influenced (Margaret Cho, Garry Shandling, and many more). The book, which includes a complete list of Carlin’s works, from his seven-inch singles to HBO specials, will be an excellent resource for both the Carlin-curious and longtime fans.

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The Book Of Everlasting Things, Aanchal Malhotra (December 27, Macmillan)

The Book Of Everlasting Things, Aanchal Malhotra (December 27, Macmillan)

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Image: Macmillan

Award-winning historian Aanchal Malhotra turns her expertise on Partition (she’s penned two books on it) into moving historical fiction in her debut novel The Book Of Everlasting Things. It is 1938 in Lahore, Pakistan, and Samir, an apprentice in his Hindu family’s perfume business, smells not just with his nose but with his belly and heart. Across the city, Firdaus is an eerily talented illustrator in her Muslim father’s calligraphy shop. As the two families enter a business partnership, a star-crossed love story between Samir and Firdaus blossoms, while a broader story—one of politics, religion, and geography—unfurls across the decades. As Partition arrives and divides, it destroys far more than familiar borders.

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