Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Help for the holiday procrastinator: 10 gift books that don’t say “last minute” at all

Photo: Marcus Nuccio

As someone once wrote in a book, the best-laid plans often go awry. Worry not if you have last-minute holiday shopping to do; Barnes & Noble is open Christmas Eve, mom-and-pop shops that have yet to shutter their doors are desperate for your holiday purchases, and even Amazon can still get you books if you order them very soon.

Below, we provide 10 options for recent releases that say, “This made me think of you, loved one I needed to buy a present for.” There are alternatives for adults, children, and angst-riddled teens. To make it even easier, we tap into the pop culture that so many holiday conversations revolve around, at least in A.V. Club households: “You like Game Of Thrones? Have you read this other series?


1. A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

Who would like it? Literary fiction connoisseurs, Raymond Carver fans, proud johnny-come-latelys
Why? Original voices in short fiction can be hard to find and might be overlooked when first published. Recently released in paperback, A Manual For Cleaning Women assembles the late Lucia Berlin’s selected stories from throughout the mid to late 20th century. Berlin looks squarely at the hard lives of people suffering from alcoholism, loneliness, and their own pasts. Through her singular voice, she weaves within it all humor, levity, and grace. [Laura Adamczyk]

2. The Kingkiller Chronicle (The Name Of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear)


Who would like it? Game Of Thrones fans, Lin-Manuel Miranda die-hards
Why? Patrick Rothfuss’ fantasy trilogy is becoming an enormous film, TV, and video game franchise, with Lin-Manuel Miranda set to helm the music. It’s a great story to begin with, framed around a man who faced a mysterious downfall, recounting his youth and former glories. There’s an entire city more or less dedicated to the arts in this fictional world, so the fact that fucking Lin-Manuel Miranda is on board makes this screen adaptation as full of promise as the chronicle’s young hero. Like with Game Of Thrones, you’re going to want to read the books beforehand: Books one and two are out; book three will come out when, like George R.R. Martin, Rothfuss damn well pleases. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

3. You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein


Who would like it? Comedy fans, feminists, ladies who wear glasses
Why? Because Jessi Klein is as witty on the page as she is writing for Inside Amy Schumer. Her comedic timing makes for a snappy, fun, and breezy collection of essays about becoming and being a woman, and constantly feeling like you’re failing. The results are even better when she opens up more, as in the standout essay “How I Became A Comedian.” [Laura Adamczyk]

4. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples


Who would like it? Fans of Star Wars, mild or avid; anyone who’s expressed interest in comics
Why? Take it from this newbie comics reader: Saga is the perfect gateway comic, a thrilling family drama set in a visually lush, colorful outer space. Fiona Staples’ artwork features museum-worthy illustrations, and Brian K. Vaughan’s writing is frequently hilarious and always compelling, making the time between issue releases a real waiting-on-tenterhooks situation. Luckily, the series is far enough along that the first 18 issues are collected in Book One, a hardback with the cover depicting the family’s baby, who narrates the comic, breastfeeding. That should give you an idea of what the book is about. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

5. White Girls by Hilton Als


Who would like it? New Yorker readers; fans of occasionally personal, always incisive cultural criticism
Why? One of our books of the year in 2013, White Girls combines memoir, criticism, and fiction in the New Yorker writer’s examination of subjects ranging from Truman Capote and Flannery O’Connor to Gone With The Wind and lynchings. Calling the collection an “ingenious provocation” in her A.V. Club review, Andrea Battleground says, “Als is determined not to succumb to the usual expectations and obfuscations when having a conversation about the intersection of race, gender, class, art, and history.” [Laura Adamczyk]

6. Everything Belongs To The Future by Laurie Penny


Who would like it? Fans of series like Westworld, The Man In The High Castle, or any other current sci-fi show
Why? Sci-fi stories set in the future are valuable for what they say about the present. TV adaptations of classic sci-fi works make these stories more digestible and pretty to look at. Laurie Penny’s sci-fi novella clips along with an energetic plot and prose, never becoming an exercise in the world-building patience that plagues much sci-fi. Exploring class politics into the year 2099, where the wealthy can afford to extend their lives indefinitely, time—to live luxuriously, to extend youth—becomes the ultimate unattainable commodity for the marginalized. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

7. This Is The Water by Yannick Murphy


Who would like it? Anyone who enjoys murder mysteries—so nearly everyone
Why? This Is The Water marries an achingly felt Marilynne Robinson-like inner monologue to a page-turning murder mystery. So while anyone who enjoys watching the hunt for a murderer will enjoy This Is The Water, it’s also a much deeper examination of happiness and longing than is typically found where murderers are concerned. In other words: It’s a thoughtful gift for the fan of a genre that often needs more thought put into it. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

8. Wolf Pupy Storys by Wolf Pupy


Who would like it? Smartass adolescents and teenagers; folks looking for light, silly humor
Why? This book of sarcastic fairy tales and magic spells comes from the creator of the silly and fun Wolf Pupy Twitter account. The feed features the point of view of a cocky cartoon wolf puppy who brags about how awesome howling at the moon is and dispenses nihilistic pseudo-wisdoms like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it could have been some other times also, who cares.” As in the Twitter feed, Wolf Pupy Storys delivers the 5-week-old wolf’s know-it-all voice and comes with accompanying cartoons. [Laura Adamczyk]

9. Ten Days A Madwoman by Deborah Noyes


Who would like it? Kids and kids at heart, kids and adults alike interested in the macabre, anyone who loves a badass woman
Why? Nellie Bly is one of those American figures you won’t believe you’ve never heard of after you read her story. She’s most well-known for spending 10 days in the notorious Bellevue Hospital, witnessing firsthand the horrors that went on there by pretending to be insane. She then went on to travel around the world in 72 days, besting Jules Verne’s fictional protagonist in Around The World In Eighty Days. And then there’s the stuff she’s less well-remembered for. Ten Days A Madwoman is written for kids, but doubles as a fun, engaging read for adults. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

10. Coloring book


Who would like it? Anyone who has you stumped for a present
Why? Sometimes books are just too personal a gift. That’s why a coloring book is perfect: It’s generic enough to apply to anyone with working hands and eyes; it presupposes at least a tiny bit of artistic talent on the recipient’s part; it says “thoughtful” even though it’s probably not. The standard-bearer of coloring books is Johanna Basford’s beautiful, professional-looking collection, but the deluge of coloring books for adults has resulted in more personalized options, with themes including Die Hard, Nickelodeon’s The Splat, and Disney villains. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

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