Unlike most other gift options, books manage to be simultaneously personal and safely neutral. The giver and the receiver each benefit from the literary implications of such a categorical choice, leaving only the substance of the title in question as the remaining variable. To ease the options of what to pick, we’ve combed this year’s releases for the best books that will suit the different types of people in your life.
For the Long Distance Boyfriend/Girlfriend: The Englishman Who Postmarked Himself and Other Curious Objects
The Englishman Who Postmarked Himself and Other Curious Objects chronicles the life of W Reginald Bray, an eccentric Englishman who was interested in mailing more than the usual postcard. Over the course of four decades, Bray postmarked more than 32,000 items, including a turnip, bowler hat, seaweed, rabbit’s skull, and eventual himself, earning the nickname “The Human Letter.”
For the Aspiring Artist: Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book
In the tradition of her previous genre mashup publication, What It Is, Lynda Barry’s latest graphic memoir doubles as a how-to extension of her traveling “Writing the Unthinkable” workshop. Featuring advice, examples, and idea springboards, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book is part instructional guide and part inspirational tome for artists of any medium.
For the Brooklyn Squatter: Sunset Park
Marking a departure from his usual postmodern, genre fiction-flirting yarns, Paul Auster’s latest, Sunset Park, lingers on the lives of artists living in a Brooklyn squat. The idiosyncratic cast of characters feels like a modernized version of La Boheme, but the novel’s overarching themes successfully plumb inexhaustible questions of love, art, and existentialism.
For the Pretentious Academic: Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
Stanford literature professor Elif Batuman’s refreshing combination of autobiography and literary criticism creates a needed reality check for the lofty Ivory Tower. Revisiting her grad school days, niche literary conferences, and exotic scholarship settings, the book is an absurdist misadventure through literature and the lives of the people devoted to it.
For the Music Geek: Listen To This
This collection of mostly revised essays published during Alex Ross’ 12 years writing for the New Yorker encompasses a broad international spectrum of scales and styles. Attempting to revivify classical music (a term Ross admits to hating from the outset), he delves into iconic composers and modern day equivalents with accessible and inspiring detail. It turns out Bach and Bjork aren’t so different after all.
For the Friend You Wish Was More Than a Friend: The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex
Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist offer a playfully hilarious overview of sex and sexual techniques in their field tested guide to the act of love making. From historical overviews to masturbation, toys, and even scenario-based role playing scripts (ex: Sweaty Yeti), the book covers all the bases with text, images, and even dioramas.
For the American History Buff: Parrot and Olivier In America
American culture gets an amusingly satirical reexamination in Peter Carey’s novel Parrot and Olivier in America. The story follows a fictionalized version of French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville as he marvels over America with his hardened companion, who was secretly hired by his overprotective family back in Paris. This odd couple makes for a perfect contrast through which to experience the breakdown of Old World social order in a New World setting.
For the Chronic Contrarian: Hitch-22
Unafraid of any challenge or criticism, Christopher Hitchens’ best-selling autobiography delves deep into the personal life of this very public and controversial journalist. But beyond the contrarian and incendiary antics for which he has become known, Hitchens proves himself here as an engrossing storyteller, a writer whose introspective and psychological depth will entrance fans and foes alike.
For the In-The-Know Aesthete: The Petting Zoo
Jim Carroll was known as a poet (he was published in the Paris Review), autobiographer (his journal collection was turned into The Basketball Diaries), and punk-rocker (Patti Smith encouraged him to form his first band), but his first novel, The Petting Zoo, is his final artistic work. Published after Carroll’s death from a heart attack last year, the book chronicles the psychological unraveling and piecing back together of a New York painter.
For the Foodie:vThe Hundred-Foot Journey
Forbes magazine correspondent Richard C. Morais’ debut novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, is a story of cross-continental cuisine and ambition. Following narrator Hassan Haji from his childhood in Bombay to a small French alpine village where his family opens the first Indian restaurant to his rise as a preeminent Parisian chef, the novel has a mythic quality but is nevertheless rooted in the cit-throat atmosphere of the culinary world.