10 New Must-Reads for December

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It’s the end of the year, which means we’re all up to our necks in Best-of-2011 lists, and everyone’s behind on their reading. But that’s no reason not to forge ahead and check out the new stuff hitting shelves this month — after all, we know you’re about to have some cozy holiday downtime to catch up on everything. In this month’s reading list, you can look forward to crime conspiracies involving thick liquids, ultra-cute microfictions, translated fables, and teary breakups involving pistachios. Click through to check out our list of the ten most interesting books coming out this month, and let us know which ones you’re most excited to dive into in the comments.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil , Tom Mueller (December 5)

Sexy title aside, this is the most delicious crime world exposé you can hope to read this month — or probably ever. In this vividly rendered book about everyone’s favorite fine food item, Tom Mueller picks apart the wicked and illegal adulterated olive oil industry while doling out history and expert musings on the side. In a climate where it’s totally uncool not to know where your edibles are coming from, this book is must for those of us who keep a tub of the green stuff on hand at all times.

The Uninnocent: Stories , Bradford Morrow (December 5)

The characters in this darkly funny short story collection by Conjunctions editor Bradford Morrow are uninnocent indeed — you might even say they’re unholy. Though their gothic-tinged tales are filled with strange obsessions, disturbing revelations, and secret desires, beware, or you will find yourself inexorably entwined with every one, succumbing to their warped logic and investing in their sordid schemes.

Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto , Gianni Rodari (December 6)

Gianni Rodari, mostly unknown in the States, is a household name in his native Italy, often touted as one of the country’s most important writers of modern children’s literature. Translated into English for the first time and out this month from Melville House, this strange and delightful fable is based on the real-life kidnapping and murder of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades. It may seem like grisly stuff for a children’s book, but Rodari mixes magic with terrorists and tabloids and manages to come out with something altogether wonderful, and sure to please young and old alike. If you need any more convincing, take it from the fantastic Italo Calvino: “Gianni Rodari gave free rein to his imagination, with inspired panache and gleeful lightness. At the same time, he had a precise and meticulous love for detail, for rich and exact language, and so all of his inventions are set in a very concrete world with real form and action.”

Murder in Mount Holly , Paul Theroux (December 6)

Most widely known for his travel fiction, Theroux’s weird 1960’s caper novel (first published in the UK in 1969 and only now being released in the states) is a darkly funny story of a couple of “fuddy-duddies” who fell in love and, with a friend, decided to rob the Mount Holly Trust Company. This is because it’s full of Communists, but more importantly, in order to “prove to the world that old folks still had a lot of spunk left.” At less than 180 pages, this isn’t Theroux’s most substantial work by any means — but we still think any surreal satire of Vietnam-era US by as solid a writer as Theroux is still worth a look.

420 Characters , Lou Beach (December 6)

From the great collagist and graphic designer Lou Beach comes a mischievous montage of a different sort: a tiny book filled with tiny stories, each having originated as Facebook status updates. But don’t hold that against them — tragic, absurd, and sweet by turns, each snip of a story is a gem, able to hold its own against more standard-length fare. Or, as Jonathan Lethem said, “Holy shit! Those are great!”

The Artist of Disappearance , Anita Desai (December 6)

These three novellas from three time Booker-bridesmaid Anita Desai are elegant, vital stories of her native India, dreamily dissecting the country’s growing tension between past and future, tradition and modernity, art and reality. Though Desai has proven herself a master of almost every style of prose — children’s fiction, short stories, novels — we think she’s at her best with these novellas, which allow her a little extra room for her wonderful storytelling while maintaining some of her beautiful mysteriousness.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume I , Joseph Gordon-Levitt (December 6)

Okay, so being die-hard fans of 3rd Rock From the Sun from way back when, we were predisposed to like this book. But even without its celebrity backing track, we think this tiny book is a winner. Here’s the concept: Gordon-Levitt used hitRECord, the popular open collaborative production company he founded, to collect submissions of tiny fiction, eventually choosing work from 67 different artists to create this adorable book — half short story collection, half communal poem.

Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt At a Time , Georgia Pelligrini (December 13)

There are a hundred books — and more coming out every day — about where our food comes from, a publishing trend that is rising to meet a growing concern for healthful eating and sustainable living. But this is the first we’ve come across that teaches the average gal not just how to grow her own spinach, but how to hunt down, kill and cook her own duck. But Pelligrini is no down-home country girl, born with a shotgun in hand — she’s an ex-Wall Street exec and Wellesley grad who learned to cook at the French Culinary Institute — so if she can get her hands this dirty, and with such humor and charm, we kind of want to too.

Why We Broke Up , Daniel Handler (December 27)

In this collaboration between Daniel Handler (the grown-up name of Lemony Snicket, for the uninitiated) and top-notch artist Maira Kalman, the bittersweet story of a teen breakup is played out through objects, which as anyone who has accidentally come across a meaningful tchotchke at an opportune moment can attest, can be more evocative than any love letter. Besides, in our minds, anything Handler writes is notable for its gorgeous, slippery prose alone, and Kalman’s wonderful illustrations only enhance the experience.

Sacred Monsters , Edmund White (December 27)

In this collection, celebrated journalist and cultural critic Edmund White gathers twenty of his most recent musings on artists, authors, and the world at large, including essays about John Cheever, Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Vladimir Nabokov, Auguste Rodin, Edith Wharton, Martin Amis, Allen Ginsberg, Marguerite Duras, and many, many more. Every time we read more than a few sentences by Edmund White we are astounded by his breadth of knowledge and keen insights, and feel an immediate need to better ourselves — until we realize that we’re already doing so, and keep on reading.