Lit, by Mary Karr
All moms love memoirs, and this one is a doozy. Opening with a letter to her son, Mary Karr’s third memoir is a chaotic, heartrending and hilarious story of motherhood, poetry, her spiraling descent into alcoholism and the resurrection that followed. Karr’s sharp wit and exuberant prose make her memoir one to read late into the night, and her heartfelt tales of dealing with love, rejection and one smartass toddler make it one to stick with you long past morning.
If Mom is an artist, an architecture-buff, and/or Italian:
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
This strange, tenuous and completely beautiful work juxtaposes imaginary (and often impossible) cities with a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Tell Mom to let herself sink into the prose and not to worry about much else. She will like that.
If Dad is mildly bumbling, curious, and/or an eyebrow-raiser:
Amateur Barbarians, by Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen’s fourth novel tells the double story of a 53-year old school principal whose quest for meaning lands him in jail and then in Africa, and his younger and more scattered rival, who tries to take his place. Cohen’s dry, super smart prose style never fails to delight, and we’re pretty confident that you’ll want to read this once your dad is done with it.
If Dad is thoughtful, into cricket, and/or an Obama-fan:
Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill
Dense and satisfying, O’Neill’s novel depicts the life of Dutch-born Hans Van den Broek after 9/11 disrupts his entire world — his wife, Rachel, leaves for London, and Hans makes friends with Chuck, an expat from Trinidad whom Hans meets at a cricket match, who makes for quite a bizarre companion. Also, Obama loved it.
For your best friend:
If your best friend is mischievous, an intellectual and/or a history buff:
The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
A fabulous dinner party thrown by the devil, a giant vodka-drinking cat, magic tricks, and social oppression in ’30s Soviet Moscow. Plus, there’s that Margarita, a firebrand beauty who has fallen in love with a tortured writer (we hear you, sister) and gets herself noticed by the devil himself.
If your best friend is eccentric, a mystery-lover, and/or went to college in the Northeast:
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt A clique of hyper-exclusive, hyper-intellectual students at a rural Vermont school find themselves enmeshed in a disturbing chain of events involving drugs, murder, and bacchanalia. Tartt’s prose is deft and incredibly engrossing, vacillating between moments of calm and those of extreme frenzy. Kind of like college.
For your kid brother/sister/cousin:
If your kid brother/sister/cousin is a rascal, a stand-up citizen, and/or dreams of New York City:
The Pushcart War, by Jean Merrill
The pushcarts have declared war against the big nasty trucks! An immensely satisfying tale of little vs. big, The Pushcart War boasts a wonderfully vibrant cast of characters and teaches good stuff like community, doing the right thing, and how to totally deflate truck tires with a peashooter. (Good for ages 9 to 12, but watch out trucks!)
If your kid brother/sister/cousin is slightly weird, delighted by the absurd, and/or cooler than you:
Lizard Music, by Daniel Pinkwater
Victor’s parents and sister go away for the weekend, leaving him thankfully at home alone. He can stay up late and watch all the TV he wants… until he comes upon a program he’s never seen before: lizards playing music. Victor gets swept up into a host of bizarre events, led by the Chicken Man and always after those lizards. (Also good for 9 to 12, though we still read it periodically.)
For your significant other:
If your significant other is playful, a grammar nazi, and/or really turned on by a good phrase:
Adverbs, by Daniel Handler
This book is filled to the brim with delicious language, exploring what it means to be in love or not in love in Handler’s slightly bizarre world. He pairs absurdist plot points with sweetly poignant lines about the character of life and love. “The miracle is the adverbs,” the narrator says, “the way things are done. It is the way love gets done despite every catastrophe.”
If your significant other is a joker, a modernist, and/or is afraid for the fate of the world:
In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders
Saunders’s newest collection boasts one of our favorite modern stories of romance, “Jon,” but aside from that, there’s really no going wrong with this book. After unwrapping and reading it, your love interest will find you funny, sexy, and charmingly down-to-earth. At least we think so.
Let us know your thoughts — what books are you getting for your reader friends and family?