End of the Year Book Picks

Hello lovely readers. Lest you think this is just another “best of” list for the year, fear not; this is simply a selection of the best things I have read *quasi-lately* that might make some damn fine gifts for those you love (or don’t) or yourself. I love finding used books with inscriptions. They make a great gift, last a long time, and there’s never any shame in regifting them. Long live literary gifts and handwritten notes!

For you and everyone you know:  Ayiti by Roxane Gay (Artistically Declined Press)
My all-around pick that I think anyone would love is the brilliant Roxane Gay’s Ayiti. Chock full of short fiction centering on the experience of Haitian natives and immigrants, this slim volume is richer than most door-stop novels. I read it by candlelight during the October blackout and didn’t even miss modernity- not one bit. I won’t reduce it by saying any more.

For the reader who digs heartache and old-timey flair: The Great Lenore by J. M. Tohline (Atticus)
I like finding the work of a new writer that feels like a *lost* manuscript from an old favorite and J. M. Tohline fits the bill. Set in Martha’s Vineyard and chronicling a family’s tortured saga, The Great Lenore will make you feel like you’re hanging with Gatsby or Caulfield for the first time again.

For your mom, or someone who digs love, society scandals and voyeurism: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Ballantine)
Reading like a literary take on Star magazine from nearly a century ago, Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife follows Hadley Richardson with artistic license as she falls in love (and war) with Ernest Hemingway before anyone gave a damn about him, until his death in 1960. I couldn’t put it down.

For envelope-pushers, micro-fiction lovers and animal enthusiasts: Nouns of Assemblage (HOUSEFIRE)
Full disclosure: I am one of the sixty-three authors comprising NOA, HOUSEFIRE’s debut publication. Each story is titled with a different noun of assemblage, i.e. “A Plague of Locusts” by Frank Hinton. The stories offer a who’s who and intensely wide range of small press writing.

For fans of sex and sharp wit: Prize Winners by Ryan W. Bradley (Artistically Declined Press)
I first got turned onto Bradley when I read his poetry ebook, Aquarium (Thunderclap Press) a while back. You should check that out also. Prize Winners is his homage to the dirty, featuring 18 pieces from various presses and some unpublished work. Among them is “Spank” which appeared in the May 2011 issue of Awosting Alchemy. Prize Winners was named one of the Top 10 Indie Books of 2011 at Book Page.

A pick for poetry enthusiasts and/or joined-at-the-hip lovers: Morocco by Kendra Grant Malone & Matthew Savoca (Dark Sky Books)
I am anxiously awaiting this one in the mail, though I can whole-heartedly already attest to its greatness as I heard Malone and Savoca read last month at Chloe Caldwell’s Hudson River Loft Reading Series and was blown away. Written in response to each other, the two captured the audience like few I have ever seen live. Each piece was a sexual tennis match as they volleyed words and knowing stares. A sure hit with the literary newly -in-love.

For some guilty pleasure alone-time, not cramming for finals, wrapping gifts or suffering 9-to-5: Pretty by Jillian Lauren
Written from the perspective of Bebe, an ex-stripper/drug addict/Born Again Christian, Pretty tells of both those times and their aftermath as she works toward her graduation from beauty school and the halfway house where she’s living to focus on sobriety. No bombshell turns here, but it is just the ticket as an escape from real life and it’s a pleasure to hear again from Lauren, whose debut nonfiction book, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, was a bestseller last year. Pretty is a good book to pass around among girlfriends.

In Case You Missed Them/Books with Place as Character:
The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss Jr. (Grove/Atlantic 2007) A young high school art teacher struggles with his position in a Vegas prostitution ring. Loved.
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1970) I’ll leave out any commentary on Didion’s other works and just give you this: 1960’s LA, psychotic drives through the desert, deeply disturbing yet beautiful imagery. A great first read or reread for anyone who digs California culture.
Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun (Riverhead 2009) Told from the perspective of Joon, a 1980’s teenage runaway, Mun excels in giving the impression of life on the streets through her chapters that nearly double as short stories that stand alone. There are areas you don’t see, things aren’t always linear and that rings true for a character that might have time to tell you about that night’s score or might just be looking for a warm place to sleep for a few weeks.  A stellar debut that received the Pushcart Prize, among others.

Happy readings, folks. Keep submitting work and recommending others to do the same. The January issue is open until 12/31/11 and will launch on 1/14/12.

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