Book Recommendations

Our Second Annual Center for Fiction Gift Guide

Well this year sucked! But here are some gift ideas for those weirdly specific people that you have to buy for even though you don’t want to!



What book to give that relative that, ahem, you don’t share political views with

We all have one lurking in our family tree—the belligerent aunt who will talk your ear off about constitutional rights, the second cousin full of conspiracy theories. (We recommend drinking heavily during the holidays, or . . . hmmm doing yoga! Yes! Something healthy!... But also drinking.) Anyway, now’s your time to get REVENGE. Ummm we mean now’s your time to pick a thoughtful gift that will expand their worldview. There were a number of excellent books to choose from this year that took on politics, but let’s start with the issue of immigration. We recommend Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, the book that Ron Charles in The Washington Post called “the one book Donald Trump should read now.” Mbue’s debut follows a family from Cameroon who land in the United States on the cusp of the financial crisis. Protagonist Jende Jonga lands a job as a chauffeur to the 1 percent in the form of an executive for Lehman Brothers, Clark Edwards. As the Jongas and Edwards contend with one another and the economic turmoil, maybe your relative will also contend with their thinking on at least one issue.



What book to give that girl who is always taking “arty” travel photos on Instagram

You know the one. You met at your cousin’s engagement party, and then bumped into her outside of Whole Foods, and she seemed cool so somewhere along the way you became friends, and you made the mistake of following her on Instagram, and now you can’t escape her perfectly coiffed hair, and her perfectly composed casual shots of her hanging out in Marrakesh or Iceland (How does she afford this????) and is that her in a bikini riding horseback on the beach??? Well, it’s REVENGE time. It’s time for the biggest, fattest, densest and dreariest book that she has to lug around the world and that will take up precious space in her suitcase—yes, we’re talking Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Okay, there are technically longer books (Infinite Jest, anyone?) but My Struggle: Book One, weighs in at over 448 pages, and then you get her hooked and we’re up to SIX VOLUMES. And frankly, this girl could use a little perspective on life, so Knausgaard’s deep dive into the banal details of existence will be just the thing! And it’s also a great book, so there’s that.



What book to give that guy in Game of Thrones withdrawal

You’ve heard him berate George R.R. Martin for any time he’s not spending in front of the keyboard. He gives lectures on the differences between the television show and the books. He has every one of Tyrion’s quips memorized, and can tell you what was served at the Red Wedding. Since there’s no official release date for the next book (fingers crossed for 2017) give him something to soothe his soul. YEAH RIGHT. IT’S REVENGE TIME. And by that, we mean get him the exact opposite book—Joy Williams’s delightful Ninety-Nine Stories of God. Each of these brief stories is like a puzzle box of irony, wit and honesty. And best of all, the only character your friend will have to keep track of is the Big G (and we don’t mean George).   



What book to give your slightly musty-smelling great-uncle who never reads anything but Henry James

Okay you bloodthirsty revenge fanatic, this one isn’t exactly going to satiate your desire to quash your enemies, but really what has your uncle ever done to you? So his reading tastes are a little limited (He’s reading The Golden Bowl again?), but who among us doesn’t have their reading niche. (You’re reading another Ferrante???) Get him Anne Boyd Rioux’s thoughtful biography of James’s frenemy, Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist. And hell, be generous! Throw in the new Woolson collection, Miss Grief and Other Stories. Give this underrated writer a little literary love, and maybe broaden old Uncle Alastair’s reading.



What book to to give your neighbor who’s always cursing the squirrels for digging up her garden  

At least that’s why you think she’s yelling. (It couldn’t be because of your all-night rager last weekend. Or your forty-foot-tall Christmas light display with synchronized music. Must be the garden.) She seems very upset at the jaunty suburban cousin to your everyday sewer rat. Well, since you're so hell-bent on vengeance this year, we’re suggesting The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. This charming novel follows the most unusual heroine we’ve read in awhile as she stumblingly tries to navigate her ambitious fiance, her hypochondriac mother, and other motley personalities (including one bushy squirrel.) If the fun facts about the members of the family Sciuridae in this novel can’t sway your neighbor to the merits of our furry friends, than nothing can. And maybe turn off the holiday display at 11pm, rather than midnight.



What book to give your boyfriend who refused to watch the Olympics because they were too “wholesome” and “mainstream” and “Whatever, there’s a Law & Order rerun on.”


You were glued to the coverage. You knew how many seconds Katie Ledecky eclipsed the world record by, the difference between Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, when you could watch the canoe sprint finals, why the diving pool turned green, the CDC’s recommendations for Zika, and the exact wall Ryan Lochte urinated on. These Olympics are really not sounding too wholesome BTW. ANYWAY. It’s time to prove your boyfriend wrong! (Yes, yes, revenge time.) The Olympics are full of drama, and danger, and would make a perfect Dick Wolf production. And we can prove it—Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me is a taut mystery centered on the cut-throat world of girls’ gymnastics. You heard that right. Olympic hopeful Devon is a gymnastics prodigy, but what will she or her family be willing to do to clinch the gold? By the time the winter Olympics roll around in 2018, it’ll be your BF who is up till 3am watching the Nordic combined quarter-finals, not you.  



None of these exactly right for your weirdly specific friend or family member?

Buy them the gift of A Novel Approach from The Center. Our eerily brilliant, prescient, incisive, (Did we mention extremely good looking?) and easy-to-talk-to Novel Approach consultants will offer forty-five minutes of pure psyche-exploring time to find out what your picky loved one will want to read. From there they'll send their notes off to the elves we have working in the Center's basement who will churn out THE MOST AMAZING BOOK LIST of twelve books tailored to your Aunt Shirley (you know, the one with the beehive even though it’s 2016) or Kurt, the German exchange student your family hosted sophomore year who always pretended he didn’t see you in the hall even though he CLEARLY DID, but WHATEVER KURT, you’ll let it go. For an extra charge, we'll even send your lucky giftee one of the selected books each month. This is a guaranteed year of great reading—and it may even improve their personality! Better yet, why not purchase a Novel Approach for yourself and start out the new year with your own personalized road map of great reads? BUY NOW