Book-Gifting For Your Wacky Family
  Lists    December 1, 2017     Eric Larkin


If you remember our “I Don’t Got Time For This Shit” book-gifting list from last year, you’ll know we’re all about helping you power thru your holiday shopping, so you can get to drinkin’ (or family time, whatever). The best way to do this, of course, is gift cards for everything: books [yes, we have gift cards], clothes, electronics, everything. But if you can’t get away with that, reducing your family members to cheap stereotypes to speed up the book-gifting process is a good second option. Of course, there are probably a couple people that you yearn to give a particular book, because you absolutely know it will delight them. That’s sweet and all, but for everyone else, just force them into one of these 7 reductionistic personas, pick one of the books listed [most are linked to our on-line store!] [which is new and we’re excited about it!], and BOOM. Done.


Red Hat Uncle Jay

You know how he votes, and you can’t believe you’re related. Well, you are. He’ll be standing next to your tree Xmas morning in those mf’ing Nascar jammies, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You do kinda remember him teaching you the constellations when you were ten. He’s getting up there in years. Get him something he’ll like, but that might also save his wayward soul.

No, you don’t have to go easy on him, but you do have to be smart. He’ll definitely read something about American history, just make sure it ain’t written by Bill O’Reilly.



What about a novel we recently reviewed on the American Revolution by James Glickman, Crossing Point? This is a good one for Uncle Jay because it absolutely celebrates the courage of the founding fathers, but it doesn’t do it at the price of truth. Glickman does not gloss over slavery, in fact, one of the two protagonists is a slave, and it also portrays the conflicted interests of the Americans at the time. It’s a dose of reality in a time of empty-headed flag-saluting.




If he’s legit into history, you could really challenge him with one of the books in our series “Fighting For History“. These are histories that are typically pushed to the margins. You might go with An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz, and just tell him it’s about how the west was “won”.  You might also take a chance with The History of White People from Nell Irvin Painter.





If Uncle Jay is a bit hawkish, you’ve got a couple options. The recent memoir from recon marine David Rose is just killer. No Joy doesn’t have an agenda, but it’s still a smack upside the head. Also, you might take a look at a few of the titles in our list “A Soldier’s Experience of War“. These all examine different aspects of what war is really like for the individual in combat. Spoiler: it’s nothing like an NFL halftime show.





If his jam is economics (unlikely), you can not go wrong with The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist. This is a scholarly study of how the prosperity of the U.S. actually stems directly from the institution of slavery. Disturbing stuff.

If Uncle Jay is a Nazi, get him one of these bios of reformed Nazis. Make sure he unwraps it in front of everyone.






This new Grant biography by Ron Chernow is supposed to be fantastic. Here’s the Washington Post review.






Stranger Things Clone Cousin aka YOU When You Were Their Age

You swear to Ilúvatar, this dork lives off Pringles. You will often catch them staring off into space, then you realize they are imagining the Toyota Sienna is a dewback or the Christmas tree is a murdered baby Ent. And even though they insist you call them Angdak, Paladin of the East Wold, you cruelly call them by the diminutive form of their real name.



We live in easy times for this nerd, so you’re gonna knock’em of your list in nuthin’ flat. What you get really just depends on their age. One option is Michael Kogge’s Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, a vast compendium of all kinds of Star Wars knowledge (here’s our short interview with Kogge).




If you want that kid to get back to some of the roots, get them Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. This is a fantastic retelling of the mythologies that influenced folks like Tolkien and Lewis.


Have they read Dune yet? The movie is coming up (in a few years.)  And there are tons of Star Wars novels; pick a winner from our (almost) complete Overview. It’s starred, so you know which ones to avoid.


There’s tons of adult sci-fi we’ve covered this year:




John Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire is first in a series about an interplanetary civilization that’s reached an existential crisis.






Anne Corlett’s The Space Between the Stars is another interplanetary story, but this civilization has already fallen apart.







Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning The Underground Railroad is an alternate reality where the underground railroad slaves used to escape slavery was an actual underground railroad.







Zachary Mason’s Void Star is a hypertechnical acid trip, somewhere in between The Matrix, William Gibson, and Philip K. Dick.






Deji Bryce Olukotun’s After the Flare (which just made Guardian’s list of best sci fi of 2017) tells the semi-dystopian story of the Nigerian space agency’s quest to rescue a stranded space station astronaut, when most of the rest of the world has been sent back to the stone age after a nasty solar flare.



If they’re in high school and smart, those will work- and it’s a pretty diverse lot.



And on the fantasy side,




Every Heart a Doorway from Seanan McGuire is about a school for kids who’ve gotten kicked out of magical lands (who hasn’t?).








The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a story mixing medieval Russia and fairy tales.







Caraval by Stephanie Garber, which the kid might already have in their YA collection, is about teens competing in a game that was supposed to be fun… but turns out to be legit dangerous.



Is that kid a girl? Or maybe a boy? How about some feminist sci fi? Here are the classics.



The Woke One

You’re not sure how you’re related. Cousin? An in-law? You went to that one march with them, and when you got there, realized that they were one of the organizers. They used to be all brood-y, but in the last year, something happened. They look you right in the damn eye when they speak, and you have started to listen. You’ve also noticed that when they debate current events with Uncle Jay, they never, ever tack “-tard” on the end of a word as their closing argument. You don’t feel quite on their level. They’re thinking of running for office, and you actually hope they do it.

They’ve probably already read the feminist sci-fi, but you could go with some of the non-fiction below.

Again, any of the books from our “Fighting For History” series.




Whose Global Village? from Ramesh Srinivasan talks about how technology is often developed and directed with very little diversity taken into account.






Chris Hayes’ A Colony In a Nation is a fascinating examination of how the US is actually divided into citizens and colonists, and each group is treated as such.







Gentrification is the beast breathing down the necks of most of us in Los Angeles. Peter Moskowitz explains the ins and outs using 4 major American cities in How to Kill a City. It’s a bummer, man.









If they’ve got a spiritual bent, you could do a confusing, triple-whammy thing with Lisa Lister’s Witch (review) and Rob Bell’s What Is the Bible? (interview). I know, sounds nuts, but both of these books defy expectations. Lisa Lister describes a witch as being not so much a broomstick-riding spell-caster, but a woman who knows and uses her inherent power. Rob Bell redeems the Bible from being a weapon of oppression to being a tool for subversion and hope in an oppressive world. Then – coup de grace – throw in Brad Warner’s It Came From Beyond Zen! (interview). for some straight-talk about non-trendy mindfulness and meditation. Woke One is going to arch their eyebrows at you. Just mutter something about “having an open mind”. [Here are a bunch more options for meditation.]

Still stuck? Flip through our REBEL post. Tons of quality material.


Very Un-smooth Criminal Cousin “Sparks”

Looks like he’s getting out of jail in time for the holidays. Yay. You’ll probably be the one who has to pick him up, too. Well, hey – it’s that or take Uncle Jay to the Walmart for ammo. At least “Sparks” (real name: Steve) is funny. I mean, he’s an idiot, but he’s a funny idiot.



What Future is a collection of 2017 writing about a wide variety of issues (environment, economics, gender, civil rights, etc.) and how things are looking moving forward. This is cutting edge, the backstories of sci-fi, edited by Torie Bosch & Roy Scranton. It has everyone from Elizabeth Kolbert to Laurie Penny to Kim Stanley Robinson. Getting this book is the bold stroke, because it is possible that “Sparks” will read one of these essays and finally find a reason to do something other than knock over liquor stores. And it’s like you’re saying, “Hey, I know you’re not really an idiot”. (Maybe the same goes for REBEL.)




Get him The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon by John Joseph. OG punk frontman, he’s been to hell and back, and now he’s a triathlete vegan who helps the marginalized in his community – and still punk as shit. Don’t just give “Sparks” someone he can respect, but someone he should respect. Check out this interview, and you’ll be convinced that STEVE should hang out with this dude.





And just so he doesn’t think you’re getting preachy, give him Experience: Mexican Jail! (review). It’s funny, it’s scary, and… it might come in handy. (Don’t embarrass him, though. He already feels like a loser.)







The Kid with Attitude

They hate everything. You can’t figure out if they pretend-hate everything or for real hate everything. They don’t seem like they’re depressed and they don’t throw tantrums – they’re just stoic, won’t play any games, and no matter if you give them space or try to joke around with them, their whole demeanor is a 10 year old’s version of “fuck you, pal”. They’re old enough that it’s not cute, but they’re too young to just blow off the family gatherings, which would be fine with you. Basically, you’re stuck with each other. Still, you have this feeling that in a year or two, you’ll discover that they’re the smartest kid you’ve ever met. Til then…  



If you give a kid like this Barbara Beck’s The Future Architect’s Tool Kit (review) they are likely to feel like you think they are ready for a career. That’s what you’re going for: just take that kid seriously. They might be tired of everyone treating them like they’re the age they are. They are ancient.



I can almost guarantee you that this kid likes (or will like) horror. If they’re too young for grown up horror stories (lord, we have so many on this blog- here’s a start), you can still get them this cool scary storybook. Ghost, from the gang at Illustratus (we’ve got a review and an interview with Illustratus), is a variety of original scary stories, fully illustrated, and big – so it’s really gift-y.






If they’re too old for Ghost, maybe you can get them started on Francesca Lia Block (who does have a lot of grown-up material – so look before you leap). We have damn near everything, in our FLB Overview. (She’s a house fave.)






You know what? This kid might need some really cool journals. Just don’t pick anything lame.

Or the kid might be bored with his/her dumb life. If they’re old enough, get’em started on their career with the CIA.

And don’t forget to take them aside and share the arcane knowledge of our subversive reader clan. It’s your responsibility.


Aunt Militant

God, she is wound tight. You just wanna say “Hi”, and you have no agenda beyond having a friendly relationship with your aunt, but the slightest contact with her results in a lecture about something. If you approach her in the kitchen, it will be some kinda OCD Martha Stewart-as-cokehead diatribe about how to organize silverware. If you mention that the garden looks nice, you’ll get a spiel about the neighborhood politics. If you mention a book or movie or TV show – she’ll explain it to you. And you dare not mention, you know, that the country is on fire. Holy mother – is there a single thing she doesn’t have an extremely strong opinion about? You can get her a book, of course, but the number one thing you can do is just listen. (Downside: you will then be her favorite.)

One strategy here is to go All Los Angeles:



For fiction, your best bet is the brand new, chart-topper from our very own Liska Jacobs, Catalina. It’s super buzzy, and if she doesn’t have it already, she’ll thank you for getting her out in front of her book club.






There’s also Chiara Barzini’s Things That Happened Before the Earthquake. This Italian-American semi-autobiographical novel takes place in the early 90s, during our fun “earthquakes and riots” period.







If Aunt Militant is into Hollywood, you can prob tickle her uncanny bone (as opposed to a funny bone; it’s on the other side) with Hollywood Obscura from our pal Brian Clune. This peach is a combo of old H-wood stories, true crime, and the paranormal.





Is she a dog person? Well, probably not, or she wouldn’t be so intense. World class photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky’s Unconditional is a collection of her photography of senior dogs – these are not dumb snapshots; these are amazing photos. When Klonsky came to the store, she brought these amazing LA dog people.





And our beloved downtown is well represented in this recent combo of stories and photos from Yennie Cheung, Kathryn McGee, Tim Ronca, and Lev Tsimring. DTLA 37 is not a tour brochure; it’s an exploration of the deeper Los Angeles.





If none of that grabs you, just cruise through this selection of books from the many Obama book rec lists. (There were a lot. We won’t be seeing presidential book recs for a while.) Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, Elizabeth Alexander – sheesh.




The dark horse recommendation for dearest Aunt M is Nato Thompson’s Culture As Weapon. If she’s as dialed in to the happenings of the world as she seems to be, she’ll love this tune-up of her Bullshit Detector.





The Adventurer aka Plague of Your Instagram Feed

This could be anyone, aunt or uncle, distant cousin. The reason you barely know this relative is that, on most holidays, they’re away taking selfies in some jungle or warzone or at the top of a cathedral in Eastern Europe. This year, they broke their leg, so they’re reduced to hanging out with the family, which means you get to hear all their damn stories that make you feel like a loser, because no, you’ve never snorkeled in the Upper Nile (asshole).




If they’re a-questing in their travels, make sure they’re up on their local folklore. Our “Quests for the Knights of Matilda, Queen of the Britons” post is a list of magical objects The Adventurer could look for, and the literature they come from should suit your needs, like China’s essential The Journey to the West.






For more of that deep background in the old places of the world, perhaps they’d dig one of “The Oldest Books in Print“. Sure, they’ve been trekking through the Middle East, but have they read Gilgamesh (it’s sooo good, you guys) or The Wisdom of Ptah-Hotep?






Have they been or are they going to Africa? (They should.) Remind them that She is mom to all of us with one of the books in our “Continental Womb: Africa!” post. This is especially good if The Adventurer is into science. Augustin Fuentes’ The Creative SparkHow Imagination Made Humans Exceptional looks pretty amazing.






Keep them grounded with Mohsin Hamid’s The Exit West, a moving novel about two refugees making their way out of their war-torn country into refugee camps and on to a new life.







When they go to Scandanavia, give them the opportunity to peek under the hood of that sweet, sweet machine with George Lakey’s Viking Economics. They will not want to come home. (And that’s what you want, right? Get outta here, ya show-off.)






Again, stereotyping is problematic, but whatever. If you really want to get to know the seemingly wackier members of your family a little better, start here, observe how well or badly they react to the book you got them, and build on that. Or not. But you’re now done with your book-gifting, which is what really matters during the holiday season.




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