Some people think Christmas exists solely for getting their paws on a slick new home gadget. Others crave a shiny leather purse or humongous flat-screen television. Not book nerds. For us, the holidays are a perfect excuse to spend hours at the local bookstore, buying books for our friends and family, and -- because we don't even try to resist -- ourselves.
Lots of excellent books came out in 2015. This year saw the release of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, The First Bad Man by Miranda July, The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, Purity by Jonathan Franzen, Negroland by Margot Jefferson, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, and of course, Fortune Smiles by San Francisco resident Adam Johnson and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, both recently announced as winners of the National Book Award.
Here are five more gift suggestions culled from 2015's heavy-hitting lineup:
The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector
By Clarice Lispector, 640 pages
I first learned about Clarice Lispector from one of my most sophisticated friends. Shocked that I'd never read anything by the glamorous Brazilian surrealist fiction writer, Nina insisted that I rush out and buy The Hour of the Star. Surreal and sometimes disturbing, Lispector's writing was like nothing I'd experienced before. The Complete Stories, out last fall, is translated from the original Portuguese by San Francisco-based translator Katrina Dodson, and it marks the first time ever that Lispector's stories have been collected into one complete volume. But watch out, as collection editor Benjamin Moser reminds us in the opening essay "Glamour and Grammar," when he relays a long-ago reader's impression of Lispector's craft. "It's not literature. It's witchcraft."
Perfect for your in-law who craves fitting in with the New Yorker crowd at cocktail parties.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
By William Finnegan, 464 pages
Confession: Give me surfing over baseball any day. My dad surfed through my entire childhood and continues to paddle out even as he hits his mid-60s. We lived on Kauai in the '70s, where he dominated (his words) the waves at Hanalei Bay. Later, back on the Mainland, most weekends landed us on the hot, oil-scarred sand of Huntington Beach. Surfing is in my blood, even if I rarely make it onto an actual surfboard. That's how I know that any wanna-be, like me, will love Barbarian Days. William Finnegan is a longtime New Yorker staff writer with a background in war reporting. He spent years professionally playing down his obsession with surfing, one that drove him to remote areas of the earth in pursuit of the best waves. With this memoir, he finally lays bare his deep and abiding love for the sport and where it's taken him.
Perfect for wanna-be surfers, ocean lovers, and soul surfers alike.
Gold Fame Citrus
By Claire Vaye Watkins, 352 pages
Claire Vaye Watkins, author of the acclaimed story collection Battleborn, went viral in November with a talk published on the Tin House blog. On Pandering rips into misogyny, the "little white man inside of all of us," and the need to burn the white male-dominated literary canon down and build something better. She also tells the story of the time that Stephen Elliot, founder of the Rumpus, came to town and proceeded to treat Watkins like a sad little drunk girl rather than the capable writer that she is. This too, is the year of Watkins' first novel -- the devastating Gold Fame Citrus. The story centers on a young couple semi-surviving in a future Los Angeles destroyed by endless drought. When they "kidnap" a toddler girl and try to leave California, only to get beaten down by giant sand dunes, the book really takes a turn. Don't look for happy endings here. Do expect a finely written novel from an author willing to push the boundaries of structure, narrative, and genre.
Perfect for that friend who loves Octavia Butler and dystopic science fiction, or the one who can't wait for California to fall in the ocean like it was supposed to back in 1985.
The Gay Revolution
By Lillian Faderman, 816 pages
Simon and Schuster
Lillian Faderman's Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers is standard reading in Women's and Queer Studies classes. An internationally known scholar of lesbian and ethnic history, Faderman's latest work takes a deep and comprehensive look into the history of the gay revolution and the struggle for equality in the United States. To get the complete story, Faderman conducted more than 150 interviews with activists and icons like Cleve Jones, Rev. Troy Perry, Jeanne Cordova, Sally Gearheart, and Robin Tyler. The book benefits from rigorous research and a desire to document the struggle more completely than it's been told before. It begins in the 1950s, moving through the AIDS epidemic, and into the current political landscape. Along the way, stories of strength and resilience rise to the top.
Perfect for history lovers, especially if they enjoy stories that were hidden from mainstream attention back in the day.
A is for Acorn: A California Indian ABC
By Analisa Tripp with illustrations by Lyn Risling, 28 pages
You can't go wrong with a children's book with a back cover that lists 20 Native California words for "Acorn." At different times and places in California, the cap-headed nut has been called a shiptish, palatsa, woh-mehl, kwaar, and ti laa li. You aren't going to see these words listed in the standard dictionary. This is just one of many charming elements in a little gem of a board book. What's more, each illustration is like a simple mini-lesson in California native history; a reminder that the people who had settled the land before the colonizers arrived had rich family lives and a deep connection to the iris, juncus, king snakes, mountains, pine cones, otters, and flickers that have historically called California home. ABC books are a dime a dozen, but A is for Acorn certainly stands out from the crowd.
Perfect for kids, toddlers, and grown-ups who love California, past and present.