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The Culture Trip Literary Christmas Gift Guide For 2016
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The Culture Trip Literary Christmas Gift Guide For 2016

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Updated: 23 November 2016
When considering gifts for the holiday season, our editors and contributors have suggestions based on their favorite books from the last few months.*

Bookstores, like any other retailer, make their highest sales during the December holidays. But finding the perfect book can become exhausting — fifteen minutes can turn into an hour, even two, as you page through countless first chapters in search of the right literature to fill a stocking, or place under a tree. While it is easy to gravitate toward best-sellers, other, more prestigious works might offer higher-quality content and more enjoyable read. We’ve highlighted some of the books recently written about by our editors and contributors as suggestions.

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Cover of the UK edition courtesy of Faber & Faber
Cover of the UK edition courtesy of Faber & Faber

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole (Essays)

“Known and Strange Things presents Cole as a modern day renaissance man, threading disparate subject matter with the authority of his cool, eidetic prose. Collected here is a study of the literature of grief, an appraisal of Google image subversions, and a sly examination of the racial politics lurking within the seemingly innocuous. He is the eyes, not the voice, of a generation.” — Michael Barron

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Cover of UK edition courtesy of Fitzcarraldo Editions
Cover of UK edition courtesy of Fitzcarraldo Editions

Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (Non-Fiction)

“The 2015 Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich’s latest book, Second-hand Time collects dozens of interviews and overheard conversations from all corners of the former Soviet Union. The privilege of comfort, the proximity of war, the precariousness of order – Alexievich explores them all. Second-hand Time’s scope is remarkable; it is, in essence, the chronicle of a whole society.” — Simon Leser

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Cover courtesy of Laurence King Publishing
Cover courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

My Life As a Work of Art by Katya Tylevich & Ben Eastham (Non-Fiction)

My Life As a Work of Art is insatiably readable. By putting the reader into proximity with their subjects, Tylevich and Eastham give their idiosyncracies a genuine humanism, whether it’s Tylevich browsing the Home Depot website with artist Erwin Wurm for a bucket to fit a human head, or Eastham, who is called by Michael Borremans and informed that a painting Eastman was to cover is no more. A perfect literary profile of it contemporary artists. — Michael Barron

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Cover of US edition courtesy of New Directions
Cover of US edition courtesy of New Directions

Counternarratives by John Keene (Fiction)

“For a collection of short stories and novellas, Counternarratives offers a reading experience surprisingly close to that of the novel. Black history, often little more than a subtext in the shadow of the Western narrative, is the work’s true focus, by whose strength it is made whole. Counternarratives is like history itself — dense, dark, mysterious, many-faced; at times gorgeous, at others ironic — as meticulous in detail as it is grand in scale. A rewarding read. — Simon Leser

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Cover of UK edition courtesy of Zed Books
Cover of UK edition courtesy of Zed Books

The Insane and the Melancholy by Ece Temelkuran (Non-Fiction)

“Temelkuran is determined to intersperse the whole of modern Turkish history with her life. Early coup memories, later dissidence, and her career as an activist impart all the necessary details needed to begin to understand Turkey: The coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980; the rise of the brilliant and brutal Erdoğan; and the first stirrings of post-truth politics. It is with these considerations that Temelkuran excels. She is, first and foremost, a literary writer.” — Simon Leser

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Cover courtesy of New York Review Books
Cover courtesy of New York Review Books

Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz (Memoir)

“Possibility and invention hover over the characters in Slow Days, Fast Company like waves above the asphalt on a hot day. This collection of personal stories finds her gamboling through the LSD colors of mid-70s Los Angeles with friends and lovers and drifting into the region surrounding it. Like Marilyn Monroe infusing the ditz with closeted intellectualism, Babitz has a genius for revealing the depths of ostensibly shallow waters.” — Monica McClure

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Cover courtesy of Knopf
Cover courtesy of Knopf

Float by Anne Carson (Poetry)

Float does more than bounce, it buoys up as uninhibited, cosmic ‘flotage.’ It requires ‘unpacking’ because Float comes in a clear, plastic box containing 23 separate chapbooks of poetry, essays, performance-based texts, and other literary miscellany. While Float doesn’t present a cohesive vision, there is a beauty to its lack of structure: the reader is meant to shuffle, rearrange, and fall apart at his or her own peril. — Taylor Kang

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Cover of UK edition courtesy of Penguin UK
Cover of UK edition courtesy of Penguin UK

Autumn by Ali Smith (Novel)

Set in the aftermath of Brexit, Autumn presents readers with a brave new world riddled with hatred, xenophobia and estrangement. Within these sweeping tides of political and cultural change sits one of novelist Ali Smith’s most intriguing families — art historian Elisabeth, her antique loving mother, and their 101-year-old neighbour, Daniel Gluck. A combination which allows for an elegiac musing on transience and time. — India Doyle

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Cover of UK edition courtesy of Hogarth
Cover of UK edition courtesy of Hogarth

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Novel)

Hag-Seed is a retelling of The Tempest that tackles head-on the struggle of making a 400-year-old text relevant to a contemporary audience. It’s a celebration of theater, yes, but just as much a celebration of learning and teaching. Atwood’s spellbinding adaptation is a testament to Shakespeare’s lasting relevance — as one character rightly says, there’s a Shakespeare for everyone. It just takes a passionate teacher and a pinch of magic to get the message across. — Grace Beard

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Cover of US edition courtesy of Knopf
Cover of US edition courtesy of Knopf

Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias (Novel)

Thus Bad Begins is narrated by a young Madrileño who witnesses (and participates) in a series of disturbing events in the early post-Franco years. The novel doesn’t just exist to prove hunches or resolve woes, rather it is, as has become a Marías trademark, a vehicle for his literary psychology. Marías is rarely dull or unconsidered, rather he has become one of the few writers of dependable exquisiteness. “Thus bad begins” may be Hamlet’s words, but “greatness remains ahead” are the assurance of Marías. — Michael Barron

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Cover of US edition courtesy of Penguin Press
Cover of US edition courtesy of Penguin Press

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Novel)

Swing Time is darker than Smith’s previous novels. There may not be any murders, or extended family dramas, but through its elegiac tone, the product of little jollies and the characters’ high dreams make the book come alive. And in the prose’s contemplative mood at least a few things are made certain: life can be an unfair but we must live it, and living it is a political act. There is no question that Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s masterpiece.

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*Covers may differ depending on the country where the book is published.