The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
It's long, but it's so, so great. It's about interesting things, a terrorist attack and art smuggling ring among them, but it doesn't really matter what it's about. Tartt's full-spectrum style makes for a story so completely engrossing that the giftee won't mind lugging around so many pounds of book.
Men in Miami Hotels, by Charlie Smith
Never before has a book with such brilliant attention to detail and depth of feeling had such a high body count and lurid descriptions of violence. My review in the Miami Herald.
Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, by Lucas Mann
Sure, it's about baseball. Namely the lowly single-A Clinton LumberKings, who the author followed for a full season. But it's also about industrial decline, male bonding, desperation, depression, and a whole bunch else. Mann deserved the comparisons he received to Joan Didion. My review on the Daily Beast.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
You've read Moby Dick right? You can get the public domain version from Barnes and Noble for like 9 bucks or whatever.
The Color Master, by Aimee Bender
An absolute master class in the short story. You'll be amazed that each story wasn't written by a different author. My review on the Daily Beast.
Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson.
Inscribe it with "Enjoy your new life!" and then sit back and watch their brain change.
Fat City, by Leonard Gardner
This 1969 book about small-time boxers is Denis Johnson's favorite novel, (and one of mine too, but who cares). You'll figure out why immediately.
The Song Of Spider-Man, by Glen Berger
Remember when America was gripped with make-fun-of-the-Spiderman-Musical fever? The author of this often farcical tell-all memoir was there for the whole thing; he co-wrote the production with Julie Taymor, who he doesn't recount in the most generous light. Bono and The Edge, who wrote the score, also make make appearances, bursting in like they do on South Park. My review in the Miami Herald.
Waiting for the Barbarians, Daniel Mendelsohn
The man who took on Mad Men and won. (By which I mean made me realize that it was okay for me to stop watching Mad Men.) If it's a product of culture, then Mendelsohn can say something brilliant about it, and show you how the Greeks already probably did it better. My review on the Daily Beast.
This Wheel's on Fire, by Levon Helm
Five pages into Levon Helm's memoir of his time in the best American band ever to be comprised mostly of Canadians and I wanted to cry. (I didn't though.) In addition to evoking his upbringing on an Arkansas farm (which I'm required by law to describe as "hardscrabble") and his musical odyssey, he also throws shade at Robbie Robertson, and The Last Waltz.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid
The anti-capitalist will take it as a lyric and ironic look at the lengths those in developing economies will go to achieve some version of the American Dream. The capitalist will take it as a guidebook. My review on the Daily Beast.
The Facades, by Eric Lundgren
A dark and beguiling philosophical detective story, Part David Foster Wallace and part Raymond Chandler. Pretend you didn't catch the Wittgenstein allusions and let her find them on her own. She'll feel so smart. My review in Time Out New York.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple.
This book, written by a former writer for Arrested Development, came out a while ago, but it's so funny, dynamic, and inventive that I'm still recommending it. My review on the Daily Beast.
The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
I haven't been able to read this book yet but I hear it's really good. Buy it for me?