We asked the staff of Farrar, Straus and Giroux to name the best books published in 2013, their favorite books they read or reread this year, and to reveal which FSG books they were gifting during the holidays. A spectrum of departments make up a publishing house—editorial, publicity, foreign rights, art, production, sales, marketing, contracts, and operations—and responses came from every corner of the office.
These are the books that made FSGers miss subway stops and cancel dinner plans. They include the bestsellers that had us urging each other to “believe the hype” over the office coffeemaker and the bizarre stories written a half-century ago. Some made us hopeful and others we could only describe as heartbreaking. These books—for every kind of reason—are FSG’s Favorite Books of 2013.
What were the best books published in 2013?
Thank You for Your Service was the in-house favorite, with 10 votes.
What were your favorite books you read (or reread) this year?
Rachel Cusk’s new novel, Outline, which we publish in early 2015 and which the Paris Review is serializing, is one of the best books I read this year. Set in Athens, the novel unfolds over a series of conversations between the narrator and people she encounters during her stay in the city as a creative writing teacher. A writing teacher? you might think. Where’s the fiction in that? But Cusk keeps her inventions to a bare minimum, which allows her to take flight in other ways; the conversations about love, sex, marriage, family, work, aging and loss made all the more beautiful by the eerie control she exerts over her material. Moving delicately from one person’s experience to another, but filtered through the narrator’s own experience of her failed marriage, the book feels like a quest of sorts. I bet it’s no accident that it’s set in Greece, home to The Odyssey.
The other book I read this year was Butterfield 8 by John O’Hara. I loved it. The book opens with the wonderfully-named Gloria Wandrous waking up in a strange bed, and goes on to describe her adventures in New York City, along with those of a vivid cast of characters in her orbit. I was surprised by how modern it felt. It’s set in the 1930s, but the way O’Hara so sympathetically paints a portrait of a girl who loves sex and wants to live life to the fullest feels startling contemporary. It brought that decade—so often mythologized—much closer to our times than I could have imagined.
Favorite book by far was The Flamethrowers. I think it deserves all the hype and attention it got. It’s one of those books that reminds me why I love what I do—that people are still writing books that both challenge narrative conventions and can actually SELL. Love it.
My favorite non-FSG reads of 2013:
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (originally published by Harcourt, not FSG, so I’m going to say this doesn’t count as insider trading!)
Year Zero by Ian Buruma
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Three of my friends published incredible books this year, and I highly recommend all of them (in pub date order): The Peripatetic Coffin by Ethan Rutherford, Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon, The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg.
My Side of the Mountain (Jeanne Craighead George) – Who doesn’t want to live in a hollowed out tree on a mountain?
Spy Rock Memories (Larry Livermore) – Published by Don Giovanni Records: a punk rock My Side of the Mountain.
Siddhartha (Herman Hesse) – Borrowed from my wife’s childhood bedroom; harmonizes very nicely with the above three. In fact, Whispering Bodies, My Side of the Mountain, Spy Rock Memories, and Siddhartha should always be read as part of a larger narrative. There should be a box set.
And excited to get into Scott Cheshire’s High as the Horses’ Bridles (Henry Holt, July 2014).
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
For my book club, I chose a weird pairing of short novels—Leaving the Atocha Station by (our now very own) Ben Lerner and Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. Strange bedfellows, but we uncovered some interesting resonances in our discussion and they were both remarkable books.
This year I read Stoner by John Williams for the first time, since it seems to be experiencing a well-deserved revival (apparently it’s a bestseller in the Netherlands?). Anyway, it’s now one of my favorite books ever.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra was very powerful, too. I keep thinking about it, which is always my test of greatness.
On the non-fiction side, I was intrigued and usefully perplexed by last year’s Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt. (And I know this is book #6, but Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service makes this cut, too!).
I read Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights for the first—and second—time. It’s been a while since a book has so profoundly altered my patterns of thought; it’s not entirely pleasant, of course, to look up from one’s Sunday reading and perceive this fallen world in all of its weakness and regret…but I trust I’ll recover in time for this season of gift-giving and mulled wine.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt: Can’t put it down, heart racing the whole time. (I still have about a hundred pages to go.)
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer: Good book about friendship, love, relationships, aging, fame, and money.
Wonder, R. J. Palacio: My 9-year-old proclaimed this one of the best books he’s ever read, and I agree that it’s moving and well-written. Should be read by all elementary- and middle-school kids.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling): I read this before it was revealed that J. K. Rowling was the author, and it’s a good solid detective story. Looking forward to more.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – It’s rare that I wish a book were longer, but I enjoyed this one so much that I would have happily kept going for another 500 pages.
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel – The book I wouldn’t shut up about. Anyone who knows me has heard me talk at length about how heartbreaking and perfectly done this book is.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh makes me laugh so hard, even when she’s writing about decidedly unfunny subjects.
The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg – When I first read these stories in early form, I kept looking around the subway car, wanting to tell strangers about how good they are. She packs so much into so few pages, and the women who inhabit those pages are complicated and completely compelling.
And one re-read: Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, which I revisit every now and again, usually on a cold winter day, after which I head straight for the kitchen to whip up something delicious.
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing – part biography, part travelogue, part meditation on alcoholism, this book was so much more than I expected, and sent me back to the writers whose lives she explores, especially John Cheever.
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins – where to begin with this one…daring, left me yearning for more short stories in a similar vein that could hit the same spot and speak to the same emptiness.
Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan – the definitive laugh-crier of Laird’s Summer 2013.
Leaves of Grass – I moved to Brooklyn this summer, and the first place I stayed was about 3 blocks from the house where Whitman first composed Leaves of Grass in 1855. This fact, together with Ben Lerner’s story in the summer Paris Review, sent me on back to Walt’s work for the first time since college, and for that I’m glad.
Speedboat by Renata Adler – believe the hype.
In Pinelight, by Thomas Rayfiel (2013). Every single person I’ve talked to about this book has had the same experience: its prose style is so strange that after the first 10 pages you doubt you will be able to finish it. But you keep going and then you get sucked in—and in the end you can’t stop talking about how amazing it is. Down to a person. I felt exactly the same way. In fact, I read most of it twice and I now think about this book a little bit every week. It earns every bit of its weirdness and I can’t recommend too highly.
A Pirate for Life, by Steve Blass (2012): An autobiography of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-handed pitcher and color commentator, who is doomed to be remembered as the namesake of the infamous “Steve Blass Disease.” Blass pitched for eight very good seasons and won a World Series before he suddenly, mysteriously, and permanently lost the ability to throw strikes. Since then, Steve Blass Disease has become the term for sudden and inexplicable loss of control over a talent (related reading: Roger Angell’s beautiful, classic 1975 New Yorker profile of Blass). A Pirate for Life is a joyful look back at the wild fun of being a ballplayer in the ’70s and a moving, unpretentious meditation on what life is like after the talent on which you’ve based your whole identity is suddenly taken away. When it comes to the prose, Roger Angell it ain’t—but that’s fine. Blass was a ballplayer, not an intellectual, and its coarseness and occasional clumsiness gives A Pirate for Life a rough-hewn charm. It’s the perfect companion reading for watching your longtime favorite team crawl out of an abyss of 20 consecutive losing seasons, the longest in the history of any major professional sport.
The three Sjón books, read in May, have stayed with me in the months since. They were lyrical and dreamlike. I just finished Going Clear and it was dense and engrossing, an amazing feat of investigative journalism.
Also, I really liked The Woman Upstairs.
Julie Doxsee’s poetry collection, The Next Monsters (Black Ocean Press), haunted me and still does every time I open it, which is perhaps why I continue to open it.
Meghan Daum’s classic essay collection from 1999, My Misspent Youth (Open City), was timely and affecting.
Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Press) was the book we needed this year.
Qais Akbar Omar’s A Fort of Nine Towers (FSG) opened a door to moving Afghani literature that I’ve been seeing through since.
Aldofo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel: It’s a crazy novella about a man trapped on an island with a time machine.
Striving Towards Being: The Collected Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz: A gem of a collection FSG did in ’96 that is full of the grace and humility of two men genuinely inquiring into their lives.
I also re-read Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, which may be the finest novella I know, and it just gets better each time around. So haunting and raw—reading it is like being inside a dream.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner was my favorite book published in 2013. It’s ridiculously cool, seductive, and gritty. Kushner’s descriptions of 1970s New York and its art scene are captivating.
I finally read Just Kids by Patti Smith and it totally blew me away. I was obsessed and carried it around with me to every meal and subway ride and even ignored friends so I could continue reading. And when I finished it, I felt very sad as I didn’t want to leave her world of music, art, and love. She’s truly a gifted storyteller.
I also read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises while I was on a trip to Spain—it was a perfect combination. While reading about bullfights and matador love affairs, I ate tapas and drank wine.
The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse (And a lot of Bertie and Jeeves short stories)
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames
My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård. This book, in the original Norwegian edition, sat on my shelf taunting me for years. During the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009, as per usual, I went to the Norwegian publishers’ hall to round up books for my wife. While everyone was happy to give me one of their books, each publisher said: You must go get Knausgård. After the fourth publisher said that, I got the hint and grabbed a copy of Min Kamp. Admittedly, I approached the reading of the book with some dread. The first in a series of six autobiographical novels compared to Proust seemed like a daunting endeavor. It turned out to be the exact opposite. Intelligent, funny, depressing and addictive. I expect this will be on my “best of” list for years to come as subsequent volumes are released.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. Yang has been nominated twice for the National Book Award, Young People’s Literature, for this series of comics and his prior book American Born Chinese. That Boxers & Saints did not win is travesty. These companion comics reach the height of historical fiction, exploring the Boxer rebellion from the point of view of a young boy who rises up to lead the rebellion against foreigners and missionaries. On the other side is a young girl from the same village who found Christianity.
And two previews for next year:
Astra Taylor’s The People’s Platform forthcoming from Metropolitan Books in the spring. Let the revolution begin! A monstrously important book.
Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. Prepare for Area X. It begins with Annihilation, followed by Authority, which naturally leads to Acceptance. Wonderful speculative fiction.
Laura van den Berg’s short story collections The Isle of Youth andWhat the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides
Alejandro Zambra’s Ways of Going Home
Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres
Geoff Dyer’s Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It
There is only one appropriate answer, one correct answer, to this question, across all genres, categories, sub-questions, and multiple-choice answers: The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon. Brilliant, devastating, beautiful, awesome. I can see how it might seem neat to pick Sjón’s Whispering Muse, From the Mouth of the Whale, and The Blue Fox to fill all three slots at once (I was tempted), or how it might be wise to create a veneer of objectivity by spreading praise around to a few under-appreciated non-FSG gems such as Rachel Kushner’s magnificent Flamethrowers or Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams’s miraculous S. or David Finkel’s indelible Thank You for Your Service (oops). But that just wouldn’t be right. So when the National Book Award folks are forced to go back and red-facedly give the book a special commendation, when the book sweeps all the categories at the NBCCs next spring, when Alfred Nobel comes calling (in a few years… I’m not being crazy here) and especially cites the book, remember you read it here first (and I do appreciate Work in Progress giving me the SuperVote authority to override everyone else’s – incorrect – votes), by unanimous acclaim at FSG: THE BOOK OF MY LIVES BY ALEKSANDAR HEMON, BOOK OF THE YEAR 2013.
(It’s possible that it’s not perfect for every stocking—possible, perhaps if someone already owns it, though an extra copy never hurt anyone—in which case, obviously, I recommend Hild by Nicola Griffith or, for those who didn’t earn a hardcover, How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman or, for those who didn’t earn a print book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan or, for those with strictly virtual stockings on whom you want to spend LESS THAN ONE DOLLAR, Dead Pig Collector by Warren Ellis, as acceptable substitutes.)
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower. I’ll reread it until it falls apart—simultaneously hilarious, vile, and haunting.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Her books used to give me murder-themed nightmares as a child, but a long train ride in California this summer led me to peep behind the curtain once more.
The Best American Infographics 2013 celebrates visual representations of data, and it succeeds on every level.
The Mighty Lalouche, a gorgeously illustrated children’s tale about a humble postman who ends up in the boxing ring, is an endearing book that should become a classic. My four year old adores it – luckily, so do I. [Ed. note: The author, Matthew Olshan, also has a novel, Marshlands, coming out from FSG in February!]
When I heard that Doris Lessing had passed away, I went back and re-read The Golden Notebook, and I’m happy I did so.
Daily Rituals is a delightful, zippy little survey of the routines of our favorite creators.
Little Women (I reread a few classics one month and I’d forgotten how wonderful this book is)
I promise I am not on their payroll (obviously) but: three of the best books I read this year are NYRB classics. Speedboat by Renata Adler, Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban, and Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker:
Speedboat has long been a favorite (since a boy, of course, told me to read it my sophomore year of college) and every time I return to it (as I did this year, on the occasion of its being reissued) I find something different. The first time I read it, at nineteen, the central, fractured love affair seemed paramount. This time, the novel seemed more absurd, more paranoid: a woman—wry, detached, maybe damaged—wanders around a city in which the relationship between actions and their consequences, between words and their meanings, seems to have been severed or distorted. She searches for, and cannot find, the plot—of her life, of her world.
The plot of life is a theme in Turtle Diary also, which is about two quietly lonely people who, in any other book, would find each other and fall in love. But the narrative that governs lives is more complicated—isn’t, really, a narrative at all, and Russell Hoban’s book (which first caught my attention thanks to an appreciation in Bookforum by our own Brian Gittis) respects this so intensely, so realistically, it breaks your damn heart.
As for Cassandra at the Wedding, which I’ve now read three times: here the novel circles around the romanticization of a family narrative, on the one hand, and the desire to escape it, on the other. Each time I am surprised and impressed by the absolute conviction which with Dorothy Baker sketches the interiors of her protagonists’—identical twin sisters—minds. The titular Cassandra, who is at—or rather, trying to prevent—her sister Judith’s wedding, is only slowly revealed to be a severely depressed alcoholic. Her voice is so convincing it takes a while for the reader—and her fellow characters—to realize just how damaged and damaging her behavior is. Baker’s description of a hangover is also harrowingly accurate; to be read only when sober and of sound mind and body.
Finally, the one non-NYRB selection: Kate Zambreno’s Heroines. This is both a kind of counter-narrative of twentieth-century literary history—one that recognizes the wives’ contributions: Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivien Eliot, Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys—and a personal account of Zambreno’s struggle to write—what is and is not “worth” writing; what is and is not valued—which is compounded by her conflicted relationship with her own status as the female half of an academic couple. I didn’t think I needed a feminist awakening, but reading this, on the plane to California for Thanksgiving, I felt like my skin was on fire. F. Scott Fitzgerald, drunk, depressive, lands in a mental hospital, writes a promising first novel based on his relationship with his wife, is feted; Zelda is allowed to follow the same trajectory only up to a point. After her institutionalization, her novel is dismissed; in fact she is dismissed—as crazy. To paraphrase Ring Lardner: he is the novelist; she is the novelty. We forget these things, or we are not prompted to remember them.
Pitch Dark by Renata Adler.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson. It’s like Sontag with an even better sense of the poetic line and all of the nerves exposed.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson. This is a masterpiece. I can’t wait for readers to get their hands on this in 2014.
The Morning of the Poem by James Schuyler. Schuyler is the perfect synthesis of O’Hara’s vivacious but at times jejeune poetry and Ashbery’s playful and willful abstractions.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud is literary fiction that reads like an impeccably-paced psychological thriller. Much was made about character likeability in the press for this book (the female narrator is often unpleasant, deluded, and/or—“How angry am I? You don’t want to know.”—furious) but I’d hate for that conversation to overshadow Messud’s extraordinary—and very likeable—prose.
Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station is slim but the talent on display is seismic. It’s a funny and affecting and brilliant first novel. I’m unbearably excited (and proud!) that FSG is publishing 10:04 next fall.
I happened upon a copy of How German Is It by Walter Abish and was pleased to find the New Directions novel lived up to its curiously compelling cover.
Stop being turned off by words like “heartbreaking,” “bleak,” and “set entirely in the Midwest” in reviews about John Williams’ Stoner. There’s something essential in the book—reissued by the consistently wonderful New York Review of Books—that will have you enthusing about “the greatest American novel you’ve never heard of” too.
I’ve been playing catch-up ball with Ben Lerner in preparation for publishing his new book, and found ravishing his first novel Leaving the Atocha Station.
A friend gave me for a house present this summer Niki Segnit’s The Flavor Thesaurus—one of the most eccentric, clever, and delightfully written books about food ever.
Due diligence with one of my favorite writers we don’t publish: Alan Hollinghurst. I’m finishing The Folding Star and, as always, love being in his company.
Very little reading gave me more pleasure than the essay on Stravinsky in Hollywood in Nicolas Nabokov’s Old Friends and New Music.
I remember long ago reading all of Janet Flanner’s writings on and from Paris and thinking, if I could write like she did, I would die happy. I found recently another collection, London was Yesterday, and, to quote from the flap copy, I count myself once again “an abject follower of her mordacious style.”
Alive and Unharmed by Crystal Hubbard. A deep YA/NA novel that pulled me in and held my attention.
Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins. This was the first book I read by Beverly Jenkins and I enjoyed how she weaved African-American history into this romance.
Destiny’s Surrender by Beverly Jenkins. I loved the feisty hero, who refused to back down to anyone and was willing to do anything to protect her son.
Hero of My Heart by Megan Frampton. She did a good job pulling me in and making me suspend belief.
Drawing the Stud by Roslyn Holcomb. It was a well-written story that surpassed my expectations for an erotic romance.
I’ve just finished James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime, which was racy and beautiful and melancholy, and is the FSG Classic that I’ll be pushing into friends’ hands this year.
A Map of Tulsa by Ben Lytal hits a lot of the same notes, in all the best ways, and was my favorite book of 2013. It has the kinds of lines that keep tumbling around in your head and slip into expressions for months afterward. It’s a book I’d recommend to anyone.
The book I’m most excited for in 2014 is Ben Lerner’s new novel, 10:04, and, if we were tallying short stories too, his piece “False Spring,” which was in The Paris Review this summer, was pretty perfect.
Caleb Crain’s Necessary Errors and David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service, which brilliantly register the inner lives of the young, artistic and privileged, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the young, broke and wounded, after the fall of Baghdad.
The most surprisingly gratifying essay I read this year was Dave Hickey’s estimation of Hank Williams in A New Literary History of America (Harvard 2012) – a primer on how to write a country song, and thus on America.
I also read A. Scott Berg’s classic biography of Maxwell Perkins, which is full of editorial bon mots. Thomas Wolfe griped that trying to cut his novel according to Perkins’ instructions was like “trying to put corsets on an elephant” though he also promised “the next one will be no bigger than a camel at the most.”
It’s rare to find a book that sticks in your head and joins you in your daily routine, to the point that you’ve taken on the voice of the narrator and start mentally narrating every little thing you do. I did that for at least two weeks after reading Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth. I immediately bought her first book, savored each story, and returned to a Karen Russell favorite, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. These women are making short fiction good again.
Battleborn, which I loved for being perfect from beginning to end, for evoking the desert and all its requisite feelings, for being sad, haunting, and inconclusive, for being the book I would like to have written.
Thank You for Your Service, which made me angry and sad in the best way possible, leaving me appalled at the state of veteran affairs and in awe of David Finkel’s impeccable journalism.
Duplex, which was beautiful and strange and rife with otherworldly lore; it far exceeded every expectation I had when I thought I was going to be reading a coming-of-age story that featured robots.
They already got a lot of coverage on last year’s list, but over the summer months I read all of the Patrick Melrose novels, and loved them.
In January, I read the PV War and Peace – one of those imposing Classics that you eventually get to only to discover that they really are that good. I had really wanted to get to it ever since Jonathan Franzen, in Freedom, described binge-reading W&P as an almost orgiastic pleasure.
Finally, I also returned to Pynchon this year (for the first time since my Pyrrhic struggle with Gravity’s Rainbow as a teenager) by reading Inherent Vice, which is likely the funnest thing I’ve read all year. I’ve always thought that Pynchon’s work was unfilmable, but the pairing of Inherent Vice and Paul Thomas Anderson – who is directing an adaptation for release in 2014 – seems a perfect melding of sensibilities.
What FSG book(s) are you looking forward to giving this year?
Karl Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 1 for all my old friends, who must often wonder what would have happened if Marcel Proust had grown up listening to David Bowie and Talking Heads.
– Alex Star
I think I’ll give my mother Janet Malcolm’s Forty-one False Starts, if only for this sentence: “Robert Pincus-Witten is a short, fresh-faced man with a sleek, well-tended look about him who seems younger than his fifty-odd years and who speaks with the accent of that nonexistent aristocratic European country from which so many bookish New York boys have emigrated.”
– Tobi Haslett
Unsurprisingly, this year the Packer and the Finkel are the heavy hitters on my list, leavened by some Seamus Heaney, in memoriam—I anticipate some weighty conversations over Christmas dinner. How Architecture Works is my sleeper favorite for the year; it’s caused me to pay much more attention to the spaces and buildings around me and really changed the way I look at our manmade environment. But there will also be some repeat performances of old favorites: Skippy Dies by Paul Murray; the Patrick Melrose novels by Teddy St. Aubyn; Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra; The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman; and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Danny Kahneman (it just makes you smarter). The readers on my list probably dread my literary gifts—death, drug addiction, dictatorship, cognitive biases and illusions, the “negative” path to happiness…bah humbug!
– Gabriella Doob
The hands-down most requested FSG book on my gift list this year is Alice McDermott’s Someone. I love each and every one of her novels but, to me, this is her best yet. I was very impressed with Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest – such lyrical beauty and maturity from a debut writer. I can’t wait to see what she does next. It’s the perfect escapist reading for the holiday break. And I’d like to send a copy of George Packer’s The Unwinding to every member of Congress, the board of the Fed, etc… don’t get me started!
– Sarita Varma
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor: I’m giving this to a former publishing colleague who is now a priest, and also to a friend who’s a writer.
– Debra Helfand
The Sjón titles to my brother-in-law, who read the NYRB review and couldn’t stop talking about them. Someone to my mom, because it received rave reviews from every women’s magazine she subscribes to.
– Abby Koski
Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth is the perfect short story collection. Her clean, restrained prose, the violence that lurks at the edges of her stories, the distanced, wounded women at their center—all make her the heir to those female writers of the seventies whose voices I can’t get out of my head: Joan Didion and Renata Adler and Joy Williams. Lots of my friends will find me pressing this collection on them this holiday season. My dad, my uncle, and my grandfather will all be treated to a copy of Monsters in December. That side of my family is from Green Bay, but still: I think they’ll appreciate how Cohen absolutely nails football as a reflection of America and how lovingly he evokes the fan’s relationship with this terrifying, awe-inspiring sport.
– Miranda Popkey
It’s no secret that I’m giving The Unwinding to nearly every member of my family. We’re all interested in contemporary history and politics and it’s such a compelling page-turner that I can recommend it to anyone. It’s also the sort of book that you don’t want to miss—I think it should be an important part of our national conversation. My uncle and my in-laws—sports fanatics—are usually a nightmare to shop for. This year, thank god for Rich Cohen’s Monsters.
– Chris Richards
Anyone politically inclined in my family that hasn’t already read The Unwinding is getting a copy. My sister, a math major at Skidmore, is going to get a galley of Amir Alexander’s Infinitesimal, about the exciting history of the political/religious dispute over a mathematical concept that undergirds both calculus and modern science. My grandfather, a WWII history buff, is getting Warsaw 1944.
– Laird Gallagher
How Architecture Works will go to my father, an inventor and engineer who will appreciate Witold Rybczynski’s take on the beautiful art of building. I raced through Wonder Women, and now I’m giving a copy to my mother as I’m eager to compare our reflections as working women of different generations. I’ll give a copy of The Isle of Youth to a twenty-something friend of mine who will love this bold and brave new storyteller.
– Amanda Moon
The Master of Us All to my friend who works in fashion and loves Balenciaga.
– Nnenna Odeluga
I am eager to give Play it Again to my dad, who is an amateur musician and always intrigued by new ways to learn and practice. I’m also excited to surprise my brother with Ajax Penumbra 1969 because Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore has become his all-time favorite book, and he’s always hopefully asking me if Robin Sloan has a new book out yet.
– Iza Wojciechowska
Zibaldone by Leopardi. Finally translated into English, this is the most important contribution to literature this year. Hild by Nicola Griffith. A gorgeous package, a wonderful historical novel for those who like to disappear into a world and not surface for weeks.
– Devon Mazzone
Down There on a Visit – and if you’re giving it to someone you really like, you might as well just give ’em the whole Isherwood set.
– Nick Courage
I’m looking forward to gifting Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal to my mom this year for Christmas. As a fellow Catholic Southerner, I think she’ll enjoy reading O’Connor’s early thoughts and ideas.
– Katie Kurtzman
Forty-one False Starts will likely make its way to a few writerly friends because there’s really no one who can write an essay like Malcolm. And I’ll probably give A Prayer Journal to my stepfather because he’s a priest and a writer. The Isle of Youth for my sister because she likes to think that she’s a badass. Someone for Mom.
– John Knight
Fin & Lady to my boyfriend’s mother, who I think will appreciate its charms, The Night Guest to my sister-in-law, who likes books that keep her guessing, The Isle of Youth to several female friends.
– Amber Hoover
I’ll give George Packer’s book, The Unwinding, to lots of different people. It’s a useful Christmas present, because even those relatives who don’t tend to read hefty non-fiction tomes will enjoy it; the characters whose lives Packer so sensitively describes make for real storytelling pleasure.
– Mitzi Angel
Previously: FSG’s Favorite Books of 2012
Sarah Scire works at FSG. You can find her online @skeery