2012 Holiday Gift Guide: Books

I fell in love with reading at 13 when I bought Stephen King’s Thinner with my paper route money. Today I read several books per year, and listen to just as many in audio format. Here are several books that caught my attention this year, including comics, fiction and non-fiction. You’re sure to find something for at least one book lover on your list below.

Comics

My interest in comics was renewed in 2010 when I discovered The Walking Dead. Robert Kirkman’s comic, the inspiration behind AMC’s popular drama of the same name, reminded me of the horror comics I loved as a kid. While other boys my age we reading Spiderman, Batman and Superman, I went for horror anthologies. I felt a strong nostalgia while reading The Walking Dead, and with it my interest in the medium was renewed.

My collection is still modest, but I’ve got are some real winners my shelf. Here are a few favorites.

1. Crawl To Me by Alan Robert. This four-part miniseries by writer, artist and bassist for the band Life of Agony is particularly fun. Robert combines photos with illustration and a wash of color that makes unique and compelling art. In fact, it was the art that attracted me to this series. The story, while disturbing and not for everyone, pulled me in and kept me guessing.The surprise ending left me satisfied and relieved. Those who like short horror fiction will enjoy Crawl To Me, which is currently being made into a movie.

2. Blankets by Craig Thompson. This story of first love pulled me in so completely that I read its 582 pages in two days. Anyone who was ever in love as a young adult will immediately relate to the joy, the awkwardness, the innocence, the utterly charming naivety and the inevitable heartbreak that Blankest conveys perfectly. Thompson’s black-and-white art is beautiful and his characters are real and compelling. You feel for these people and you root for them, even though you know, as an adult who’s been around the block, what’s going to happen. Who is Blankets for? Anyone whose loved and lost. Boy, is it good.

3. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland by Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant. It isn’t immediately obvious, but this is a love story. Harvey Pekar, of American Splendor fame (Paul Giamatti played  him wonderfully in the movie) combines Cleveland history with the down-to-earth, everyman experiences that made American Splendor so great. Published posthumously and illustrated by LA-based Joseph Remnant, Cleveland belongs on the shelf of every Pekar fan. For a quick and woefully inadequate primer on Harvey, watch his appearance on The Travel Channel’s No Reservations.

4. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore.Yes, it’s a hit TV show on AMC and likely responsible for America’s current fascination with zombies. Well before undead flash mobs popped up in Boston demanding brains and chowdah, Kirkman envisioned a purposeful zombie story. “With The Walking Dead,” Kirkman wrote in the 2006 introduction to issue 01, “I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how these events CHANGE them. I’m in this for the long haul. You guys are going to get to see Rich change and mature to the point that when you look back at this book you won’t even recognize him. I hope you guys are looking forward to a sprawling epic, because that’s the idea with this one.” Six years later, the story continues in new comics and, or course, that super-popular show. The comic is black-and-white, gritty and a whole lot of fun.

5. Let Me In: Crossroads by Sean Phillips. Perhaps you can relate to his scenario. You read a book or see a movie and fall in love with its world or characters so much that you’re eager for more. That’s how I feel about this story. Crossroads is an authorized prequel to the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which has been made into two feature films: Let Me In and the original Let The Right One In. It’s the most compelling vampire story I’ve ever heard, and the four-part comic mini series describes events that happen just prior to those in the novel and films. The artwork is great (and a little gory), and the story leads nicely to the opening scene of the novel/film. Like I said, it has Lindqvist’s blessing. Fans of the movies/novel will enjoy Crossroads very much.

6. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. This graphic novel is absolutely endearing, and I’m eager to share it with my daughter in a few years. It’s about young teen Anya, whose family recently immigrated to America from Russia. She’s struggling to fit in by saying the right things, wearing the right clothes and having the right friends. It’s a struggle, as it is for so many girls. I don’t want to give too much away, but the story takes a supernatural turn that affects Anya in a big way. The drawings are so charming that you don’t want to put this book down. It’s definitely for the young adult audience, though parents will see its appeal, too. If you’ve got a teen girl on your shopping list who’s into supernatural young adult fiction, give her Anya’s Ghost this season. I’m sure she’ll love it.

Fiction

1. Scout Books. I fell in love with these earlier this year. Scout Books are tiny paperback books (just smaller than Fieldnotes Brand) with wonderful illustrations. Some contain a single story, some two or three. They look great and are fun to carry around. You can buy individual stories, three-packs, themed sets and even this great box set of American short stories. Stocking-sized.

2. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. There are three tales going on in this book: present day, flashback and science fiction. Atwood, one of my favorites, pulls them together in a most satisfying way. It starts as the story of two sisters, one dead. The surviving woman tells the story in bits and pieces, present day and flashback. Eventually the sci-fi story is introduced, and moving between the three tales is so much fun. The Blind Assassin won the booker prize in 2001.

3. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chang. Scott McNulty recommended this book to me and I’m glad he did. Publisher’s Weekly called it “The first must-read SF book of the year.” Stories of Your Life contains several short sci-fi stories that combine humor, science and compelling characters. The title story is my favorite.

4. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. This book is just that — dark. Four stories of people in horrific circumstances. In the book’s afterword, King writes, “If you’re going into a very dark place…then you should take a bright light, and shine it on everything. If you don’t want to see, why in God’s name would you dare the dark at all?” But it’s not just dark, it’s an exploration of what people might do in the most dire circumstances. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but definitely recommended.

Non-Fiction

1. Travels With Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck I grabbed this to accompany me on a week spent lakeside in New Hampshire. Nothing else has so accurately captured my own love of and experience with travel: “A journey is like a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguarding, policing, and coercion are fruitless…a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it.”

2. 60 Mountain Lion Tips by David Sparks and Brett Terpstra. Brett and David know what they’re talking about and present their knowledge in away that’s understandable, approachable and thorough. Plus, it feels so “futuristic” to learn about a computer operating system from a digital book on an iPad. Recommended for anyone who wants to get the most out of Apple’s OS.

That’s my list of books. Good luck shopping, and check back tomorrow for another gift guide post: gifts for home workers.

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