One of the most surprising gifts I received for Christmas in my twenties, from my parents, was a copy of Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros. I was surprised both because I quite enjoy the work of Sandra Cisneros but had not, yet, purchased that specific book, but that my parents somehow deduced that I would like this book and probably didn’t already have it despite not living nearby enough to see what I was reading. (I still quite like Sandra Cisneros. What kind of monster lives in Texas and doesn’t like Sandra Cisneros?) The one thing I must stress about this book, though, is not only was it an excellent gift because it was very thoughtful. It was an excellent gift because it was big and impressive and a beautiful hardback that I still have floating around my wildly disorganized bookshelves. It’s BIG. B…I…G… And books that one gives as gifts should be big, I think. They should be books that feel heavy, and feel worthy of that weight. They should feel important. Books are thoughtful gifts for thoughtful people. And, they should be big. BIG. Bigger is better. And being thoughtful is also very important. One should not just casually buy a huge, monstrous book for someone expecting them to read it, but not sure if they will. One needs a plan, and research. Books make excellent gifts, but require more of the giver than a T-Shirt or a pair of cat socks. So, let’s spare a thought, then, for some excellent gift books that are long. Very long. Very, very long. And, let us also consider who, specifically, would like them.
So, with the burning, orgiastic closure of the Iron Throne’s fate, at least as far as HBO and pop culture are concerned, the many fans of the Song of Fire and Ice, there’s a gaping hole in their evening entertainment that needs to be filled. Looking for something hefty that has that labyrinthine plot, global stakes, and compelling characters in a fantasy world that feels ancient and full of corners begging to be explored, send for them the flintlock fantasy of Stina Leicht. Cold Iron at first seems to be a high fantasy adventure, where royal siblings struggle to establish themselves as independent adults inside the strict rules of their not-exactly-human society. Soon, there is a rumbling in the hills as old rules and old rituals are not completed, and all the squabbles of the world feel hollow against a rising, ancient power.
For other readers, perhaps those seeking that sense of the unknown in a vehicle that is unfamiliar, about landscapes that don’t hearken to familiar territories and other intellectual properties they like. The Vorrh is a forest, but not like any forest on this earth. It is a vast and cyclopean entity unto itself, a spirit energy that emanates through space and time and imaginations. It is a revolution in a farflung colonial city, a vivid place, where life and death are lived intensely, and the real is magical and the magic feels real. Intertwining narratives explore the ancient arboreal mystery of the Vorrh. It’s a book unlike other books. For readers who want something different, something strange and lost somewhere in an ancient forest, Brian Cattling’s vision is sweeping and grand.
For the literary traditionalist, the classic Americana vision of darkness and the ephemeral in Jeffrey Ford’s The Shadow Year will be familiar enough territory to anyone who worships at the altar of The New Yorker fiction desk, but it is more than just another literary fiction novel. There is a vein of the numinous and the unknown that threads through this family saga of a small town in New England. The darkness begins to swallow. The strange replica of the town in the basement seems to be a kind of spell that comes from the numinous quality of that period in childhood – and in America in the middle of the last century – where innocence seems to be fading out into the shadows.
But, is this book even big enough? It probably isn’t big enough. Do you need a BIG gift? A gift so BIG and so deep and so vast that whole seasons will be spent swirling inside of it? Do you need a book that contains multitudes, which themselves also contain multitudes? Pick your person’s genre, then, and select a VanderMeer anthology. They are big books. They are very big. I’m partial to the Weird, because it is truly breathtaking in its scope and depth, but I would be partial to things more strange and unsettling. For my father, I would give the Big Book of Science Fiction. For my aunt, I would give the Big Book of Fantasy. For my brother, the Big Book of the Weird. These hefty tomes of size and depth will be destined to have stories perhaps familiar, but also surrounded by new and exciting discoveries like Amos Tutuola, who was a huge standout in the Weird anthology, and with whom I was unfamiliar, but I now consider myself an admirer. Personally, I don’t yet own The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, and I have a strong feeling Santa Claus is aware of this and going to help me out.
It’s time to give some people some big books. What do you recommend, and to whom would you recommend it? Tell me in the comments!
Categories: Book Reviews