Christmas Gift Guides: Your All-American Aunt

This Christmas we’ve decided to make your present buying a lot less stressful by asking the 4th Estate team to hand-pick books for all your relatives. Hopefully this will mean less umming and ahhing in the bookshop, and more oohing and ahhing on Christmas Day…

Your All-American Aunt

american aunt

She wishes she had been born not within the sound of Bow Bells but within the roar of the Yankee Stadium. Her childhood heroes were Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. Her hair is Barbie blonde and her tan Californian, she drinks Manhattans just to say the name and insists on calling the pavement ‘the sidewalk’. You may not be able to buy her a one-way ticket to JFK but you can certainly make her holidays very happy indeed with one of the books from this collection of classic and contemporary works from the good old U S of A.


outsidersTHE OUTSIDERS by S.E Hinton (Puffin Modern Classics)

The All-American Auntie used to dream of becoming Cherry Valance and running away with Ponyboy Curtis, saving him from the Socs and his violent suburban world whilst drinking vanilla milkshakes and listening to The Ronettes. Whilst she may not have read this since 1972, the work remains a classic and the story of Ponyboy Curtis and his struggle to understand his violent world is just as pertinent today as it was in 1964.



the-doors-of-perceptionTHE DOORS OF PERCEPTION by Aldous Huxley (Vintage)

This is what she read (or at least pretended to have read) whilst at university (college) meeting new friends and trying new things. Huxley’s ground breaking work explores the effects of a mescaline trip that Huxley took one afternoon in 1953. Taking its title from a phrase in William Blake‘s poem, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, The Doors of Perception leads the reader on a rollercoaster ride of the senses, changing the way we see art and even religion.



Fear-and-Loathing-in-Las-Vegas-BookFEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Hunter S. Thompson (4th Estate)

This is what your Auntie graduated onto after The Doors of Perception. Via a cocktail of drugs, drink and cigarettes, Thompson explores writing or rather journalism whilst intoxicated and takes it to a whole new level with his creation of gonzo journalism. Recently made into a film starring Johnny Depp, perhaps the poster boy for narcotic experimentation, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is unlike anything else you’ve read and if your Auntie managed to miss its initial wave of popularity, she can join it now.


big sleepTHE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler (Penguin)

After Christmas lunch, when the washing up is done, the dogs are dozing and a log fire is crackling in the grate, The Big Sleep is what the All-American Auntie would like to settle down with. In the first of Chandler’s novels starring Philip Marlowe, a hardboiled LA PI, Marlowe finds himself working for the Sternwood family. Old man Sternwood, crippled and wheelchair-bound, is being given the squeeze by a blackmailer and he wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. But with Sternwood’s two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA’s seedy backstreets, Marlowe’s got his work cut out – and that’s before he stumbles over the first corpse. A gripping, suspenseful thriller, with many surprising twists and turns.


blondeBLONDE by Joyce Carol Oates (4th Estate)

Marilyn Monroe is who the All-American Auntie should’ve been, she too wanted the Norma Jean dream just like thousands of other peroxide blondes out there. In this gripping exploration of the life and times of Norma Jean Baker, Oates searches further and deeper than other writers before her and helps the reader to better understand who Ms Monroe was, what she meant and what her legacy has left us. Blonde perfectly combines the elements of America that Auntie finds so fascinating – fame, glamour, beauty, betrayal and one extraordinary story.


where'd you goWHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE? by Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

When the All-American Auntie tires of those around her and wishes they would all go jump in a lake, this is what she should turn to. The novel follows the story of Bernadette Fox. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence – creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world. An excellent counterpart to some of the grittier works on this list.

Words by Minty Eyre.


See also:

The Sport of Kingsbeautiful-and-the-damned Essential Bukowski: Poetry by Charles Bukowski, Edited by Abel Debritto
Left to right: The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan (4th Estate), The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Penguin), Essential Bukowski: Poetry by Charles Bukowski (4th Estate)



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