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 cousin has always been cooler than you. When you were kids she had more shinies in her Pokémon card deck, when you were at high school her indie band played all the house parties you weren’t invited to, and now she sneers at your Gap shirts while serving you artisanal coffee from her pop-up in Shoreditch boxpark. Buying her a present is always like entering a cultural minefield – how can you possibly avoid humiliation by the Christmas tree? Well, you can start by getting her any one of these six books, all so edgy they’ll give you papercuts:
Miranda July is probably the hippest writer (forward slash actor/artist/screenwriter/filmmaker) alive right now. I mean, look at the website for No One Belongs Here More Than You: it’s so alt it’s written on her fridge and stove. By choosing this, Miranda’s debut collection of whimsical short stories, you run the risk of getting your cousin something she’s already got. But consider the fact that the paperback comes in four colours. Surely she won’t have the whole lot? Miranda’s debut novel, The First Bad Man, is due to arrive next year, so your cousin should definitely give this a timely (re)read so that she can knowledgeably declare that she prefers her early work at the Book Club.
Your cousin is all insouciance and froideur, spending Christmas lunch staring at her iPhone and refusing to wear a colourful paper hat because it will ‘mess up [her] hair’. But what squishy feelings lie hidden behind that dead-pan exterior? Christmas is no time for cultivating Weltschmerz, so coax out her emotional side with Shoplifter. Graphic novels have been expressing twentysomething angst since Ghost World, but this debut’s protagonist, Corinna, is so similar to your cousin (an arts grad aspiring to the artistic life, hampered by humdrum reality), that it can’t fail to strike a chord.
Talking of shoplifting, why not give your cousin a book by the author of Shoplifting from American Apparel? Tao Lin has previously been portrayed as something of a Millennial enfant terrible (a blurb for his 2009 novel Eeeee Eee Eeee reads ‘a vegan dinner at a sushi restaurant is attended by a dolphin, a bear, a moose, an alien, three humans and the President of the USA, who lectures on the arbitrary nature of consciousness, truth and the universe before getting drunk and playing poker’) but his latest, Taipei, has been heralded as his big-time breakthrough. The Emperor’s New Clothes or the Hemingway of MacBook prose? Let your cousin decide.
Your cousin was the first in the family to sign up to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and all the other social media platforms (apart from LinkedIn, which she dismisses as ‘lamestream’). You’re starting to worry that her persona exists more online than offline, but when you confront her about it, she tells you to join the social media revolution. Enter Astra Taylor, who in this book suggests that the revolution is more of a ‘rearrangement’, and that the online world is beginning to mirror the old media model. This will warn your cousin to be warier of media machinations online, but also hopefully inspire her to enact positive change. Extra cool points: Astra is married to Jeff Mangum. Yep, that Jeff Mangum.
Your cousin has an iPhone, an iPad, and a MacBook Pro. When you ask her to meet you at the bar, she thinks you mean the Genius bar in the Apple store. In recent weeks, she’s taken to wearing all white and keeps muttering ‘think different’ under her breath. If you’re concerned she’s signed her synapses away to Apple Inc., Jonathan Franzen’s translation-cum-essay on/of the Austrian satirist, journalist, aphorist and playwright Karl Kraus is the gift to give. It will get her thinking critically about the ‘media-saturated, technology-crazed, apocalypse-haunted’ world she occupies, and it’s cheaper than a new iPhone.
If none of the above appeal, then why not go back to the original ‘cool book’, the Holy Grail of Hip-Lit, the Ark of the Covenant of Arch, Infinite Jest. Sure, nowadays it’s well-known enough to pop up as a symbol of intellectual cool in romantic comedies and gets made into Lego, but its prose remains as edgy and impenetrable as ever. And if nothing else, its sheer length and depth (1,079 pages, 483,994 words) will keep her ‘enjoying’ your present well into the New Year.
Words by Tom Killingbeck.
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