Like The Great Gatsby and Ethan Hawke's The Hottest State, Julian Barnes’ novel The Sense of an Ending can easily be read in one sitting. For that reason (bonus reason: it creeped me out so hard I immediately wanted read it again) I’m putting it at the top of the first annual Black Balloon Last-Minute Gift Guide.
The Sense of an Ending makes a great default holiday gift because it's immune to the polite smiles and cautious thanks that inevitably attend book gifting. Before your recipients have a chance to say, "So...what is this?" you can tell them that it takes an afternoon to read, and that anyone with a family and a long-term memory will be delighted and thoroughly spooked.
Just don't tell them too much. I’m wary of making two mistakes: of giving anything away, and of overhyping it by suggesting that there’s some kind ofCrying Game twist. So I’ll just say that I started the book while waiting for a show to begin in Hamden, CT, and that soon a gothy teenaged girl came to my table to tell me that she and a friend had been watching my face hitch into frowns and hideous smiles as I read.
And now, as the station wagon of time skids toward the telephone pole of the holidays, here are a few more of our favorite 2011 books and albums.
- House of Holes. Vox author Nicholson Baker gets filthy. With lines like, “You got me feeling pussyish, Nedbody," this one's for the whole family.
- Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels. Trans diva Justin Vivian Bond's swift, funny memoir. For the Shortbus fan on your list.
- White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race. A thorough and well curated reader, covering everything from Los Crudos to Skrewdriver. If you've ever loved punk, one glance at the table of contents is all it takes.
- Crazy Clown Time. David Lynch goes solo, and it's creepy as hell. Karen O guests on the menacing opener "Pinky's Dream," but the show stealer is Lynch's terrifying falsetto on the title track.
- Beethoven: The Symphonies. BB blogger Todd Ferguson calls this album, helmed by Riccardo Chailly, the return of "radical Romanticism." And adds that the "intense and driven" performances would be the ideal accompaniment to some Clockwork Orange-style ultraviolence.
- Bad as Me. "A microcosm of Waits’ entire oeuvre," says Todd. A good Dad gift; certainly a safer alternative to the usual bottle of Johnnie Black.
- Glowing Mouth. Brooklyn dudes Milagres come into their own, putting together one of the most subtle, satisfying collections of the year. Like The Sense of an Ending, you can hand this to just about any given loved one and say, "Just give it a try. You won't be sorry."
One more thing: Amazon's great and all, but we urge you to do your holiday shopping mom and pop-style. North Brooklyn is home to two newish bookstores that make me tear up with gratitude every time I visit them—WORD for new books (and just a few blocks from the excellentPermanent Records), and Book Thug Nation for used.
Or you could take the family out for a yuletide meal at Wahlburgers.