The perfect last-minute gift: A good read

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So strange, it must be true
So strange, it must be true (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Carolyn Kellogg, who covers publishing for the Los Angeles Times, sits on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and is one of the most influential journalists in the industry. In other words, she reads more than most mere mortals and really knows her stuff. Over a cup of coffee, we talked about books as dandy last-minute gift ideas.

First, she recommends using the services of your local bookseller, who can, with a few data-points, usually make recommendations. (They read a lot, too.)

But Carolyn had a few of her own. For people who like contemporary nonfiction, she recommends “Limonov,” a biography by the French writer, Emmanuel Carrere. Who is Limonov?  Carolyn says he’s a Russian activist with lefty hippy anti-establishment ideals who lived a rogue artist’s life in New York, moved to France, and then became a fascist political figure in his native land.

She offers up two varied fiction selections: one for anyone in a long-term relationship who is trying to wrestle with that means. “Dept of Speculation” by Jenny Offill, a portrait of a marriage.”It’s so beautiful, almost like a prose poem,” Carolyn says, but more than that,”It eloquently express a lot of tensions people don’t want to talk about except with their shrinks or their girlfriends.”

Maybe a bit too honest for the average book club
Maybe a bit too honest for the average book club? (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

And “The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell, who Carolyn feels is one of our most brilliant writers. “There’s this supernatural element that involves time travel, vampires, and I think those things have kept him from these awards lists, but it’s a brilliant book. Huge, fun and a beautiful book cover,” she says. She recommends this book as a great, transporting read for yourself during the slow period around the new year.

Speaking of aliens, there are spaceships and other sorts of tripping in one of two books I’d like to personally recommend: George Clinton’s memoir, “Brothas Be, Yo’ Like George, Ain’t that Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” Despite its wacky title, this book is one of the most candid looks at the music industry you’ll ever read–and if you happen to love Funkadelic, all the better.

Funk, and a spaceship

Earlier this year, we told you about “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” by Jeff Hobbs, a local author. For anyone interested in race and class and education, it’s a must-read. Anyone on your gift list interested in the history of the Los Angeles art scene will enjoy Michael Fallon’s “Creating the Future.”

And if you’re looking for a gift for someone with children, consider “Born Reading” by Jason Boog. We talked to him earlier this year about his efforts to ensure his daughter became a passionate reader. You can see in our interview how it’s paying off.

Oh, and the Virginia Woolf novel Kellogg mentions in our chat? It’s “Night and Day,” first published in 1919, about the timeless themes of love, marriage, success, and happiness. It’s my holiday gift to myself: It was sitting in the coffee shop where Carolyn and I met, and it’s an excellent tale well-told.