Published Dec. 13, 2022
By EMMA BROWN and SHAYLA DUTTA
Everyone knows gifting books can be a treacherous ordeal, often ending with expensive hardcovers gathering dust on a long-forgotten shelf. This gift guide, thoughtfully penned by The Sandpiper’s most voracious readers, is here to eliminate any doubt while shopping for the bibliophiles in your life.
The perfect book for the person who needs…
… a good cry
“Normal People” (2018) by Sally Rooney
“I’m not a religious person but I do sometimes think God made you for me.”
This heartbreaking tale of two desperately codependent teenagers walks the familiar path of love, trauma and growth with bitter hopefulness and infinite pain. Connell, a popular athlete, and Marianne, an outsider both at school and at home, engage in a tortured relationship over the course of high school and college in a story told through glimpses of the duo’s lives as they orbit one another. Be warned: Reading Rooney’s sophomore novel requires setting aside time for quietly contemplating the meaning of love, loss and self-worth. That shouldn’t dissuade anyone from diving in. The palpable sadness of “Normal People” represents Rooney’s authorial prowess, her ability to convey intense emotions through seemingly uneventful dialogue and tone alone.
… renewed faith in humanity
“Anxious People” (2019) by Frederick Backman
“If our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.”
“Anxious People” features Backman’s hilarious characters, as well as a bittersweet father-son relationship, an expecting (often bickering) couple, a monkey, a frog, a rabbit (sort of) and, of course, a hostage drama. Through frank third-person narration and frustrating police interviews, the reader will indulge in the insanity that begins when a bank robber makes the mistake of trying to rob a cashless bank. In the thief’s flight, the individual accidentally takes a mismatched group of apartment viewers hostage. While this book isn’t a romance, it’s most certainly about love, looking past first impressions into the heart of each endearing, imperfect character to leave readers with more compassion for the people around them, a powerful reminder that we’re all just trying our best.
… a strange departure from reality
“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” (2018) by Ottessa Moshfegh
“In my frenzied state of despair, I understood: there was stability in living in the past.”
Faithful to Moshfegh’s quirky writing style, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” relies on the author’s ability to immerse the reader. The narrator, an unnamed, beautiful Columbia graduate, is depressed after her inattentive parents’ deaths, isolated despite the attention of her only friend, Reva. The narrator abuses her inheritance, pursuing a careless psychiatrist who prescribes her with a cocktail of medications. In an effort to avoid her problems, ranging from her ex-boyfriend to her recent job loss, the narrator devolves into a pill-powered slumber–an attempt to sleep through an entire year. Though little occurs throughout the novel, the reader remains faithfully engaged in the narrator’s quest for relaxation based solely upon Moshfegh’s ability to create reality with words.
… a transcendent experience
“The Secret History” (1992) by Donna Tartt
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”
In the greatest novel we’ve read, Tartt’s writing is nothing short of sensational, a combination of vivid, poetic composition and rich vocabulary that potentially requires a dictionary. When Richard moves to Vermont to attend college, he’s enchanted by a tight-knit group of students studying classics and sets his mind to joining the class, leading him down a road of darkness. As Richard’s friends continually hoodwink him with their aristocratic, erratic behavior, the group spirals out of control, turning to murder in the pursuit of knowledge. The novel’s sinister themes are complemented by the endearing voice of an increasingly evil narrator who leads the reader through a descent into darkness, leaving them quivering before their own rationalization of malevolence.
… an inspiring true story
“The White Album” (1979) by Joan Didion
“What we are witnessing here is a writer undergoing a profound and continuing cultural trauma, a woman of determinedly utopian and distinctly teleological bent assault at every turn by fresh evidence that the world is not exactly improving as promised.”
Didion shines in her 1979 collection of essays, covering topics from dam construction to the Black Panthers. While the collection focuses on major California events in the late 1960s, Didion’s powerful language and subtle thematic references give the essays lasting power. “The White Album” is endearingly quirky, showcasing the writer’s micro-obsessions with a variety of topics while simultaneously piquing reader curiosity. Didion’s journalistic prowess shines, demonstrating an unrivaled storytelling ability and narrative style. The journalist’s diction elevates the collection, giving the reader some new words to try out in conversation, while also highlighting Didion’s wit and intelligence. For future writers or those just looking to experience a work of literary genius, “The White Album” is a must-read.
… a break from social media
“The Circle” (2013) by Dave Eggers
“We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown?”
While diving into any good book is technically a break from social media, this one has the potential to enact lasting change. What begins as Mae Holland’s exciting new job at fast-rising tech giant The Circle slowly evolves into something much darker. In uncanny dissonance with the reader’s growing discomfort, Mae herself is not so bothered by the growing threats to her relationships and privacy. Her optimism and excitement–punctuated with occasional moments of clarity–blur the line between normal and intrusive, reality and dystopia. While many dystopian novels can feel removed, or at the very least futuristic, this novel’s once similarly distant dystopia now feels frighteningly close to reality. Enough so that you might power off social media for a few days…. We certainly did.