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Best Books for Gifts

PopMatters recommends this year's must-have books for your favorite bibliophile.

Best Books for Gifts

Coffee table comic strip collections, a magazine's entire history at your fingertips, and new novels by literary legends: PopMatters recommends this year's must-have books for your favorite bibliophile.

by PopMatters Staff

Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews by Timothy Archibald (Daniel 13 / Process)
In photographer Timothy Archibald's Sex Machines, inventor and invention are prominently displayed in their full glory, giving exposure to a subculture that is mostly ignored or relegated to mentioning only in whispery tones. Even curiouser than their plenty curious inventions are the homegrown folks behind machines like "The Thumpstir", "The Gang Bang", and "The Love Locker". This subculture of independent inventors toils away in finished-basement workshops between going to work for the local police force and real estate agencies; one inventor agreed to provide an interview and demonstration on the condition that it was complete before his kids got home from school. Suffering no lack of ingenuity, these masturbatory masterminds turn cast-off pasta machines and high-end mixers into motorized climax catalysts; the only blushing evidenced in this group is more likely the result of a good spanking than any modesty about their designs. Completely shattering any preexisting judgments, these sex machinery entrepreneurs are far more PTA and two-car garage than they are seamy and deviant.
-- Melissa Fischer

Joe Bob Briggs, Profoundly Erotic (Universe)
Doffing his drive-in critic hat for one of true cinematic scholarship, Texas Trash Titan Joe Bob Briggs (a.k.a. writer John Bloom) follows up 2003's amazing Profoundly Disturbing with another look at seminal titles that changed the face and facets of the movies. This time around the focus is on those films that used sex, and sexual themes, as their main narrative and marketing "thrust". After reading his detailed look at Mae West and 1939's She Done Him Wrong, you will never be able to look at the brazen prepackaged bombshell the same way again. Similar reactions accompany looks at Russ Meyer, Preston Sturges, and the notorious '60s scandal-fest I Am Curious (Yellow). Briggs is doing more here than just creating a list or firing off a litany of cultural talking points. This is entertainment erudition of the highest level, without any of the rube-style ridiculousness that usually accompanies a typical Joe Bob report.
-- Bill Gibron

Dalkey Archive
-- wow the literature lover in your life like few gifts can? Nothing says "you're special to me" more than a whopping 100 books, which is exactly what you get for a paltry $500 from Dalkey Archive. It's up to you whether you'd like to select the books yourself or have them do it for you. At hand is an inconceivable array of world writing, whether it's fiction from William H. Gass, Flann O'Brien, or Arno Schmidt, poetry by the likes of Jacques Roubaud and Lauren Fairbanks, or a volume of criticism, Dalkey Archive assembles the magnificent fringes of literature like few publishers.
� Shandy Casteel

The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956-1966 (Simon & Schuster)
Cynical critics and skeptical Dylan fans had their knives sharpened upon the release of The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, decrying the 45-buck coffee table book as nothing more than a blatant cash grab that's low on content and high on gloss, but those killjoys can't spoil what has turned out to be a mighty cool collection of odds and ends. A companion piece to the great Martin Scorsese-directed Dylan documentary No Direction Home, the scrapbook is not so much a source of new revelations about the great artist than a marvel of book design. Containing an amazing assortment of reprinted, removable inserts documenting the formative years of Dylan's career, each turn of the book's sturdy pages contains a new surprise, be it a page from Dylan's high school yearbook, pages of handwritten lyrics, programs from various concerts, or promotional items from Columbia Records (a bonus CD of interview clips is also included). The text by Robert Santelli is straightforward, tastefully written, and never fawning, using many quotes from Dylan himself, but the interactive element of the book is what makes it all worthwhile. Don't believe the naysayers; deep down, each and every Dylan fan wants to receive this snazzy volume for the holidays.
-- Adrien Begrand

Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert with Dave Marsh (Da Capo)
It's been a good year for Dylan fans of every medium. From No Direction Home, the Martin Scorsese film, to The Bootleg Series soundtrack to the film, to Douglas R. Gilbert's Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan, there is a little something for everyone right now. Gilbert's collection of photographs is a remarkable time capsule of Dylan as a young man. Taken over the course of a week or so in 1964, they capture a relatively unknown 23 year-old Dylan at ease with himself in Woodstock, Greenwich Village, and at the Newport Folk Festival. Originally taken by Gilbert while on assignment for Look magazine and beautifully presented in black and white, these images have never been displayed or available to the public. These are wonderfully candid shots of Dylan on a Triumph motorcycle, book browsing in the Village, and smiling, completely open. Throughout, Dave Marsh provides detailed, loving insight into the time these were taken. The package also includes four ready-to-frame prints from the book in 8x10 format (including the shot of Dylan on the Triumph). Forever Young is coffee table book of photographic art to be cracked open again and again.
-- Adam Besenyodi

Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion by Paul Grushkin and Dennis King (Eds.) (Chronicle)
For pure eye-popping beauty, this enormous book simply can't be beat. Chronicling the meteoric rise of poster art in the late 20th Century, it includes thousands of full-color reproductions, large and small, of posters from the obscure (Swinging Lovehammers, anyone?) to the expected (Phish and Pearl Jam basically have their own chapter). There are also essays on the sociological significance of this art, and biographies of the artists, but let's be honest, the real value of this book is in the pictures. Page after page, the images will tire you out with their brilliant colors and intricate designs. You'll be impressed, and possibly fairly disturbed, by the breadth of creativity on display, and for good reason. It takes a special kind of talent to make "Bush, Live at the Maui Multicultural Center" seem intriguing.
-- Ben Rubenstein

Until I Find You by John Irving (Random House)
On the surface, it appears that Irving's given in to his same old fixations � weird sexuality, strained relationships, wrestling, older women � but this time they serve as backdrops for his story rather than points of fixation. You also might guess that, given the book's length, Irving has also given in to his oft-mentioned Dickensian tendencies. In reality, the book needs all those pages (in fact, it might be too short). Until I Find You isn't as literary as some of Irving's earlier works, but it does display his great craft for storytelling. While developing an engaging plot, Irving offers insights into how we form our memories, and he does it well enough to make you forget the disaster of a novel that preceded this one. I won't tell about the characters, but at least Irving's found it again.
-- Justin Cober-Lake

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez; Edith Grossman (translator) (Knopf)
Gabriel García Márquez's first novel in ten years opens with an ominous sentence: "The year I turned 90, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin." Instead, the nameless narrator, who's never slept with a woman he didn't pay, falls in love for the first time. It's a tortured, misplaced, yet beautiful, sort � bestowed on a 14-year-old girl whose name he never learns. In his controlled prose, García Márquez delivers an affirmation of life in the face of imminent death. "I was transfixed by the agreeable idea that life was [ � ] a unique opportunity to turn over on the grill and keep broiling on the other side for another ninety years," the narrator discovers. The novel's slenderness works to its benefit; because it can be read in one sitting, its powerful message can escape ever getting diluted. The perfect gift for lovers of fine literature.
-- Ratha Tep

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Harvest)
Okay, so this book has been around the recommendation block a few times since its release in May of 2004. And, yeah, it was pretty much a perennial book club listing throughout 2005. But if you have a relationship with someone that you've ever been tempted to refer to as "fated", "kismet", or "meant to be", and the two of you haven't already stumbled into Audrey Niffenegger's bestseller, this insidiously compelling love story will work its way into your heart and touch that place inside that you keep hidden from the public (or display at the cost of rolled eyes and gagging sounds). And the reason it works is because it's hardly tripe. Sentimental, mystical, contrived, and romantic, yes, but The Time Traveler's Wife is also brutal, urbane, complex, and tragic as well. For a debut, Niffenegger's deft skill in controlling the intricately woven plot is only less surprising than the ability to completely sell characters and a story waist-deep in Twilight Zone pretzel logic. Impossible to describe without the result sounding like a tossed-off pulp sci-fi plot, or a saccharine romance novel for the X-Files set, the joyous and ultimately redeeming thing is that it transcends both, delivering a story that for all of its potentially cheesy fantasy, actually resolves itself into a harshly beautiful realism. If you have a Secret Santa need to give a sweetly sappy but literate gift this year, this book has arrived from the past to be your future. (Commence eye!)
-- Patrick Schabe

The Complete New Yorker: Eighty Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine, David Remnick, introduction (Random House)
The days of trekking down to the nearest library and fooling around with microfilm and fiche are long gone. Now readers can pop these DVDs into their computers and comb through 4,109 issues. That's a half a million pages containing some of the greatest magazine writing of the last millennium. Users can leaf through complete issues, page by page, with the ads, cartoons, and all. Especially useful is the option to print pages or leave bookmarks with notes. Anyone who has ever been of a fan of The New Yorker will cherish the opportunity to hold the entire history of the magazine in one hand, and as close as a mouse click.
-- Shandy Casteel

Harry Potter Hardcover Boxed Set (Books 1-6) by JK Rowling; Mary GrandPré (illustrator) (Arthur A. Levine)
-- yone that's missed the Harry Potter craze, or has been shunning it because of its enormous popularity? Show them the way with a collection of all six novels in hardcover. Sure, the series has some flaws, but overall it's a grand story that, like all good fables, has grown darker and more complex with each passing book. The best part is you'll only have to wait for the seventh book instead of spending years between each new volume. Count yourself lucky. Rowling has fashioned a ridiculously addictive world, which once you're drawn in, you'll be reluctant to leave behind.
� Shandy Casteel

The Complete Peanuts 1955-1958 Boxed Set by Charles M. Schulz; Seth (designer) (Fantagraphics)
This is the next installment in the Complete Peanuts gift set collection. It's just as beautiful as the previous edition, thanks to the designer and graphic novelist, Seth. The kids look brand new, with their little fat, squished heads. It's innocent times in Peanuts World, with Lucy and Patty and Linus and Snoopy and Charlie Brown all entering that awesome period between being a little kid and being a slightly older little kid. That's the time you learn to walk on two legs (if you're a dog), discover crushes, figure out your place in the crowd, and let go of your baby toys. Well, most of them. A great gift � comforting, like a warm blanket.
-- Nikki Tranter

The Beatles by Bob Spitz (Little, Brown)
Do we really need another book on the Beatles? Sure, they're the greatest rock band of all time, but didn't their own Anthology book and DVD set offer the final word on their legacy? Hardly. As Spitz points out in his exhaustively researched, 850-page tome on the Fab Four, Anthology should just be renamed Mythology. Spitz attempts to set the record straight once and for all, crafting the definitive account of the band's history, fleshing out even the most marginal figures into living, breathing characters. What do you get the Beatles freak who has everything? This.
-- Zeth Lundy

The Virginia Quarterly Review
The Believer

If reading is like breathing, then a subscription to The Virginia Quarterly Review and The Believer is an influx of fresh air. The VQR is an indispensable literary goldmine, having in the past published such illustrious writers as HL Mencken, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates, and Robert Frost. This year's fall issue contained a play from Tony Kushner and art from Art Spiegelman for starters. The Believer has never fully shaken off the cooler-than-thou irony of the McSweeney's set, but issue after issue delivers enlightening interviews, solid book reviews, and absorbing features. Try all you want, the magazine is hard to hate.
-- Shandy Casteel

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