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Tomes for Christmas
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Tomes for Christmas

The Dispatch staff's book recommendations for last minute Christmas presents.

(Image created in Midjourney.)

It’s the day before Christmas, but we know some of you out there still haven’t finished your Christmas shopping. Struggling to find the perfect gift for that last person in your life? Want to beef up the gift selection you’ve already purchased? (Which, ahem, presumably includes a membership to The Dispatch.) Never fear, the Dispatch staff has got you covered! It’s a well-established fact that The Dispatch almost exclusively hires young people with old souls, so rather than Wii games or Shrinky Dinks or whatever it is the kids are into these days, we’re into books. Here are a few of our favorites, that we’d recommend you sneak under the tree at the last minute:

Harvest’s pick:

I want to specify that this book has not earned a status of “favorite,” but what it did do is haul me upright, dunk me in an ice bath, and fling me into what would be a roller coaster ride of a read, sans safety straps. It’s that kind of book.

The book is Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, which kicks off a dystopian science fiction series that weaves together political theory, Roman mythology, and lots—lots—of blood and gore. Darrow, a red miner on Mars, is at the bottom rung of a hierarchical, color-based society. He embarks on a bildungsroman as he seeks to infiltrate the world of the golds in a rather suicidal quest for galaxy-wide vengeance.

Mankind may have come a long way since leaving Earth, but the themes explored throughout the series—oppression, terror, justice, and vengeance—are age-old.

If you’re wanting a nail-biting tale that’s not quite like anything else, I recommend it! But if you (like me) tend to wince at graphic descriptions, perhaps pick up something more soothing. May I suggest Jane Austen’s best novel, Persuasion, Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, or Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s very lovely Before the Coffee Gets Cold?

Jonathan’s pick:

If you’re a fan of political thrillers, I fully recommend the Twelfth Imam series by Joel Rosenberg. The books follow an American spy living in Iran at a time when the country believes its messiah has come to earth to establish an Islamic caliphate. The series blends together actual modern Iranian politics, Islamic eschatology, and American foreign policy to create a compelling—and credible—alternate history. The books first sparked my interest in Middle Eastern politics almost eight years ago when I read them for the first time, and I’ve come back to them many times since.

Price’s pick:

Looking to give a book to someone interested in how American history has shaped our contemporary politics? Look no further than Colin Woodard’s 2011 book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Woodard argues convincingly that the United States has never had a unified national culture—and that long-simmering regional divisions over the meanings of freedom and the common good can help make sense of conflicts past and present. The settlers of Greater Appalachia, for instance were Scots-Irish borderlanders eager to get the government off their back—an ethos which, when transported to California and combined with the Puritan moral zeal of migrants from “Yankeedom” New England, produced a strange new region of its own: today’s Left Coast. Original, well-researched, and accessible, American Nations provides readers with a new mental map of North America that they’ll be thinking about for years to come.

Esther’s pick:

When you get right down to it, the plot of S, by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, is pretty basic: Boy meets girl via marginalia notes in a copy of a mysterious writer’s final, unfinished novel; boy and girl trade academic interpretations of the atmospheric novel you’re reading alongside them; boy and girl discover their attempts to decode the author’s identity have put their lives at risk.

Ok, so maybe it’s not that basic of a plot, but nevertheless, the real fun of this book is its unconventional format. Much of the story is told through margin notes, little codes in the text, and the postcards, code wheels, and scribbled-upon napkins that the characters in the margins have left for each other—and incidentally you, future reader—to find. It’s a great gift for any reader who likes books that play with what it means to be a book, or who just like puzzles and romance.

Alec’s pick:
Perhaps my favorite book of the year is the new-to-me Democracy: An American Novel by Henry Brooks Adams. Published in 1880, the book is a searing satire of political culture in Washington, D.C., that still, sadly, rings true today. Delightfully funny and insightful, Adams—descended from Presidents John and John Q.—tells the story of Madeleine Lee, a wealthy 30-year-old widow who comes to our nation’s capital to learn about power and politics. What she finds is politicians who put ambition above country, social-climbing politicos without principles, and a culture that elevates the most charming and least trustworthy among us. Like I said, it still rings true.

Alec Dent is a former culture editor and staff writer for The Dispatch.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Jonathan Chew is The Dispatch’s Social Media Manager

Harvest Prude is a former reporter at The Dispatch.

Price St. Clair is a former reporter for The Dispatch.