What books to give? Ask local lit celebs!

Michael Showalter has some wet hot American gift ideas. Photos by Doug Campbell.

What do local authors and lit celebs Emma Straub, Michael Showalter and David Rees think you should give for the holiday? If you were at Greenpoint’s Word Bookstore this weekend, you would have found out in person. But if you missed it, we were there to collect their suggestions; plus we asked for some cheap gift ideas, for your non-bookish friends, and — in one case — got a lesson in artisinal pencil sharpening. Book suggestions ranged from classics to new releases, and cheap gift ideas ranged from the free (a sonnet) to the practical (batteries) to the awesome (gift certificates to a bar) to the creepy (cat hair crafts).

Emma Straub (author of Other People We Married)
Book recommendation? Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant ($15.95). A collection of short stories set (where else?) in Paris.
Cheap gift idea? Straub suggested another read, Crafting with Cat Hair, by Kaori Tsutaya and Amy Hirschman ($14.95). We’re not sure if you should be gifting the crafts themselves, or just the book — maybe start with the book, gauge the reaction, and then pull out the adorable cat hair finger puppet.

Sarah MacLean (A Rogue By Any Other Name)
Book recommendation? Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase ($7.99). “Yeah, so I write kissing books,” MacLean said, championing the oft-overlooked realm of romance novels.  “If you’re going to start with romance, or you have anyone who reads romance novels, I’d suggest Loretta.” She called Lord of Scoundrels the greatest modern romance novel ever written — the hero is dark and brooding, and the heroine isn’t a slouch either. “She shoots him, which is awesome.”
Cheap gift idea? “For the writer in your life,” MacLean said, pick up Stranger Than Fiction starring Will Ferrell; you should be able to pick that up for under $15 anywhere that sells DVDs. Or a pair of fingerless gloves — MacLean looks for them on Etsy. (The price varies; you can find some at Etsy for about $16, or just find a pattern and knit them yourself!)

Michael Showalter (Mr. Funny Pants)
Book recommendation? The Best of Roald Dahl ($16.95). “I haven’t read this book in a really long time,” Showalter said. “I don’t really remember it.” But he knows he loved it when he last read it, and he also recommended a book he’s currently reading, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn by Suleiman Osman ($29.95, hardcover). The book traces the origins of gentrification in Brooklyn, from its roots in the 60s and 70s to present day.
Cheap gift idea? Showalter rattled off a litany of practical gift ideas. Batteries. Tape — all kinds. Electrical, duct, Scotch, masking. “A bag of Skittles. Any kind of bag. Doesn’t have to be a nice bag.” In fact, it shouldn’t be a nice bag. Last on his list: Steven Miller Band’s greatest hits. (Which you should be able to pick up for about $10.)

Emma Straub.

Amor Towles (Rules of Civility)
Book recommendation? Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky and Christine Lo ($30), and History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor ($25).
Cheap gift idea? Towles suggested writing a sonnet for someone. Make sure it’s halfway decent, though.

David Rees (Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror, 2001-2008)
Rees was busy artisinally sharpening pencils (an involved process employing archaic and elegant tools of the trade) so we didn’t get book or gift recommendations. His artisinally sharpened pencils themselves might make an excellent gift for someone with a sense of humor about their writing instruments. His website artisanalpencilsharpening.com says: “His artisanal service is perfect for artists, writers, and standardized test takers. Shipped with their shavings and a ‘certificate of sharpening,’ these extra-sharp pencils make wonderful gifts.”

Josh Ritter (Bright’s Passage)
Book recommendation? Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark ($13.95).
Cheap gift idea? Handmade books. Ritter said he likes filling a notebook with clippings, writing, and anything else. “Usually they turn out terrible” (so modest!) but it’s a thoughtful gift, and the price is right.

Haley Tanner (Vaclav & Lena)
Book recommendation? The Adults by Alison Espach ($15). According to Tanner, The Adults offers smart girls, lots of sex, is “LOL” funny, and “a rare read.” We’re intrigued.
Cheap gift idea? Perhaps our favorite suggestion: gift certificates to bars. Sure, it “seems a little grungy,” she said, but at a spot like Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, $20 gets you a whole night of fun. And the gift certificate ensures the recipient is spending their money on important things, like booze. Another idea? Her brother bought her a five-gallon jar of pickles for Hannukah one year. (She loves pickles.) Ritter seconded, and broadened, the idea: “Bulk foods.”

Follow Doug: @_dougcampbell.

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