I’ll be honest: I’ve pooh-poohed e-books for years, primarily for sensual reasons. A cold plastic Kindle or iPad doesn’t offer the same experience as paper and glue—the tactile sensation and distinct smell of bound literature.
Well, all that changed this month when I found myself buried under a teaching load of six college composition classes—enough to make Socrates beg for hemlock. I mean, have you ever graded 150 research papers? For two weeks, I self-administered a transfusion, replacing my blood with black coffee and whatever’s in those 5-Hour Energy vials.
Despite December’s stress, I managed to read a number of great tomes this year—many available as e-books. Now, some of you Luddites are saying, So? You can’t send an e-book as a gift. Actually, you can if you have a Kindle account, and the process is simpler than Stephenie Meyer’s prose. Just go online to the Kindle Store, and choose the book you want to send as a gift. Click the button that says Give as a Gift on the product detail page, then type in the e-mail address of the person to whom you’re gifting the book. If you’re unsure of the address, select Email the Gift to Me before placing your order so you can forward the gift email personally. You can even control the delivery date and include a gift message. The recipient can also—gasp!—exchange your e-book for another if he or she doesn’t appreciate, say, Finnegan’s Wake.
Anyhow, here are some cool e-books for those special literate someones in your life. The best part? Digital books are instantly transmitted. You’ll look technologically adept when, in fact, you barely had time to wipe your butt Christmas morning.
For the weird, magic-loving reader on your list who can’t get enough Criss Angel, The Witches of East End TV series or urban-fantasy mass paperbacks: Christopher Buehlman’s The Necromancer’s House (Ace, $10.99) is the scariest, sexiest, most-visceral novel of combat magic I’ve encountered. Andrew Blankenship is a warlock and recovering alcoholic living in upstate New York in a house of spell books and conjured sidekicks, one of whom places him in conflict with Baba Yaga, a hideous baby-eating character straight out of Russian folklore. Internet and cell-phone hexes follow, as does steamy romance. Buehlman is a vastly entertaining and imaginative author.
For the poetry-lover: David Kirby, 69, is the ideal bard of the digital age, since his verse comes across like a torrent of words and images. Less of a Twitter-twiddler and more of a Wikipedia warrior, he has a new autobiographical collection, The Biscuit Joint (Louisiana State University, $7.99), that is a blast of ingenious language. Whether meeting his favorite poet Seamus Heaney in the National Gallery to discuss sideshow freaks amidst Renaissance portraiture (“Backwards Man”) or constructing a reverie of an afterlife (“To Everyone Who Has Died Since I Was Born”), Kirby’s stanzas are like the carpentry effect inspiring his book’s title—seamlessly effective.
For the sci-fi/horror buff and The Walking Dead junkie: Hydra is Random House’s upstart digital imprint, overseen by Sarah Peed. The micro-house debuted this year with three titles, my favorite being William Todd Rose’s Apocalyptic Organ Grinder ($1.99), a zombie novella with plenty of cool twists. The main protagonist is Tanner, on a purifying mission to eradicate the infected “spewers.” One such spewer is Lila, whose family has been wiped out by cleansers like Tanner. What you have here are two opposing views in a conflict rife with symbolism, and a needling question: What does it really mean to “know your enemy”? A fun yet thoughtful read for anyone who digs living-dead yarns.
For the flash-fiction fan, ADD-suffering reader or David Sedaris admirer: Marina Rubin’s collection of micro-stories, Stealing Cherries (Manic D Press, $9.99), hits all the right notes with its humor, mild perversity and warmth. My favorite mini-tale here is “Mediterranean Tattoo,” in which Rubin and her small-town friend and fellow Euro-packer find themselves in the city of Nice, France, on the Mediterranean Coast, itching for ink on their skin. I won’t give away the ending except to say this: Sometimes what frightens us isn’t so much the pain of death as the death of pain. Poetic, punchy and packed with vignettes, Stealing Cherries will pop your brain.
For the gay-erotica enthusiast and vodoun completest: Widely recognized as the leading editor of adult-themed anthologies (seriously, Google him), Shane Allison’s much-anticipated debut novel, Through the Heart (JMS, $2.99), is a delightful mash-up of Zora Neale Hurston, Wes Craven and Anaïs Nin. The story is set in Tallahassee, Fla., and centers on Tashawn, who proposes to his boyfriend, Kendrick. On that night, though, tragedy strikes. Tawshawn consults with a mambo asogwe, a high priestess of voodoo, to reunite with his lost lover. The young spell-dabbler must make a hard choice: Should he keep the man of his dreams, or keep his soul intact?
For the horror cinephile or Stephen King aficionado: DarkFuse is my go-to digital publisher for cutting-edge dark fiction, and its digital library (and my own) grew immensely in 2013. My favorite late-night read this year? Nicole Cushing’s Children of No One ($2.99), about a behavioral-art experiment in Nowhere, Indiana, gone terribly awry. This creepy yarn reminded of other great novels—The Shining, Hunger Games, The Silence of the Lambs—but Cushing’s synthesis is entirely original. As a result, my nightmares are plagued by a nihilistic villain named No One—who might very well end up haunting your dreams, too. Read with the lights on, please.
OK, there you have it—a last-second literary gift guide. You can thank me pulling your stockings out of the fire, well, next year.