Face it: The economy for regular people isn't any better, even if Wall Street is booming. Unemployment is still too high, which means many people are struggling. So why not buy your friends and loved ones books for the holidays? After all, books are cheap, and if things get desperate, they make great kindling once the power gets turned off!
Here's an indie-book/potential kindling guide to help you with your holiday shopping.
Welcome to the Freak Show
Lynnee Breedlove's One Freak Show (Manic D Press, $14.95) offers hilarious, gender-bending comedy that will spread much mirth among your LGBT friends. Lynn Breedlove penned the acclaimed and more downbeat speed-dealing-bike-messenger novel Godspeed, so it's cool to discover a more humorous side of this author, who also fronts the queer punk band Tribe 8.
One Freak Show hits every funny bone, from the inherent gayness of Oktoberfest-inspired lederhosen to the easiest way to maintain your female-to-male tranny figure ("at five bucks a roll, you can wear duct tape for weeks in jail before it starts falling off") to the best technique for boosting one's immunity: licking public pay phones at the Greyhound bus station. If there's a hardcore freak in your family, stuff this book into his or her stocking.
For the short-fiction lover on your list, we recommend Tod Goldberg's Other Resort Cities (OV Books, $16.95), which features 10 tales set in various vacation towns (Las Vegas, Palm Springs, etc.). Each is funny, insightful and overflowing with fascinating characters.
Take, for instance, "Mitzvah," in which a mob hit-man disguises himself as a Sin City rabbi to avoid being hunted down by U.S. marshals. To his own amazement, Rabbi David Cohen (aka Sal Cupertine) makes a pretty decent Jewish religious adviser: "He'd found that if he simply dropped the Midrash into conversation, rejoined with the word 'essentially,' and then paraphrased Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen, people left him feeling that they'd learned something."
Darkly funny and ferociously readable, Other Resort Cities is a book you'll want to spend your entire holiday reading. Because of the subtle crime plots that give each story momentum, Goldberg's book doubles as an ideal choice for mystery-lovers.
Poets and puppets
Somewhere in every family or group of friends, there's a closeted poetry aficionado — for whom we suggest Travis Wayne Denton's awesomely in-your-face debut, The Burden of Speech (C&R Press, $14.95). His poem "The Dickens" is everywhere on the Internet and stands as one of those instant classics that will likely outlive us all, especially when you consider lines like: "Outside tonight mosquitoes buzz like alarm clocks, sirens. / And on the radio is Miles Davis blowing like the Dickens, / lulling me to the island of my bed / where I will sleep like the Dickens."
Denton, a Georgia professor, has that rare ability to be both erudite and intelligible, making his work the perfect choice for both novices and verse fiends. He writes down thoughts the rest of us spend our whole lives trying to push away. If the title "Postcard to My Wife Who Thinks of Leaving" doesn't intrigue you, nothing will.
Got a comic-book enthusiast/borderline alcoholic in your life? Pour 'em a stiff shot of graphic goodness with Drunk: A Comic About Bar Stories (vegasdrunk.com, $25). This limited-edition hardcover contains stories by 25 national alt-comics artists, including Ivan Brunetti (Misery Loves Comedy), Kim Deitch (The Stuff of Dreams) and Laurenn McCubbin (Rent Girl).
Whether chronicling the misadventures of a hand-puppet demon that parasitically attaches itself to a tavern-dweller until the host dies of starvation (thanks, F. Andrew Taylor) or profiling a distant relative of Billy the Kid who once got so bored that he tattooed the head of his penis (much obliged, Jim Pink), Drunk delivers tall tales of watering holes and is never less than fun — or, in the case of Noelle Garcia's untitled alcoholic-dad ditty, totally heartbreaking. Pick up this book if you want to understand the darkness and light that comes from too much time bellying up. (Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword. Don't let that dissuade you.)
'Heaven and Hell' and Hitler
For the metalhead in your midst, we gently ask you to crank up the literary volume to 11 with the excellent Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces (Da Capo Press, $18.95). Decibel magazine editor-in-chief Albert Mudrian uncovers the hidden stories behind some of the greatest death-metal, grind-core and doom releases of the last three decades.
Many of the selections — Slayer's Reign in Blood, Converge's Jane Doe — are no-brainers, while others are a little head-scratching, like, say, Kyuss' Welcome to Sky Valley. But once you read this fantastic series of interviews with the artists responsible for all of this top-notch noise pollution, you'll know why even the snobbiest rock critics have no choice but to throw up devil horns to these works of sonic art. If you're a musician, though, learning that Ronnie James Dio only took a few minutes to compose the lyrics to Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" may depress you.
For the political junkie/historian in your posse, here's a very thought-provoking pamphlet that is almost guaranteed to piss off both sides of the aisle: Laurence M. Vance's Rethinking the Good War (Vance Publications, $5.95). A libertarian thinker and Baptist theologian, Vance reconsiders the dark legacy of World War II.
Although the war resulted in Hitler's defeat and Japan's surrender, the Good War kicked off a lot of bad things in the world, like the first nuclear attacks on civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the vast build-up of America's military-industrial complex, and a body count that exceeded 50 million. What's so good about all that?
Vance, whose previous books include Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, condenses much of the information found in Pat Buchanan's Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, and Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, but also provides his trademark analysis and pleas for a more sane interpretation of the past.
Beauty in unexpected places
Looking for a debut novel about a 14-year-old who lusts after his mom? OK, don't answer that. But do give serious consideration to Thomas Nesbit's exceedingly funny Deep Fried (smashwords.com, price varies), in which Eddy Funderburke's temptation is described as not "some flippy-dippy hunger like a craving for Twizzlers. We mean serious. Despite negotiations with his id and Jesus of Nazareth, neither would take away the obsession."
Nesbit earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Boston University in 2005, transforming his dissertation into his first book, Henry Miller and Religion. Indeed, the author of Tropic of Cancer is a big influence on Nesbit, as is Clyde Edgerton. In any case, Fried is a cool, picaresque story of a showtunes-obsessed young man striving to escape his North Carolina trailer for a cruise-ship singing gig. The best part: Fried comes in several different e-book formats, and you can name your price — even if all you can afford is free!
Finally, for the cookbook bandit in your clan, there's the beautifully illustrated Easy Japanese Cooking: Veggie Haven (Vertical, $14.95), a Japanese take on the hippie lifestyle. With vegetables as the focus, the 80-plus recipes include seasoned tofu salad, spicy pickled cucumber, lotus root and tofu burger, and veggie fried rice. There is also a section on soups and pasta dishes.
Culinary artist Kentaro Kobayashi, formerly a carnivore, was blown away by a veggie curry and became a convert to all things green and leafy. Give this to a meat-eater in your family, and tell him to chew on it.
Jarret Keane writes for Tucson Weekly, where a version of this story first appeared.