Holiday Roundups 

Books for writers, humor, and lit sluts, among others.

... for fear (or call it perspective)

Cure the Christmas cheer with books to make your loved ones fear for their safety, their health, and the future of society. Diet for a Dead Planet(The New Press, $24.95) is a chilling exposé of American farming and supermarket practices. Between pesticide spraying, mad cow disease, and anticompetitive price supports, everything on that Yuletide buffet is contaminated with something. Fortunately, aptly named author Christopher D. Cook has some useful suggestions for improving our planet's diet, making this more than just an alarmist screed. If poisoned food doesn't make that skin crawl, try The Little School (Cleis, $14.95). In this cheery number, Alicia Partnoy recounts her incarceration at an Argentine detention camp for political prisoners. Constantly blindfolded and starving, she amused herself by playing with tiny balls of bread. Her story is as heartfelt as it is gut-wrenching -- just the thing to put holiday blues in perspective. Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival (Norton, $14.95) offers more scary stories, this time about climbers caught in avalanches and crash victims staggering through jungles. Gonzales' aim is to explore why some survive such catastrophes and others don't, but the anecdotes will excite any armchair panicker. Weary shoppers would do well to browse Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart (Basic Books, $25). A stirring indictment of our country's cheapest purveyor of Yuletide cheer, it describes the sex discrimination experienced by Wal-Mart employees -- and the East Bay women who decided to fight back. Author Liza Featherstone has a flair for research and a way with words; this work may well scare you off big-box stores for good. So if tape-recorded sleighbells and blinking lights aren't having their desired effect, make this season a little different. Wrap up these books and spread some holiday fear. -- Anna North

... for lit sluts

For the coolwatcher, relentless youth, or Europhile on your list, there's nothing like a novel billed as adventurous, daring, and cutting-edge. From Italy comes 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed (Grove, $22), authored by the underage Melissa P. In a graphic diary format, 100 Strokes chronicles the sexual awakening and disillusionment of a self-absorbed teenager who goes from being an idealistic virgin to a potent yet not entirely satisfied siren. Brass (Canongate, $14), the debut novel of 27-year-old Brit Helen Walsh, enters the world of bisexual college student Millie. This array of dizzyingly intense sexual and drug-addled escapades is told from two perspectives -- those of Millie and her male best friend Jamie, who, to the eventual consternation of both, becomes engaged to a woman who isn't Millie. If you're thinking, "This is all fine and good, but what about a novel that isn't about sexual awakenings?," then consider the slightly more mature Nowhere Man (Vintage International, $13) by Bosnia's Aleksandar Hemon. It too is told from multiple perspectives, with every narrator looking in on the life of Josef Pronek, a Bosnian in his thirties who immigrates to the United States shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Though it's technically just a story about the not-especially-remarkable Josef, Hemon's language is singularly intricate, making even the seemingly ordinary appear beautiful. Lighter and even less sexual than any of the above is Gideon Defoe's slim, wacky, tongue-in-cheek The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (Pantheon, $15.95), in which a ragtag pirate crew encounters grisly murder, an evil bishop, and the Elephant Man. Set in a rather indeterminate year, The Pirates! includes both Charles Darwin as a character and references to things like Post-It Notes and Starburst candy. Pop culture: Never leave home without it. -- Kim Hedges

... for tiny eyes

It should go without saying that there is no worse judge of children's books than a child. Kids can read the same Dick and Jane book ten times over and no, they're not doing it for kitsch value. This being the case, parents should ignore their kids and pick only the titles that appeal to their own whims. Since picture books veer punishingly toward the moralistic these days, choosing one can be as easy as deciding which of society's ills you find most important. If homelessness gets you down, pick Monica Gunning's A Shelter in Our Car (Children's Books, $16.95), the sad story of an immigrant girl who lives in a rattletrap sedan. For you multiculturalists, The Milestones Project (Tricycle, $17.95) features kids from everywhere, plus text that proves we're really all the same. Now that families come in all sorts of modern configurations, Lesléa Newman's The Boy Who Cried Fabulous (Tricycle, $15.95) is a smart choice. Newman need not mention the G-word, but when little Roger stops a woman on the street to say, "What a fabulous purse, it's simply divine!" we all know exactly where he's coming from. (That's right, kid: When Mom shouts, "Go straight -- straight to class," just stick to being fabulous instead, and everything will be just fine.) Sometimes parents can use books to broach difficult topics. In Little Lord Farting Boy(North Atlantic, $15.95), author Scootchie Turdlow -- we can only hope that's a pseudonym -- introduces poor Arty, a flatulent bear cub who is ridiculed until he conquers his affliction with tai chi and seaweed cooked in rice vinegar. If this well-intentioned didacticism is overwhelming, there's no harm in resorting to pure, meaningless entertainment. In Laura Henson's Ten Little Elvi (Tricycle, $12.95), baby Elvis impersonators dance around for no reason other than that it's damn funny to watch them. There's always time to make your kid a good citizen; why not just read something that makes you laugh? -- Zac Unger


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