Halloween isn’t here yet, and large pumpkins are yet to make it to the stores, but Christmas is already out at IKEA outposts. Normally, I can’t stand this conversion of exciting anticipation into acquisitive anxiety, compelling people to buy Fall in the Summer, Ski in the Fall, Valentine in January, Easter in February, and so on.
Much as I loathe this seasonal shopping disconnect, I’ll follow IKEA´s lead and offer some Happy Holiday gift hints in mid October. This considering serious types of gifting anxiety – e.g. what to get for people who believe they’ve seen it all, got it all; or people who’ve liberated themselves from materialistic pleasures, but vividly recall who fails to give them a wrapped package – compounded by the additional postal delivery problems of our times: online shopping [more postal packages than ever to deliver], Nowism [the need for everything right now, including packages ordered from across the ocean], terror wars [more careful scrutiny of package contents than ever], and the Euro-zone crisis [more careful scrutiny of package contents than ever.]
To alleviate gift purchase anxieties and minimize postal gift packages going AWOL, I propose books with very unusual structures – a sure thrill for those able to appreciate their quirky uniqueness, a.k.a. cultural snobs and connoisseurs, and apt to produce a confused and disappointed ¿qué? in the hands of everyone else, meaning, a very remote possibility of a Waiting-for-Godot type of express delivery.
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston is a novel in scrapbook format telling the adventures of a young woman aspiring to be a writer in the 1920s.
Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton is the story of a relationship, i.e., a love story where the couple didn’t necessarily live happily ever after, in the form of an auction catalog.
A Void by Georges Perec is a 300 page missing person mystery without the letter “e”, heroically translated to English by Gilbert Adair from the French original, where the letter “e” is an epicurean vocabulary essential, as in, Qu‘est–ce que c’est la vie?, meaning, “what is life?”
Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish is another novel playing with missing letters. Chapter 1 uses only words that begin with A, chapter 2 uses words that begin with A and B, and so on until chapter 27 where the process is reversed: the letter Z disappears, then Z and Y, and so on until chapter 52 where only A words exist. [Not to be braved after festive doses of Holiday Punch, Glögg or Glühwein .]
The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson is a semi-autobiographical, deeply moving personal work with fixed first and last chapters plus 25 other chapters in between to be read in any order. [Very convenient amid all the distracting relatives, parcels and edibles of the holidays.]
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is not exactly a unique format, but rather, as Amazon aptly puts it, “as if the Blair Witch Project had been a book […] written by Nabokov […] and revised by Stephen King“. All in all, a terrific and horrific literary debut.
On this bizarre mesmerizing beat, and to conclude this unusual list, I recommend to all that read German well [unlike me] Unterwegssein ist Alles by Jürgen Ploog, friend and neighbor, Lufthansa pilot in the early days of commercial aviation, pals with William Burroughs and pioneer of the German literary non-conformist underground. Until an English translation of his work is available, take a sneak peak here, here and here. Merry Pre-Xmas and Fiery Fall!