A special novel?
April 11, 2014 9:30 AM   Subscribe

A family friend is graduating from high school and I would like to give her a gift. She is going to study literature at university so I would like to get her a book. I'm looking for recommendations for something special. Details inside.

I'm looking for something that is a bit more special than your average novel. I'm obviously not willing to spend a small fortune and buy her a first edition or anything like that, but I want to pick out something memorable. I was thinking about something that would perhaps be influential to her as she goes into a new chapter of her life. Anything else that you think would be suitable for someone at that age and stage is great too.

Details about her reading habits -

- She seems to gravitate towards novels/writers/themes that are a little beyond her years but certainly still manageable reads. (Her words, not mine.)
- She tends to find new things to read by reading The New Yorker and listening to NPR.
- Some of her favourite novelists include Michael Chabon, Richard Ford, and Margaret Atwood.
- She also enjoys essay collections. Mainly reads David Sedaris and David Rakoff.
- She enjoys modern literature more than the classics. She'll read classics if it gets her the grades and that's about it.

The main thing here is that it's special. I want something that she will want to keep and treasure.

Thanks in advance.
posted by sapien to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd scare up a 1990's era hardback of Donna Tartt's "The Secret History", which is a fantastic, romantic, novel set in a college. They threw down, with a fancy book design involving a translucent dust cover, with an image embossed on it, for the original printing. It was a mass-market book, so I don't think they will be very rare or expensive.
posted by thelonius at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I know you said no "classics," but I'd ask you to consider Flaubert's Madame Bovary. You can tell her its a cautionary tale about the danger of reading too many novels.
posted by Chrischris at 9:46 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about a really elegant blank book/journal, since she's heading off to college? Something like this might easily become a treasured possession for a new student.
posted by jbickers at 9:51 AM on April 11, 2014

A lot of lit undergrads get really into Joyce and Proust. Maybe a nice cloth-bound edition of Ulysses or In Search Of Lost Time?
posted by Sara C. at 9:56 AM on April 11, 2014

Terry Pratchett's Small Gods is a beautiful, hilarious book about learning how, when and whether to think for yourself.
posted by Etrigan at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2014

Jonathan Franzen has a collection of essays (some of which have appeared in the New Yorker and the NYT) titled 'Farther Away' that I found wonderfully engaging. I'm 34 years old, but I'm guessing if she likes Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen might be appealing.

I'm not sure what your budget is, and this is somewhat antithetical to your idea of a treasured novel: how about springing for a Kindle loaded with a few titles she may like? That's something she would conceivably use all through university, both for leisure as well as course-work-related reading.
posted by Everydayville at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2014

Seconding The Secret History. Donna Tartt published a new novel in the last year or so, The Goldfinch, which got quite a bit of press. So your grad might be familiar with the author after her NPR-New Yorker press junket.

Oh god, The Secret History is just so good--an ideal combination of page-turner and high-level, kinda-thinky literary fiction. I wish I could go back and read it for the first time again.
posted by magdalemon at 10:23 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

There was a very nice hardbound collection of short stories by Richard Yates that came out some years back. There are also some volumes that collect several of his novels. He's a great writer of Americana and deserves far more attention than he gets. He's also a literary hero of some of the writers you mentioned she likes.
posted by quince at 10:47 AM on April 11, 2014

If she likes Chabon and is heading off to college, she'd probably really enjoy Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. And thirding The Secret History, it's sort of the perfect gothic college novel.
posted by libraritarian at 11:40 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Reading Lolita in Tehran would be perfect I think.

Anything by Ann Patchett always stays with me. or Junot Diaz - thought she has probably already read him.
posted by kmr at 1:29 PM on April 11, 2014

I think she would love George Saunders, if she hasn't already read him (which she may have, because his Tenth of December is on basically every best-book list from 2013). I immediately thought of trying to get a signed copy, because I know he has done book tours this winter, but I'm not sure he's still at it or where you are located. You could get a more generic signed copy online, if getting one in person by yourself--or with her!--is not possible.

I will say, though, that the Q & A he did about writing and literature when I saw him in February was one of the most fascinating author talks I have ever been to. Might take some coordination, but you could make a trip of it!
posted by likeatoaster at 2:14 PM on April 11, 2014

This might be a slightly offbeat suggest, but I often find Connie Willis to be a less pessimistic and obscure, more quotidian version of Margaret Atwood. Her Doomsday Book is my default gift in situations like this. Or, really, any situation. But it's great, and my general experience has been that people who like Atwood also like Willis.
posted by MeghanC at 2:31 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

If she's going to be studying Shakespeare — and I can't imagine she won't — this collection of essays is absolutely fantastic (though the preface is awful).
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:23 PM on April 11, 2014

It's a classic, technically, but Villette is a pretty perfect novel. Anyone who likes to read would, I think, enjoy reading it. That it is about a young woman going out into the world also might not hurt.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:13 PM on April 11, 2014

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