Indie-Lit Treasures

A list of books to consider for the last-minute shopper

Did you wait too long to finish your Christmas shopping? You did, didn't you? Well, there are still a few precious moments remaining, and books are the ideal last-minute purchase since--thanks to the Internet--they can be shipped and wrapped overnight (for an additional cost, of course), assuming you can't find them at your local independent bookstore.

In keeping with our tradition of highlighting only the gift-worthiest books, we bring you this season's list of indie, alternative and underground titles. Check it twice, and make sure you get something naughty and nice for everyone, OK?

Jessica Mills' My Mother Wears Combat Boots (AK Press, $16.95) is the gritty parenting guide for Offspring fans with offspring--or at least for those of us who are near-broke and striving to be hip and creative with kids on our hip. Collecting her punk-parenting columns from MaximumRockNRoll magazine, Boots allows easy reference to challenges such as how to take your infant on tour with the band, and how to score free baby equipment (breast pumps, formula, bottles) from manufacturers and childrearing peers. Surprisingly, Mills offers centered advice for parents inhabiting an increasingly uncentered--and uncertain--world. Perfect for the tattooed and pierced momma in your midst.

Everything about NASA, a publicly funded civilian space agency, represents the bright side of scientific investigation, right? Not according to Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA (Feral House, $24.95) by Richard C. Hoagland and Mike Bara. The authors, through lengthy documentation and never-before-published photographs, make the case that, for the last 50 years, NASA has been quietly classifying powerful information acquired during its many space missions. And--no surprise here--much of this data suggests the presence of extraterrestrial life. Although the majority of NASA employees are uninvolved in an ongoing conspiracy, the authors shed light on the agency's occult origins, including the secret-society-like behavior of its top personnel and a strange obsession with ritual symbolism. Perfect for the science and/or conspiracy buff in your family.

For that special oversexed someone in your life, how about stuffing his (or her) holiday stocking with a little gay erotica with an emphasis on law-enforcement hunks? Edited by notorious storywriter Shane Allison, Hot Cops: Gay Erotic Stories (Cleis Press, $14.95) will make you long for the rough touch of handcuffs in the back seat of a lit-up black and white. With tales ranging from the literary to the downright lascivious, this collection of true, blue writing will make your nightstick stand at full attention--especially once you've read stories like Zeke Mangold's "The Rubber Room," about a casino security officer and a pool lifeguard who get in over their, er, heads in a relationship that neither one can, or wants to, control. Leave this one under the mistletoe.

For the discriminating LGBT underground "comix" (alternative comic book) lover, there is now a great new collection by Manic D Press called Juicy Mother 2: How They Met ($14.95), a sequel to the earlier, well-received volume. Edited by Jennifer Camper, these 26 graphic (cough!) illustrated tales feature everything and everyone from killer dykes to superpowered trannies to, well, goldfish--and it's all depicted in that classic underground style. In other words, JM2 jumps out at you with every wonderfully rendered page. Be on the lookout for the cartoon jam featuring Alison Bechdel (whose Fun Home memoir was a 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and for Justin Hall's aforementioned "Glamzonia: The Uncanny Super Tranny."

Vertical Press, meanwhile, has been very good this year in the way of publishing some of the best contemporary Japanese lit and manga. Renowned film director Takeshi Kitano's Boy ($17.95) is the first American translation of his fiction to reach American readers, and each of the three stand-alone novellas presented here offers a unique meditation on friendship and adolescence, from the astronomy-obsessed characters in "Nest of Stars" to the odd couple of the bookworm and athlete in "The Champion in a Padded Kimono." Boy is a bittersweet blend of dark memory and wistful nostalgia, and the perfect choice for the lazy-day reader. However, if there's a serious Japanimation freak in your family, go ahead and pick from any of Vertical's excellent manga titles, too.

"God wasn't paying much attention," writes Julia Vinograd in the title poem most recent collection, When God Gets Drunk (Zeitgeist Press, $8.95). "He had a first-class hangover / special delivery from hell, remorse guaranteed. / God doesn't do remorse. / He decided what he really needed was another drink. / There was another bottle on his desk. / There always was." In other words, Vinograd's book is the ideal gift for the alcoholic agnostic on your list--or maybe it's better suited for someone who appreciates lively, edgy poetry. Either way, When God Gets Drunk is one of the year's best poetry collections, and certainly easier to read and a lot more fun than any tome by Richard Dawkins.

And now on to the sci-fi/fantasy section, where we likely have each lost a family member or friend to the psychic clutches of infinite scribblers like Terry Goodkind and Poul Anderson. May we recommend the all-ages-friendly Incredible Change-Bots (Top Shelf, $15), a full-color graphic rock-'em-sock'-em courtesy of cartoonist Jeffrey Brown? If your kids enjoyed the recent Transformers movie, they'll definitely dig an epic confrontation between machines able to transform from robots into auto vehicles. Equal parts vicious satire and heartfelt tribute, Change-Bots will make you pine for the days when clanging your toys together in the backyard was an after-school highlight.

Got a photographer/alternative-rock friend in need of inspiration? Then let us direct your attention to Pat Graham's Silent Pictures (Akashic, $22.95), a delicious gathering of black-and-white and color images of some of the hottest music acts around: OutKast, Thievery Corporation and the Shins, just to name a few. Graham made a name for himself snapping away at the Washington, D.C., music scene over the years, and his style alternates between the dynamic and the casual, sometimes within the same frame. Everything you need to know about underground music is evident in these photos, and for that friend trapped in the kind of town that doesn't draw many first-rate recording artists (unlike Tucson, thank goodness), Silent Pictures makes it feel like you're experiencing the loudest shows on Earth inside the mosh pit.

There it is--a literary gift guide to meet the diverse needs of everyone you know and love. Don't forget to check with your local independent bookstores, though, before pointing and clicking your way to shopping completion.

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