Season's Readings

Drop a load of literature into your book-lover's stocking

It seems everyone, including my mother-in-law, is reading badly written smut in plain view these days, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey.

Let's do something to change that right now. Here are gift ideas that include well-written smut, a beautifully rendered history of summer camps and a deftly constructed horror novel about a drone pilot gone homicidal.

Got a camper on your list? As winter takes hold, it helps to remember that summer inevitably returns. What better way to rekindle the heat of first love, lake water and chewy s'mores than with David Himmel's poignant A Camp Story: The History of Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods Camps (The History Press, $19.99)? Himmel eloquently relates the story of a summer camp in southwestern Michigan, which sprang up from the efforts of a Jewish orphan named Louis Greenberg. Eighty years later, the impact and legacy of this annual gathering remains strong. If you've ever attended camp or worked as a counselor, you'll relish the heartwarming and hilarious nostalgia that Himmel—who worked at this camp for years—squeezes into every paragraph.

The name Wrath James White used to be synonymous with extreme horror. That changed this year with the signed, limited-edition publication of his novella Reaper (Cargo Cult Press, $50). Reaper tells the story of Las Vegas drone-pilot Marc, who wakes up every morning in a nice suburban home with his beautiful family, then kisses them goodbye before driving to work. No, he doesn't deal cards in a casino. Rather, he sits 12 hours a day in front of computer screens at Creech Air Force Base, killing people thousands of miles away in Afghanistan via remote control. Without spoiling the plot, let's just say Marc develops a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder that causes him to hallucinate (or maybe actually see) the ghosts of the people he bombs for a living. Dark, disturbing and downright chilling.

For the literate homo (we use the term affectionately) in your life, why not throw a curveball with the Shane Allison-edited short-fiction anthology Straight Guys: Gay Erotic Fantasies (Cleis Press, $15.95). Let's face it: Most gay dudes have fantasized once (OK, a million times) about getting it on with that hunky husband and father. Allison gathers the best of these stories, which include Zeke Mangold's loud and lively exploration of the headbanging-hetero subculture in "Metal Head." There's also Bob Vickery's tale of seducing your girlfriend's brother, "Family Affair," plus Gregory L. Norris' backseat joyride "Taxicab Confession," which will keep your meter running for days. Allison is shaping up to be the top gay-erotica tastemaker.

For the degenerate sports gambler in your life, here's a right hook. When he's not busy running his Double Down Saloon watering holes in Sin City and New York, or touring Japan with his naughty punk band Bloodcocks U.K., P Moss writes funny, ferocious crime stories. His latest tome, Vegas Knockout ($14.95, CityLife Books), is a novel told in stories, and it's among the finest investigations into gambling-addicted, alcohol-addled, lust-crazed souls you'll ever read. The big fight is in town, drawing a cast of incredible yet familiar characters like flies on you know what—a hotshot journalist trying to make a bigger name for himself, a millionaire's wayward daughter and a, um, waffle-jonesing clown. Until you dig into Moss' demimonde, you'll never fully appreciate, in literary terms, the darkness in human hearts.

For the punk-rocker in your figurative mosh pit, here's a swift Mohawk cut to the brain's pleasure center. Rocker (he played in False Prophets) and former High Times magazine editor Steven Wishnia delves into underground music with his debut novel When the Drumming Stops (Manic D Press, $15). The book starts with fabulously named, graying bass-player Underend Vicodini, who, despite the ruined economy and his dead-in-the-water band, can't seem to part with New York City. But when the prospect of reuniting the Gutter Astronomers comes with a nice payoff, the chance to secure an affordable closet-size Brooklyn apartment finally seems within reach. Will Vicodini be victorious, or fall victim to ongoing urban gentrification?

For the Nazi buff and/or self-loathing hipster, here's an absurdly compelling treat: James Carr and Archana Kumar's Hipster Hitler (Feral House, $16.95). This handsomely produced book collects the best and some never-before-published comic strips from Carr and Kumar's popular website, which embraces the visually rich intersection between frustrated artists with ridiculous facial hair and The Frustrated Artist With Ridiculous Facial Hair. Isn't it time we saw someone wearing a Death Camp for Cutie shirt? This doubles as a fuck-you gift to your vegetarian ex-boyfriend in Williamsburg. Snarky yet serious comedy gold.

Finally, for the Civil War buff and/or mystery fan, here's a just-released and already-acclaimed book: William Heffernan's historical thriller When Johnny Came Marching Home (Akashic Books, $15.95). Heffernan masterfully renders the War Between the States via an unforgettable character—a one-armed investigator who, while unable to piece together his own broken life and personal agonies, nonetheless attempts to decipher what happened to a troubled young comrade-in-arms. Johnny is really the story of three boys who come of age during horrific combat and pay a price—mentally, spiritually and physically. The recollections of armed conflict are incredible, and the plot turns on a Confederate nickel.

There you have it—a list of books with a little something for everyone. If this doesn't work, then do what I did: Ask the mother-in-law to pretty-please read her mommy-porn on a Kindle like everyone else.