By: Em Perper

Sneak Peek pals, I’m doing something different this week. New releases slow down to a trickle as the year wraps up, so the Curious Iguana team brainstormed and decided to go in a festive direction. I’m proud to present the first installment in the 2017 Curious Iguana Holiday Gift Guide, based on 2016’s holiday bestsellers.

If Atlas Obscura crushed at your gift exchange last year, try…

  • Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman—comic, husband, and father— who imbues Massachusetts and Maine with pathos, humor, and mystery. (Viking/Penguin Putnam, $25)
  • The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes by Malachy Tallack, which combines cartography, history, religion, and astronomy to explore fantastical islands that may or may not have existed. Artist Katie Scott (Botanicum, Animalium) illustrates. (Picador/Macmillan, $20)
  • Utopia Drive by Erik Reece, a massive road trip through the eastern United States via its utopian communities past and present. (FSG, $17)
  • Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by physician Lydia Kang and journalist Nate Pedersen, a hilarious history that lampoons the quick fixes of the past, including bloodletting, consuming gold, and using cocaine to treat all manners of illness. (Workman, $22.95)

If We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was a hit, check out…

  • The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, a collection of short but striking poems about femininity, falling in and out of love, trauma, and identity. (Andrews McMeel Publishing/Simon & Schuster, $16.99)
  • You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano, which focuses on how women are stereotyped and pigeonholed in television and movies (from Bewitched to The Bachelor) and how these portrayals have very real implications on women and girls’ lived experiences. (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.95)
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, a seminal text of contemporary feminist thought. This essay collection draws on Gay’s own experiences as a fat Black queer woman of Haitian descent navigating academia, negotiating trauma, and analyzing pop culture. (Harper Perennial/HarperCollins, $10)

If they won’t stop talking about Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance…


  • Nomandland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, an astonishing feat of narrative nonfiction. Bruder embedded herself with retirement-aged Americans who can’t afford to stop working. They’re “workampers” who live out of RVs and migrate to Amazon warehouses, national parks, and wherever else they can find temp work. (W.W. Norton, $26.95)


  • Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation edited by John Freeman. Thirty-six big-name authors (Anthony Doerr! Roxane Gay! Ann Patchett!) contributed poetry, essays, and short stories to communicate their experiences of the wealth gap and its intersections with racism, immigration, and other forms of injustice. (PRH, $17)
  • The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage by Jared Yates Sexton, one of the first journalists who reported seriously on the audiences attending Donald Trump’s rallies. (Counterpoint/IPS, $26)

If they couldn’t put down Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, consider…

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, which won the 2017 National Book Award for fiction, the same award Underground Railroad won in 2016. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a deeply poetic coming-of-age story about a young man living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Ward’s home state. (Scribner Book Company/Simon & Schuster, $26)
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Like Underground Railroad, it offers a speculative take on Civil War-era history, told a powerful, unprecedented style. (PRH, $28)
  • A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, a 2017 National Book Award nominee. Set in New Orleans in the 20th century, this epic follows three generations of an African-American family made up of unforgettable characters. (Counterpoint/IPS, $26)