| Back to Blog >

The CAT Holiday Gift Guide

What a year. Lows? Yes, there were some lows. Definitely. But we were grateful for some highs, too. So let’s end 2020 the way we started it: excited by the opportunity to share new literary voices from around the world through fantastic writing.

This past year we published books like Echo on the Bay, Masatsugu Ono’s follow-up to Lion Cross Point, in translation from Angus Turvill, and That Time of Year, the latest Marie NDiaye, in translation from Jordan Stump. We also introduced writers such as Ho Sok Fong, whose Lake Like a Mirror, translated from Chinese by Natascha Bruce, stunned critics and booksellers alike. Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses, translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney, became a kind of beacon for our collective isolated unnerving. And we’re still thrilled to have launched the Calico Series with That We May Live: Speculative Chinese Fiction and Home: New Arabic Poems. That feeling isn’t going away anytime soon.

What a year indeed. But before we go, we wanted to offer up our Holiday Gift Guide, which features personal book recommendations for great books to give as gifts from the CAT staff (our own titles and titles from other publishers). One more thing: throughout this list you’ll see links to independent booksellers. We encourage you to support them this holiday. This has been a tough year for our bookselling friends, and we need them for many more. For your convenience, there’s a list of all these bookstores at the very bottom, so don’t stop scrolling. Maybe get a cart going? Give books to readers and support indie bookstores!

Thank you, as ever, for reading along with us! See you in 2021 (hopefully in person).

Michael Holtmann, Executive Director & Publisher

That Time of Year by Marie NDiaye, translated from French by Jordan Stump (Two Lines Press)

“We all have our favorite authors, and Marie NDiaye (in Jordan Stump’s brilliant translations) is one of mine. That Time of Year is one of NDiaye’s early books, but it’s already full of her signature strangeness, her exquisite ambiguity, her uncanny gift for homing in on our differences and blind spots and weaknesses. Herman has overstayed his vacation, and his wife and son have gone missing, but in order to get the attention of the townspeople he must fully assimilate into village life—he must become ‘invisible, insignificant.’ What does our identity mean to us, and what are the costs of surrendering it? This a potent allegorical book.”

Get it from Community Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)

DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi (Wave Books)

“Don Mee Choi’s DMZ Colony, this year’s winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, is a stirring amalgam of poetry, reportage, memoir, and reckoning. It is harrowing, heartbreaking, and beautiful: a staggering account of the effects of war and colonization on our memories and imaginations. We are all ‘victims of history.’ And how could I not be moved by her acceptance speech, which concluded, ‘Therefore, it is more important than ever that we engage in the non-predatory, idle labor of poetry and translation and be on the side of the struggles of those sat upon here and abroad.’”

Get it from Point Reyes Books (Point Reyes, CA)

If I Had Two Wings: Stories by Randall Kenan (Norton)

“As a lover of story collections, I never tire of the incredible formal and emotional terrain great writers shape in constrained spaces, and one of my favorite books this year was Randall Kenan’s If I Had Two Wings: Stories. Kenan’s stories spiral out from the Black community of Tims Creek, North Carolina, and they’re inflected with vivid detail, shimmering allusiveness, and music: each story is named after a spiritual song, and the prose itself is tensile, melodic, choral, and incantatory. That potent dose of magic you’ve been seeking? Look no further.”

Get it from Island Books (Mercer Island, WA)

CJ Evans, Editorial Director

Trysting by Emmanuelle Pagano, translated from French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (Two Lines Press)

“In this lonelier holiday season, I keep picking up Emmanuelle Pagano’s Trysting, translated by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis. In vignettes that range from a single line to a few pages, Pagano writes about love in all its permutations, from lust to friendship to anger to failure to mourning. Reading it feels like stepping into a crowded bar from the cold December street: everyone inside is in close together pairs doing what humans do—strengthening or breaking our connections to each other.”

Get it from Split Rock Books (Cold Spring, NY)

Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy, translated from Italian by Tim Parks (New Directions)

“Another book that seems perfect for these particular holidays, in a very different way, is Fleur Jaeggy’s Sweet Days of Discipline, translated by Tim Parks. It takes place at a claustrophobic boarding school in the Appenzell of Switzerland. Told in startlingly spare prose from the viewpoint of a—to put it mildly—socially driven teenaged girl, the book has all the ingredients of an exceptional holiday read: crisp mountain air, adolescent nostalgia, and of course, formidable madness.”

Get it from A Room of One’s Own (Madison, WI)

Sarah Coolidge, Associate Editor

Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong, translated from Chinese by Natascha Bruce (Two Lines Press)

“Ho Sok Fong is one of my favorite discoveries of the past year. Lake Like a Mirror is the first book by the Malaysian author to be translated into English (expertly, by Natascha Bruce) and showcases Ho’s natural ability to take on today’s most pressing issues (rapid urbanization, patriarchy, religious persecution) in the most surprising and imaginative ways. In one of my favorite stories, a woman forced into a rehabilitation center for wayward Muslims begins to sleepwalk, stripping off her clothes and wandering the premises as if subconsciously defying the structures that control her during the day. Ho’s writing reminded me of all of the reasons I love reading—the chance to inhabit other worlds, to delight in language, to be led blindly into the dark and trust that you’re being led somewhere truly spectacular.”

Get it from Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA)

Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera (Feminist Press)

“I spent the early days of the pandemic holed up in a park, tearing through Juli Delgado Lopera’s beautiful multilingual novel Fiebre Tropical. Francisca, the book’s adolescent narrator, finds her life completely upended when her family decides to move from Bogotá to Miami, where her mom becomes an avid member of a local evangelical church. What comes next is a funny and unsentimental story of immigration, queer love, religion, and all the gray areas of identity. Written in a mixture of English and Spanish, Fiebre Tropical is entertaining and thoroughly original.”

Get it from Interabang Books (Dallas, TX)

Jessica Sevey, Managing Editor

Bright by Duanwad Pimwana, translated from Thai by Mui Poopoksakul (Two Lines Press)

Bright immediately drew me in with its portrayal of a tight-knit Thai community that bands together to raise Kampol, a young boy who has been abandoned by his parents. Bittersweet and yet told with humor and compassion, the book’s short, captivating chapters bring to life this heartwarming story of hope in the face of adversity.”

Get it from Greedy Reads (Baltimore, MD)

In Praise of Paths: Walking through Time and Nature by Torbjørn Ekelund, translated from Norwegian by Becky L. Crook (Greystone Books)

“This book is meant to be savored and pondered and read slowly—in the same way that Ekelund approaches his walking and his writing. As he wanders and walks, he shares with us his thoughts about the paths he’s traveled, the history and literature of paths, and the paths and tracks of animals and insects. We are deeply connected to our environment, and this fascinating book meditates on the ways that paths bring us closer to our inner selves and the beautiful world around us.”

Get it from The Writer’s Block (Las Vegas, NV)

Chad Felix, Sales & Marketing Manager

Harmada by João Gilberto Noll, translated from Portuguese by Edgar Garbelotto (Two Lines Press)

“We’ve been publishing Noll for years for a reason: there’s no other writer quite like him. Heavily influenced by the work of Clarice Lispector, Noll nonetheless stands apart with works that are as much about interior lives as they are about the physical bodies (their urges, fluids, and limitations) we’re forced to haul around with us. In Harmada, perhaps my favorite of the four novels of his we’ve published, an unnamed narrator on hard times rediscovers a past life in the theatre. In a world defined by societal collapse, precarity, and loneliness, this pocket-sized appeal to the art life is a total crowd-pleaser (assuming said crowd doesn’t mind rolling around in the muck a bit and trusts in the power of literature implicitly).”

Get it from Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)

Afropessimism by Frank B. Wilderson, III (Liveright)

“A demanding, mesmerizing book that combines memoir and philosophy, Afropessimism complicates assumptions about race in America and beyond, arguing its case through hard-won empirical evidence, thoughtful literary and film criticism, and blisteringly sharp writing. Calling this book about the violent peculiarities of Black existence—and what those disclose about White existence as well as the experiences of other people of color—any one thing is destined to be a reduction. Afropessimism is a challenge, a conversation, a dare, an expansive, engaging work of art from the man who once, in his capacity as a journalist and activist, had the honor of calling Nelson Mandela ‘comrade.’”

Get it from East Bay Booksellers (Oakland, CA)

Echo on the Bay by Masatsugu Ono, translated from Japanese by Angus Turvill (Two Lines Press)

“As a Daša Drndić devotee, I tend to drag her little maxim ‘stories are always emerging’ with me wherever I go. Ono’s Echo on the Bay radicalizes this idea in quiet, stylish ways with a narrative that truly emerges over the course of the novel (like a boat in a bay steadily being resurrected from the deep) to reveal recent atrocities in a rural Japanese village, atrocities that the townsfolk have dutifully chosen to forget. Narrated by the local sheriff’s teenage daughter (notably of a younger generation than the other characters), Ono’s novel, though light on its feet, reveals both the ease with which shame can lead to forgetting and the importance of collective memory and responsibility.” 

Get it from Unabridged Books (Chicago, IL)

Erin Branagan, Communications & Development Director

Beyond Babylon by Igiaba Scego, translated from Italian by Aaron Robertson (Two Lines Press)

“I am very much a fan of plot and Beyond Babylon exceeded my expectations in this respect (and many others) with its detailed, intricate story and diverse cast of characters. I loved the experience of being drawn into this world, one completely different from my own and yet identifiable through its people and insights into the particular place and time period (1930s Somalia, Dirty War-era Argentina, and present-day Italy). As with all of my favorite books, Beyond Babylon left me feeling a greater understanding for my fellow humans. Plus I now fantasize about dropping everything to move to another country to learn a new language like so many of Igiaba’s amazing, immaculately drawn characters.”

Get it from Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA)

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Europa Editions)

“Since spending almost three years living in Japan in my early twenties I’ve had an enduring interest and fascination with contemporary Japanese literature. I’m especially interested in reading books by Japanese women, although until recently it has been harder to find these books. Breasts and Eggs has shown up on many ‘best of’ lists this year, for good reason: the author has a unique style and voice, and her depiction of the intimate physical experience of being a woman and grappling with feminine identity and motherhood in a society that has embraced modernity and yet still clings to traditional family ideals and structures that trap both men and women is transformative. A great read!”

Get it from Skylight Books (Los Angeles, CA)

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World by Laura Spinney (PublicBooks)

Pale Rider is a new study of the flu epidemic of 1918 that looks at the worldwide pandemic and considers its possible origins (hint: definitely *not* Spain) and long-term impact. I find it strangely comforting to read individual accounts from around the world and see the parallels to our current moment.”

Get it from Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)

Kelsey McFaul, Public Fellow

On Lighthouses by Jazmina Barrera, translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Two Lines Press)

“I read Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses (in Christina MacSweeney’s fabulous translation) in August when my introverted delight in isolation was transforming into an (impossible to gratify) urge to travel. Instead I floated on Jazmina’s words as on beams of light in a pandemic-fogged world: from literary-themed bed-and-breakfasts on the Oregon coast to the lights engineered by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather on the rugged Scottish coast, from the depths of the sea where whale echolocation and a lighthouse’s intermittent beam bear uncanny resemblance to the few lights on earth still tended by humans, usually women. Reading On Lighthouses, as much a collection of lighthouses as a meditation on why we collect and the obsession that accompanies it, reminded me of Socrates’s idea of writing as pharmakon. Collecting our experiences in words, he argues, destroys our capacity for true memory and increases our reliance on the written. Not so terrible, I think, when the result is books like Jazmina’s, pharmakons in their own right which both infect us with wanderlust and offer, in our travel-impoverished times, its cure.”

Get it from riffraff (Providence, RI)

Addis Ababa Noir, edited by Maaza Mengiste (Akashic Books)

“The newest addition to Akashic Books’ crime series, Addis Ababa Noir tours the sprawling neighborhoods and thoroughfares of the Ethiopian capital in fourteen original stories exquisitely edited by Maaza Mengiste. Mengiste’s sophomore novel The Shadow King was shortlisted for the Booker Prize earlier this year, and here she curates a sparkling collection of Ethiopian literary voices including novelists, journalists, and poets, several in translation from Amharic. There’s a story of a shadow, a story of a insomniac narrated as a sleep log, a story told entirely within a minibus, and, my personal favorite, a story of a boy who is also a hyena—together these take up and stretch the noir genre to conjure the city’s hauntedness, its ghosts, and its memories. Not so much creepy as sardonicly surreal, Addis Ababa Noir is a thrilling cartography of one of my most loved cities.”

Get it from WORD Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)

Winona Wagner, Business Manager

That We May Live: Speculative Chinese Fiction; multiple authors, multiple translators (Two Lines Press)

“The first in Two Lines’ new series of collections, That We May Live brings together seven stories on the cutting edge of contemporary Chinese fiction. These speculative, mysterious tales are rooted in the familiar, yet bristling with the fantastic. Told in lyrical prose, and brought into English by the best translators, these stories of social obligation and moral questioning are at once disorienting and revealing.”

Get it from White Whale Bookstore (Pittsburgh, PA)

Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci, translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press)

“Verónica Gerber Bicecci is a visual artist who writes. Peppered throughout the sparse but probing prose of Empty Set are drawings that illustrate the narrator’s relationships to other characters and to her surroundings. Reading Christina MacSweeney’s elegant translation of this book, you are whisked into the narrator’s way of looking at the world: telling time through the lines in tree trunks, reading emotions in nonsense languages. Empty Set is a gorgeous and singular work exploring the aftermath of a broken heart, as full of whimsy as it is of penetrating wisdom.”

Get it from Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park, WA)

Olivia Sears, Founder

They Will Drown in Their Mothers Tears by Johannes Anyuru, translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel (Two Lines Press)

“In the words of the inimitable Ayelet Waldman, ‘Holy sh**, the Anyuru [novel] knocked my socks off.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself. Over the past few years in the US, we’ve ruminated about potential dystopias, and especially during this year in which everything is ‘unprecedented.’ Imagine if we could briefly glimpse a parallel universe where, say, our first female president oversees the rapid containment of a nasty pandemic, or another in which a stolen 2020 election leads to martial law? That’s the experience of reading They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears—hence the knocking off of socks. Anyuru’s narrative confronts the most important issues of our space-time—terrorism, racism, and especially authoritarianism exercised in the guise of homeland security (thankfully, for my blood pressure, in another country). But with a dash of the fantastical, this is also a genre-defying journey deep into timeless themes of memory, sanity, loyalty, truth, and justice. I’ll give Ayelet the last word: ‘It’s f***ing brilliant. Truly truly.’”

Get it from Pilsen Community Books (Chicago, IL)

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Riverhead Books)

“Take a remote Polish village in darkest winter, a reclusive translator of William Blake whose deep empathy with animals often comes at the expense of her fellow townspeople, and the violent murder of her neighbor Big Foot, and you have the makings of a haunting novel that falls somewhere between a whodunit and a Grimm’s fairy tale. Nobel author Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated by the masterful and witty Antonia Lloyd-Jones, was nominated for the Man Booker International prize, and both author and translator have earned the recognition. As bodies begin to pile up, the eccentric narrator insinuates herself in the investigation, leading to some heart-pounding suspense. A great winter read.”

Get it from Books Are Magic (Brooklyn, NY)

Featured indie bookstores:

A Room of One’s Own (Madison, WI)

Books Are Magic (Brooklyn, NY)

Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)

Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA)

Community Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)

Deep Vellum Books (Dallas, TX)

East Bay Booksellers (Oakland, CA)

Greedy Reads (Baltimore, MD)

Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA)

Island Books (Mercer Island, OR)

Pilsen Community Books (Chicago, IL)

Point Reyes Books (Point Reyes, CA)

Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)

riffraff (Providence, RI)

Skylight Books (Los Angeles, CA)

Split Rock Books (Cold Spring, NY)

Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park, WA)

Unabridged Bookstore (Chicago, IL)

White Whale Bookstore (Pittsburgh, PA)

WORD Bookstores (Brooklyn, NY)

The Writer’s Block (Las Vegas, NV)