17 Literary Gifts for 2017: From Djinn Tales to Humor to Kid Lit to Music

The gift book is a particular beast:

I will admit to four gift-book biases:

First, I find collections and collaborative works make better gifts than single-author books, much as I find an array of spices giftier than a gigantic tub of one. (This doesn’t mean I would turn up my nose at a gigantic tub of holiday zaatar.)

Second, although it isn’t pretty, I am biased in favor of works that were recently published.

Third, I am biased toward smaller publishers and lesser-known works. Yes, everyone should want a copy of Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad and Hisham Matar’s The Return. But your bibliophile giftee is more likely to have partaken of these than of Apartment in Bab El Louk, by Donia Maher, art by Ganzeer and Ahmed Nady, tr. Elisabeth Jaquette.

My final (conscious) gift-book bias: All children should read translations.

New collections for everyone: 

The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. Who doesn’t like stories about djinn? The collection’s best stories—of which there are many—aren’t interested in djinn as a site of the exotic, wish-granting imaginary. Instead, they employ djinn in tales that move sideways to explore cruelty or loss, adolescence or injustice. Review.

Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic, edited by Lynn Gaspard, is a fun gathering of thirty-some pieces of prose, poetry, and art that range from the funny to the poignant to the absurd, with an emphasis on funny. Review.

Iraq + 100ed. Hassan Blasim. This collection of short stories by Iraqi authors — some written in English and some translated from Arabic — is set 100 years after the 2003 invasion, in 2103, with ten visions of the world to come. Review

For young readers:

Code Name: Butterflyby Ahlam Bsharat, tr. Nancy Roberts. This YA novel, shortlisted for the the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature (in the Arabic) and for the 2017 Palestine Book Awards (in the English), is full of the sorts of questions that animate young people’s lives — and particularly young people growing up in Palestinian villages. For tweens and young teens. Review.

For the youngest readers:

A Blue Pool of Questionsby Maya Abu-Alhayyat, illus. by Hassan Manasrah,  tr. Hanan Awad. This is also an Etisalat winner. In the words of children’s-book author and poet Naomi Shihab Nye: “Maya Abu-Alhayyat’s haunting, evocative text and Hassan Manasrah’s exquisitely gorgeous art combine to make a book worth holding very close. Give it to all your friends, big and little.” Visit the book’s website.

The Jasmine Sneezeby Nadine Kaadan. ArabLit’s quote on the jacket: ‘Take a deep breath of The Jasmine Sneeze and you’ll be transported to one of the world’s most beautiful cities. There, you’ll get caught up in Damascus’ dense colours and patterns, as well as its light-hearted, sweet-smelling humour. A joy!’ More from Lantana.

The Little Green Drumby Taghreed Najjar, tr. Najjar and Lucy Coates. Who says a Christmas book can’t be about Ramadan? This early reader is about waking up the neighbors for breakfast during Ramadan. Lucy Coates on the book.

For foodie readers:

Scents and Flavorstrans-ed. Charles Perry. “Cookbooks are a literary late-bloomer, Charles Perry writes, in his introduction to the thirteenth-century recipe collection Scents and Flavors. Researchers have turned up three Babylonian clay tablets that served as something similar to modern cookbooks. Scholars have also found a lone Roman cookbook, compiled in the second century. After that, Perry writes, there is ‘nothing more for the next 800 years.’

“‘Then there was a sudden explosion of cookbooks in Arabic,’ Perry writes. ‘From the tenth through the thirteenth centuries, Arabic speakers were, so far as we know, the only people in the world writing cookbooks.’ Review.

For the artist and cartoonist:

Apartment in Bab El Loukby Donia Maher, art by Ganzeer and Ahmed Nady, tr. Elisabeth Jaquette. This collaboratively wild and wonderful portrait of Bab El Louk is animated by the art of popular and celebrated artist Ganzeer and cartoonist-satirist Ahmed Nady. Review.

Freedom Hospital: A Syrian Storyby Hamid Sulaiman tr.‎ Francesca Barrie. Winner of a PEN Translates Award, this graphic novel has been making waves across Europe. 

For the poet who loves new music, or the musician who loves great poetry:

Nadah: Arabic lyrics translated to English by Nariman Youssef.

Lekhfa: Lyrics from the poetry of Egyptian writer Mido Zoheir, beautifully translated by Wi’am El Tamami.
Alif: Includes poetry by Sargon Boulos, also tr. Youssef.

Finally, a few more specialized categories

For the boxing fan: All the Battles, by Maan Abu Taleb, tr. Robin Moger

For the poet: Describing the Pastby Ghassan Zaqtan, tr. Sam Wilder and Louder than Heartsby Zeina Hashem Beck.

For the disgruntled aid worker: Embrace on Brooklyn Bridgeby Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, tr. John Peate

For the Saudi-watcher: Arabian Satireby Hmedan al-Shwe’ir, tr.-ed. Marcel Kurpershoek

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