Columns > Published on December 11th, 2018

17 Books You MUST Own To Enjoy

If you’re looking for a book gift this year, I have a few suggestions.

See, a lot of books, you don’t actually need to own them. You can check them out at a library and save some bucks. Not to mention some space. Not to mention your back if you end up moving. Or, you can buy them digitally, save yourself the trouble of the physical item.

But there are still some books out there, special books, that you have to own in hard copy to really enjoy. 

The book isn't dead. Here are some of the titles keeping the book alive.

1. "Ship of Theseus" by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Let me tell you, this thing presents a nightmare for libraries. 

It's a book within a book. There's the book Ship Of Theseus, but then there's a narrative told through margin notes, slips of paper stuck in the book, envelopes, all kinds of ephemera. 

Why is this a nightmare?

Because how the hell am I supposed to keep track of everything inside the book? How do I know, when it's checked in, that the dozens of slips of things are not only back in the book, but in the places they're meant to be discovered?

If you want the real experience with this one, buy it. Sealed. 

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2. "Tree of Codes" by Jonathan Safran Foer

As much a piece of art as a book, this delicate work is not only an interesting read, but it makes for a great oddity in any home library. Pages feature cut-outs and small windows that reveal different texts depending on page turns. There's really nothing else like it. 

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3. "Sing To It: New Stories" by Amy Hempel

This is Hempel's first new book in ten years. If you're a smart consumer, you'll pick this one up, but you'll ration out the stories over time. It might be a long-ass wait for her next book. And if you have the physical book, you'll be reminded to keep revisiting it. 

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4. "Trial of the Clone" by Zack Weinersmith

This RPG-like reading experience takes some time. But it's thoughtful. For example, random page turns act as dice rolls. This is a much better experience if you can write in the book, and it's one you'll want to go through way more than once. 

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5. "Bait" by Chuck Palahniuk

An entry into the somewhat-faded coloring book craze, Bait offers a little something extra. The coloring serves a purpose. The act of coloring makes you more complicit and participatory in the events of the stories. Bonus: There's a REALLY great story in here, "Ghostwriter," that I put up there with Palahniuk's best.

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6. "The Baby Jesus Butt Plug" by Carlton Mellick III

You miss half the fun of this book if it's not on the shelf for guests to see.

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7. "Multiple Choice" by Alejandro Zambra

This is like a Choose Your Own Adventure except more fun, better written, and you won’t die out in space like a chump. It's a little more artsy, sure to please lovers of experimental fiction. You need to be able to mark in this one. Don't forget to fill in the bubbles completely to ensure your answers are counted.

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8. "Mommy?" by Maurice Sendak

If you find this at a library or used bookstore, I guarantee it’s fucking broken. The pop-ups in here are super elaborate and wonderful, and the feel of the paper unfolding and tucking itself back in as you turn the pages is a once-in-a-reading-lifetime experience.

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9. "Silver Surfer: Parable" by Stan Lee and Moebius

You can read these digitally, I’m sure, but the bizarre art and the bombastic prose, they just need the feel of a floppy comic book. It's an experience from two unlikely collaborators that should be absorbed as originally intended, and the fact that it ever hit stores is a...Marvel? Eh?!

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10. "Meanwhile" by Jason Shiga

With its fascinating format and clean art style, you'll want to flip through this one, oh, 3,856 times. After all, there are 3,856 possible endings!

[amazon 9780810984233 inline]


11. "The Book" by Amaranth Borsuk

When you're reading a book about the forms books have taken throughout history, you're missing out on a more connected experience if you read digitally. Hold history in your hands. Embrace the analog.

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12. "Theft By Finding" by David Sedaris

You’re not going to want to read this straight through. But it’s great on the shitter. I’m sorry, Mr. Sedaris. I’m so sorry.

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13. "Building Stories" by Chris Ware

With 14 different pamphlets, booklets, and pieces, you want to get this one, clear some space on the floor, spread it out and dive in. 

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14. "The New Strategy Of Style" by Winston Weathers

We've made a big deal out of Copy And Compose on this site. And unless you've got about $100 dollars to blow, it's out of reach. But it seems the secret's still a secret, The New Strategy Of Style is cheap and has the same material. 

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15. "Merriam Webster's Pocket Dictionary"

My poetry teacher:

Toss out your thesaurus. Real poets carry a dictionary.

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16. "The Collected Stories Of Lydia Davis" by Lydia Davis

If you go straight through 700+ pages of Lydia Davis, you'll be lulled into not paying enough attention. You have to read a few, put the book away. Read a few more, put the book away. These stories are meant to have space between them, and if you buy it, you can space it out however you like. 

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17. "Maze" by Christopher Manson

Want to do an escape room but without all the hassle of putting on pants or a facial expression that's acceptable in public? Maze is your answer. You'll want to keep this one because it's going to take you longer than you think. 

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Got any go-to, must-own books you can list? Comment with 'em below. Help out your fellow book lovers. 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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