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Books newsletter: Your book-shopping helper, smart cephalopods and more

If you’re shopping for the holidays, we have you covered: There are more books than ever before in our holiday gift guide — upward of 170 titles to give and get, from “Baby’s First Quark” (yes, for babies) to Arnold Palmer’s final words of wisdom. 

THE BIG STORY

For much of the 20th century, many American families got their reading from the Book of the Month Club, a vital part of our nation’s literary culture that faded into obscurity. Now the 90-year old institution is back, with the help of the Internet of course. With sharp new selections, tons of Facebook fans and an eye-catching Instagram feed, it’s not your grandma’s Book of the Month Club.

From Book of the Month Club’s Instagram.
From Book of the Month Club's Instagram.
(Book of the Month Club )
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CONSCIOUSNESS, CEPHALOPODS AND YOU

In “Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness,” Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher of science and experienced deep-sea diver, has rolled his obsessions into one book, weaving biology and philosophy into a dazzling pattern that looks a lot like the best of pop science. Meehan Crist has our review, and Godfrey-Smith comes to Los Angeles this week.

Is part of an octopus’ consciousness alive in its tentacles?
Is part of an octopus' consciousness alive in its tentacles?
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times )

OTHER REVIEWS

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This week, Justin Taylor reviews “Whatever Happened To Interracial Love,” the almost-lost short stories of Kathleen Collins, a pioneering black filmmaker who never got her due in her lifetime (she died at 46 of cancer). Steph Cha reviews “His Bloody Project,” the outsider finalist for the Man Booker Prize — it’s a thriller — by Graeme Macrae Burnet, now out in the U.S. And Mark Athitakis reviews “Normal,” the fast-paced dystopia by Warren Ellis, the beloved comics writer turned novelist. Ellis, too, comes to L.A. this week; Skylight Books has tickets.

Warren Ellis, author of “Normal”
Warren Ellis, author of "Normal"
(Ellen J Rogers )

BOOK NEWS

The Man Booker Prize, based in England, is one of the world’s most prestigious and financially generous fiction prizes; yet only authors from the British Commonwealth (including Zimbabwe) were eligible until 2014, when it opened up to books published in England by writers from anywhere in the world. That change worried some, like British writer Julian Barnes, who this week told a radio program, “I don’t agree with opening up the Booker for the Americans,” calling the decision “daft.” Barnes — who won the prize in 2011 for his novel “The Sense of An Ending” — was joined by several judges and fellow authors who all focused on the prize allowing Americans to be problematic. “The Booker was founded to stop the death of the literary novel,” novelist Amanda Craig told the Guardian, “but opening it up to globalisation has meant that it’s probably adding to that.”

This is blowback, of course, to the first American winning the prize, which was awarded to Paul Beatty for his novel “The Sellout” last month. I applauded the judges’ decision, literally; I’m a big fan of the book, and was on the National Book Critics Circle board when we gave it our fiction prize (which comes with no money; the Man Booker, on the other hand, is worth about $60,000). In addition to the prize money, winning books historically get a significant sales bump in England.

Paul Beatty accepts the Man Booker Prize.
Paul Beatty accepts the Man Booker Prize.
(John Phillips / Getty Images )

BESTSELLERS

And our bestsellers list this week shows that the Man Booker Prize going international does work both ways — American readers responded, and the paperback edition of “The Sellout” tops our paperback bestsellers list.

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“The Sellout” is a linguistically brilliant satire of race and culture set on a fictional farm in South L.A. Reviewing it for us back in March 2015, when the book was first released in the U.S., Kiese Laymon wrote, “‘The Sellout’ ... is among the most important and difficult American novels written in the 21st century.”

THANKS FOR READING

I’m book editor Carolyn Kellogg. You can always reach me at carolyn.kellogg@latimes.com.


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