45 Gifts for Book-Lovers Who Never Max Out Their TBR Pile
Of course I’m going to tell you to gift everyone in your life a book this holiday — I’m the books editor. But it’s not because I’m uncreative, or because I’m one of those evangelizing, push-a-book-into-your-hand kind of person (well, I am, but that’s beside the point). It’s because the books that came out this year are so good there’s actually a book that everyone, no matter whom you’re giving to, will fall madly, stupidly, in love with. The 45 books on this (oddly specific) list prove it. Come see. And give. (And please do buy local.)
Written by Meredith Turits
For the Smartest Person You Know
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf), $15
There’s almost no chance you haven’t heard someone talking about this book, seen someone reading this, or read it yourself — Leslie Jamison’s essays about human empathy are some of the most moving, thoughtful, and boundary-pushing to be released in a while. If your most intelligent friend hasn’t read Jamison’s collection, she’ll thank you for introducing her to a thinker who gets her gears spinning with brilliant concepts, all told through elegant prose. Warning: Be prepared to have this foisted upon you once your recipient is done.
For the Cultural Connoisseur
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial), $15.99
Roxane Gay owned 2014, in part due to her collection of essays, Bad Feminist. The book examines the culture your recipient loves — literature, movies, music, TV — and puts it through Gay’s brilliant, unrelenting lens, adding perspective (and tons of humor) that she wouldn’t think of on her own. Gay’s voice is original, whip-smart, sometimes scathing, and always on — and somehow, the book always reads like an email from your best friend. You’ll end up buying a copy for yourself, too.
For the Professional Writer
BOMB: The Author Interviews edited by Betsy Sussler (SOHO), $40
BOMB ’s author interview series, which has been going for years, is one of the most inspiring dialogues between writers available. Lydia Davis talking to Francine Prose. Jennifer Egan with Heidi Julavits. Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticat. The roster just keeps going. Every pro writer knows what it’s like to get stuck sometimes — and when that happens, it’s time to draw inspiration from the greats. And when the greats are all in one place like this, feeding off each other… well, voilà.
For the Poet
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf), $20
Her taste in poetry is impeccable — she’s even turned you, poetry skeptic, onto writers you didn’t know, or didn’t know you loved. You’re not gifting her Claudia Rankine’s book-length poem Citizen because it’s something she hasn’t heard of yet — I mean, it was shortlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Poetry — but rather because she hasn’t gotten a chance to pick it up yet. And she needs to read this book. Like, it’s required. And you’ll be her hero when she unwraps it.
For the Writing MFA Student
Come Here Often? edited by Sean Manning (Black Balloon), $16
If the friend currently slaving over her MFA can be found dwelling at the bar as often as at her desk, grab this book and put a bow on it. In Come Here Often , 53 big-name writers share essays of their favorite haunts across the globe to tip back a drink and unwind, and the collection is stunning. It’ll become her Bible to flip open when she’s looking for inspiration or for escape — both of which are essential.
For the Artist
Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Faber and Faber), $23
Anyone who’s in the arts can tell you that curating is an art unto itself. Your artist friend totally gets that, and that’s why she’ll be wrapt by Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Ways of Curating . The Swiss-born curator writes on what exactly a curator does, from top to bottom — and why it’s important. It’s a very intelligent read, full of ideas that might even help her think about the way her own work is viewed.
For the Doodler
I Only Read It For the Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists by Richard Gehr (New Harvest), $25
She doodles on her notebook during meetings, on pads around the house, and, yes, she reads every New Yorker cartoon. She’ll latch onto this title, which includes profiles of a dozen cartoonists for the prodigious publication. It’s full of fun facts about the artists — and, of course, drawings and doodles. Sure, she’ll have to read it for more than the cartoons, but this one is worth it.
For the Daydreamer
Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views by Matteo Pericoli (Penguin Press), $27.95
If she spends time looking out the window daydreaming stories in her head, there isn’t a more perfect book for her than Windows on the World . The slim volume is a collection of 50 pen and ink drawings of views out of writers’ windows around the globe, each accompanied by a thought-provoking essay. The way these thinkers meditate on that little slice of humanity is pretty stunning — but with contributions from writers including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sheila Heti, and Teju Cole, that’s just what you’d expect, right?
For the DFW-Worshipper
The David Foster Wallace Reader (Little, Brown), $35
If there’s one book that’ll give her biceps a better workout than Infinite Jest , it’s The David Foster Wallace Reader . And if she’s a member of the House of DFW, she needs this book, assembled by his longtime editor. Yes, it’s a collection of excerpts from the books she probably already owns and loves, but also includes essays by writers and critics, plus reading lists, his first published story, and more. It’s a gorgeous collection, and a very worthy memorial.
For the Intellectual
Happiness: Ten Years of n+1 , selected by the editors of n+1 magazine (Faber and Faber), $16
n+1 has given your highbrow friend a lot of things to think about over the years — it’s the only place where critical looks at surfing, ladyblogs, Justin Timberlake, and Chinese nostalgia from the ‘80s seem to be able to coexist in amazing harmony. In Happiness , the editors of the mag compiled some of the magazine’s best writing from its first 10 years. She’ll revisit some of her favorite pieces, and fall in love with new ones from the n+1 archives, too.
For the New Yorker
Never Can Say Goodbye edited by Sari Botton (Touchstone), $16
She loves traveling… but loves landing back at JFK just as much. Her unlimited MetroCard looks like it’s been through a warzone. When you ask if she can picture herself living anywhere else, you worry her laughter in response is going to throw her into some sort of seizure. She’s a New Yorker and will be forever, just like the contributors to Never Can Say Goodbye , a book of fun, moving essays devoted to the city she calls home. These stories will punch her right in the gut, ‘cause every writer, from Susan Orlean to Anna Holmes to Alexander Chee, just gets it. Like her.
For the Girl You Babysit
Puffin in Bloom Series, various prices
These books are true classics: Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and A Little Princess . One look, and I understand why you can’t resist buying at least one of these volumes, beautifully made-over by Anna Bond, for someone — so gift ‘em to a little lady who’s going to grow up treasuring them as much as you did. They are perfect for some quality read-aloud time before bed, too.
For the First-Time YA-Reader
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton), $17.99
You’re determined to bring your lit-loving friend over to your side: YA. She’s going to love it, but she’s never read it. What do you give her? A book by an adult author she’s already read and is totally obsessed with — who didn’t love The Interestings , hello? — get her Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. Wolitzer writes with her signature sharp insight and a plot your pal won’t be able to put down, and after Belzhar (a reference to Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar !), she’ll be hooked to your YA recommendations for good.
For the YA-Fanatic
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte), $17.99
After you’re done totally shaming her for the fact she hasn’t already read We Were Liars , push a gift-wrapped copy of this book into her hands. It’s touted as one of the best of the year for a reason — it’s masterfully written, suspenseful as hell, and probably unlike anything she’s been reading. Then, you can all prep for the movie, which is going to rule.
For the Girl Who Loves Christmas
Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow (Golden Books), $9.99
She puts up Christmas lights on Black Friday. She doesn’t take them down until Valentine’s Day. You stopped counting the number of times she asked you to go carolling last year, because you couldn’t count that high. She needs this Christmas-specific version of the much-beloved Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book , which is equal parts snarky and aww-worthy. It’ll make her nostalgic for her childhood, while at the same time get her energized to whip up a batch of gingerbread men. Hopefully she’ll share.
For Your Mom
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Knopf), $15
This tiny book isn’t about the sunniest of topics — it portrays a Brooklyn woman’s marriage falling apart. However, the skill and beauty with which it’s written is something only a seasoned reader, like the mother who consumes books as if they were snacks, will appreciate. Offill’s hand and the story’s sophistication will leave her speechless, and guaranteed she’ll finish it the same day she picks it up.
For Your Older Sister
Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique (Riverhead), $27.95
This novel is the whole package: it’s sexy, it’s magical, it’s fun, it’s evocative, and it transports readers. That’s why you’ll give it to your older sister, who’s a whole-package kind of girl, too. Tiphanie Yanique’s Caribbean-set Land of Love and Drowning is a family saga touched with magical realism. Your sister will love the alternating viewpoints through which the novel is told, which make the story super-engaging — it’s the kind of read she won’t want to put down.
For Your Younger Sister
Rookie Yearbook Three edited by Tavi Gevinson (Razorbill), $29.95
Last year, Rookie Yearbook Two was a totally spot-on gift for your sister, who’s turning into an awesomely feminist punk rock chick. Just in time for the holidays, Tavi Gevinison and the Rookie crew are back with a follow-up that’s just as good — maybe better — with its cut ‘n’ paste beauty, whip-smart contributors, and nostalgia feel. You’ll steal it back. It’s cool. No one’s telling on you to Mom… except your sister.
For Your Dad
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (Simon & Schuster), $28
Your father tears through books, so this mega, 640-page masterwork should keep him busy for a while. We Are Not Ourselves , Matthew Thomas’ debut, tells the story of an Irish-American family in Queens with a sprawling tale that’s at once epic and moving in that this is a major work kind of way. Thomas took 10 years to finish this novel, and it shows in the care and mastery of the narrative. Your dad will connect with this family, and love the great American story in its pages.
For Your Older Brother
The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis (Little, Brown), $26
The Betrayers is about some pretty weighty themes, namely questions of morality and guilt — and sure, that’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking about what to give for the holidays. But the book is so good that it sort of doesn’t matter. Bezmozgis’ Betrayers , a politically driven narrative about a disgraced Israeli politician, unfolds in the scope of a day. It’s the kind of story that’ll captivate a seasoned fiction reader who appreciates incredible prose when he sees it… like your super-literary older brother, for instance.
For Your Younger Brother
Noggin by John Corey Whaley (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), $17.99
The plot of John Corey Whaley’s Noggin is bizarre to say the least — it involves a teenager’s head getting chopped off and then getting reattached to a different body five years later, and then trying to live the same 16-year-old life again. (Weird, told you.) But that’s part of the fun. This National Book Award finalist YA novel is fantastically written with characters so alive there’s simply no way he won’t dig it. He’ll laugh… and he might even cry, too.
For Your Grandmother
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story (Audiobook) by Barbara Leaming, (Macmillan Audio) $39.99
She’s always been totally fascinated by Jackie — her grace, her style, her marriage, her whole life. (Remember that time she tried to push the pillbox hat style on you? Not your look.) Barbara Leaming’s new biography digs into a side of the First Lady that other biographies haven’t touched before — and it’s fascinating. Consider getting this one for her in an audiobook format; Eliza Foss is a great reader, and if Grandma hasn’t already discovered the awesomeness of listening to books while she goes about her day, this one’s a great place to start.
For Your Little Cousin
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends), $16.99
This powerful middle grade novel is the kind of touching stuff you’ll want to pass on to the little cousin you adore. Written by Ann M. Martin of Baby-sitters Club series fame, the book is about a young girl with Asperger’s syndrome and her relationship with her dog, Rain. It’s a lovely story with complex characters that even you’ll adore — perhaps you should read it together?
For the New Parents
You Have to F*cking Eat by Adam Mansbach (Akashic), $14.95
They’re exhausted and borderline suicidal — but holy hell, their new baby is really, really cute. Bring them some levity with the brand new sequel to Go the F*ck to Sleep . Sure, it won’t get the baby fed (or changed, or put to bed), but it’ll get them laughing at 4 a.m. when everyone’s totally delirious, and reading a novel just won’t cut it.
For the Hipster Parents
Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers (Penguin), $26.99
There are kids’ books that anyone reads to their kids, and then there are kids’ books that awesome parents read to their kids. Your friends are awesome — if not a little hipster-y — parents, which is why you should get them Once Upon An Alphabet . Each letter is accompanied by a quirky little story, which will keep adults entertained just as much as children. The book is unabashedly cool — just like this family. #jealous
For the Vegan
Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck (Rodale), $24.99
If your vegan friend drinks one more wheatgrass shot, she’s going to explode. Here’s the antidote: Thug Kitchen . This crew is making sure vegetables are f*cking awesome, bitches. Here’s what I mean: Imagine if Jesse from Breaking Bad stopped cooking meth and started cooking vegan delicacies, and talked you through the whole thing — that’s the feeling of this cookbook from start to finish. The language is dirty, the recipes are amazing, and there’s no chance you’ll be overlapping gifts with her parents, trust.
For the Food Snob
eat: The Little Book of Fast Food by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press), $27.99
You’re not sure why she’s still at her office day job — with the way she cooks, she should be running the kitchen at a Michelin-starred restaurant. What that means: She’ll never settle for mediocre spaghetti and meatballs, even on the busiest of nights. Nigel Slater’s eat is a stellar resource for five-star recipes she can whip up in an hour. It’ll become such a staple in her kitchen, she’ll never be quite sure how she lived without it.
For the Executive Home Chef
Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan), $40
If there’s a prettier cookbook out there than Heritage , I’d like to see it. Sean Brock, the chef behind Charleston, S.C.’s Husk and McCrady’s has put together a compendium that’ll leave foodies salivating. Does she want to know how to make wild-ramp-and-crab-stuffed hushpuppies? (This is a rhetorical question.) Heritage has the recipe, plus tons more with sophisticated, Southern flair that’ll keep her busy for a billion years.
For the Mixologist
Death + Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald, and Alex Day (Ten Speed Press), $40
If she doesn’t have every impulse to open up her own bar after spending a few weeks with Death + Co. , she’s doing it wrong. This book, inspired by the Lower East Side bar in New York, has literally hundreds of cocktail recipes inside — but it’s more like a reference Bible than a cookbook. It’s full of charts that’ll help her whip up anything that her — or, let’s get real, your — heart desires. If she can’t go one weekend night without picking up her cocktail shaker, this must be on her bookshelf.
For the Homebrewer
The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer by William Bostwick (W.W. Norton), $26.95
You don’t even attempt to order at the bar when she’s with you — you know she’ll do a better job. Her latest batch of homebrew was easily the best thing you’ve ever tasted (who knew something she named Wild Cherry Frankenwheat could be so good?). So, give her The Brewer’s Tale , which talks all about the brew through the lens of history and culture. It’ll add to her beer education a million-fold. Yes, after she reads this, she might become that girl who gives you a speech about what you’re drinking every time you pick up a pint, but, c’mon, maybe you’ll learn something, too.
For Your Best Friend
Not That Kind of Girl (Audiobook) by Lena Dunham (Random House Audio), $35
You’re not that surprised to see Lena Dunham’s memoir on this gift list. It’s supposed to be awesome, and it is. You’re equally unphased to see that you’re supposed to give this to your best friend, because Lena seems to always know what you and your girls are thinking. But maybe you are surprised to see this recommended as an audiobook; however, the reason you should give it in this format is because hearing Dunham read this to you is exactly how readers should be experiencing this title. It’s like having Dunham as a friend, telling you her stories… and it’s the best. Your pal will never expect this gift, and she’ll love you for the listening experience when she’s done.
For the Tattooed Friend
Pen & Ink: Tattoos & the Stories Behind Them by Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton (Bloomsbury), $22
It’s cliché to say that every tattoo has a story — especially because some of those stories involve idiotic, drunken impulses in Vegas — but your tattooed friend actually does ascribe a ton of meaning to her ink. That’s why you’re going to gift her Pen & Ink . The beautifully illustrated book is full of her kindreds: pictures of tattoo-lovers with great tales behind their art, each better than the last. The authors nailed this one.
For Your Single Friend
The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love by Sinéad Murphy (Melville House), $15.95
OkCupid isn’t cutting it for your perpetually single, heartbroken friend? That’s just because Jane Austen hasn’t stepped in. Well, not Jane Austen, per se, but her rules. (WWJD = What Would Jane Do.) This feminist dating guide is sweet and fun, and for any lit-lover with a sense of humor and an active Tinder account, this is a cute gift to add to the pile.
For the Beauty Guru
Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel (Riverhead), $27.95
What happens when an artisan perfumer, who happens to be an incredible writer, releases a book? Fragrant . Your friend the beauty guru — whose dresser is covered in bottles of perfume, naturally — will learn all about the scents to which she’s so attached. Sure, the book is nonfiction, which could be boring, but Aftel’s dreamy writing style, peppered with recipes for fragrances and edibles/drinkables, makes this a title she’ll absolutely inhale. (Pun intended.)
For the DIY Fashionista
The Worn Archive: A Fashion Journal About the Art, Ideas, and History of What We Wear edited by Serah-Marie McMahon (Drawn + Quarterly), $29.95
The first chapter in The Worn Archive is called “Fashion Is Personal,” and if there’s anyone who understands that, it’s your friend. She’s always had an aesthetic that’s uniquely hers, from curating a sartorial taste that definitely doesn’t come out of the pages of any fashion mag, to taking on DIY projects that wouldn’t ever be found on Pinterest. This book, with its fashionable ‘zine aesthetic, celebrates every side of fashion, from the history, to the art, to the women who make it what it is. Its stories are full of life, personality, and rebellion — just how she thinks fashion should be.
For the Girl Who Equates Fashion With Art
Women In Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton (Blue Rider Press), $30
More than 600 women contributed to Women In Clothes , the book that’s about to become your chicest friend’s new favorite. Through interviews, diagrams, and essays, the tome dissects fashion and its influence from all angles, and the result is so smart (and gorgeous to boot). She’ll find bylines in there from Roxane Gay, Tavi Gevinson, Rachel Kushner, Lena Dunham, Kim Gordon, and more. (Plus, the thing is 515 pages — which means she probably won’t guess there’s a book in the wrapping paper.)
For the Woman You Idolize
Icon edited by Amy Scholder (Feminist Press), $16.95
If you stopped to write about the woman who’s your icon, what would you say? Would you tell her whole biography, or just a story about her? Editor Amy Scholder asked a group of amazing authors to write about theirs — and the results are stunning, like in Mary Gaitskill’s essay on Linda Lovelace, or Kate Zambreno’s writing on Kathy Acker. Give this short book to the woman whom you idolize — she’ll get the hint.
For the Feminist
Tomboy : A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (Zest), $15.99
Your friend is an activist who wears the “feminist” label proudly, and is an advocate for inclusivity, no matter what. She’ll love Liz Prince’s Tomboy , which explores the ever-broadening definition of gender through her beautifully illustrated graphic memoir. Neither a girly girl nor one of the guys during her childhood, Prince found herself somewhere in the middle — but the middle came with many bumps and questions. Prince’s recounting of her story is funny, witty, and pulls at those heartstrings, too. Your friend will have fun with this read, and it’ll give her something to think about the whole way through.
For the Grown-Up Socialite
The Fame Lunches by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), $28
Daphne Merkin’s book of essays is like listening to your wiser, much more cultured friend talk about her ultra-chic life while you sip mimosas at brunch. This essay collection from the prolific critic culls together many of her best previously published works in a totally fearless, funny, and sometimes biting book that your friend who knows what it’s like to go out-on-the-town will love. It’s for the woman who’s one part literary, one part glamourous, one part self-indulgent, and all parts brilliant.
For the Doctor
On Immunity by Eula Biss (Graywolf), $24
On Immunity is sort of like one essay on vaccinations… which sounds boring until you get a page into it, and realize it’s written as beautifully as a novel. Biss combines an astounding breadth of research with incredible prose, both of which are jaw-dropping and evocative. The literary-minded doctor in your life will recommend this to everyone she knows.
For the Veteran
Redeployment by Phil Klay (Penguin Press), $26.95
The winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, Phil Klay’s Redeployment is a book of short stories all told on the frontlines of the war in Iraq. Klay, an Iraq veteran himself, writes vivid stories in breathtaking prose. These are deep, affecting pieces, and the themes are tough, yes — but if she identifies with what he’s writing, she’ll be moved by Klay’s insight and honesty.
For the Friend With a Short Attention Span
Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995-2014 by Alice Munro (Knopf), $30
There’s two reasons to give Alice Munro’s book of selected short stories for the holidays. 1) She hasn’t yet read the Nobel Prize-winner. That one speaks for itself. Or 2) She’s said she’s “not that into fiction.” This beautifully curated selection of Munro’s best will suck her in — the short story format is the perfect length, and Munro’s expert hand will do the rest of the work. Try to hold back the “I told you so,” OK?
For the Sports Fan
The Closer: My Story by Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffee (Little, Brown), $28
Regardless of the team she roots for, she has room in her heart for Sandman. How could she not? He’s a legend. That’s why she’ll love The Closer , which takes readers through Mo’s 19 seasons with the New York Yankees. In conjunction with noted sportswriter Wayne Coffey, Rivera writes candidly about the organization, the team in the clubhouse, and his own personal life. The memoir is written for a much wider audience than just Yankees fans — there’s tons of insight into race, religion, family, and sports politics. And, yes, there’s plenty on Jeter, in case you’re wondering.
The Self-Proclaimed Nerd
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster), $35
The guy who wrote that epic Steve Jobs biography is back with another true story of tech that’s just as revealing and well-written. And your friend, the Reddit-obsessed, tech-tinkerer is going to love it. The Innovators tells the story of the people who created computers and the Internet. She’ll especially appreciate the peek into the life of Ada Lovelace, who pioneered programming all the way back in the 1840s. The book is a hefty read at more than 500 pages, but the material is so supremely interesting, it moves way faster than its sheer size might suggest.
For the History Buff
Robert Moses: Master Builder of New York City by Pierre Christin and Olivier Balez (Nobrow), $24.95
Seriously, how many times can one person read The Power Broker ? Aren’t there rules against this kind of thing? Here’s one way to mix it up: a graphic biography of Robert Moses. The art, by Olivier Balez, will blow her away — it’s one beautiful panel after the next — and it’s the kind of read she probably wouldn’t think to get for herself. Hence, smart gift. Go get it.