In our circle, it’s a famous mantra for this time of year: books make great gifts. And this year is no different. We spent all year recommending books, and so, naturally, we’re gifting them to friends and family—book lovers and new readers alike. Here are some books we’re excited to give this holiday season.
I have aunts, girlfriends, and book pals who all loved this year’s Netflix adaptation of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY and blew up my phone asking what to read in the same vein. This charming novel about wartime London stars a precocious young writer with aspirations of becoming a war correspondent who lands in a women’s magazine office to pen an advice column under the guise of a respectable matron. Desperate to do good in her corner of the world, even if only by responding to letters under a pen name, her plucky attempts are hilarious but also deeply heartwarming. Needless to say, I’ll be placing this one under many trees this year!
Rom-coms are back, and it’s not hard to understand why: they’re a ray of sunshine on a dark news day, an instant pick-me-up when you’re feeling down, a perfect distraction in times of stress. If you ask me, there isn’t much a good rom-com can’t do. So when I’m shopping for a gift that’s sure to make someone smile, you can bet I’ll reach for Christina Lauren’s delightful novel ROOMIES. When Holland Bakker is attacked one night in her subway station, she’s rescued by none other than the mysterious Irish street musician she’s long admired from afar, Calvin McLoughlin. As a thank-you, Holland gets him an audition for her uncle’s Broadway show, but soon learns Calvin can’t take her up on the offer because he’s in the country illegally. So she does what anyone would do—she proposes a marriage of convenience, to a man for whom she has the most inconvenient secret feelings. What could possibly go wrong? Obviously, the answer is absolutely everything, but in a fun, satisfying way. Trust me.
I think that when it comes to giving books as gifts, there should be something in it for everyone: adventure, romance, heroes, villains, the whole nine yards. This collection of profiles of figures both ordinary and extraordinary—from Malala Yousafzai and Donald Trump to Richard Jewell and Roy Cohn—by veteran journalist Marie Brenner has all that and more. The centerpiece of the book is her deep dive into the story of war correspondent Marie Colvin, who opened the world’s eyes to the conflicts in Syria, Libya, and more before losing her life in 2012. And, a bonus gift: that article has been made into a film starring Rosamund Pike, so your reading recipient will feel like they have the whole story.
My dad is getting back into reading, and I’m his main source of book recommendations. Now that I’ve successfully indoctrinated him into the world of contemporary African lit—with full-length novels like THE FISHERMEN and BEHOLD THE DREAMERS—I think it’s time for something less traditional. That’s why I’m excited to give him Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s short story collection HEADS OF THE COLORED PEOPLE. Thompson-Spires’s boundary-pushing vignettes explore black identity and the contemporary middle class in this supposedly post-racial era. While some of the stories are poignant and timely, others are darkly funny—a perfect mix for someone who has a renewed passion for reading.
After November 2016, my mom started saying that no one understands “the real America,” which always made me angry because . . . well, I consider myself an American, seeing as how I was born and raised here. But while reading HEARTLAND, I started to understand that there are so many Americas, and Sarah Smarsh is the best of the best at explaining her little piece of the country. HEARTLAND is not HILLBILLY ELEGY—it’s about someone who feels torn between the love she has for her family and their way of life and her need to transcend the barriers that defined her childhood. It’s beautiful and wonderful, not angry or presumptive, and by the end you will love Sarah as much as you do your own family. Everyone in my family gets this book this season, because I never want to hear the phrase “the real America” again.
This will be my go-to holiday gift this year, for any and every reader I know—mostly because I know it’s on so many people’s lists! This National Book Award winner is a sweeping and gorgeous portrait of three generations of a family in the American South, centered around Jojo, a thirteen-year-old who must examine and come to understand what it means to be a man as his mother takes him and his sister to see their father after he is released from prison. Ward is one of those writers who seems able to do anything, and this new book is destined to be a classic.
My boyfriend is a huge Ursula K. Le Guin fan, and I’m so excited to give him this special fiftieth-anniversary edition of her beloved, magical Earthsea novels. They’ve never been published together in one volume before, and this hefty, super gift-able edition also includes lots of extra material and gorgeous new illustrations. It’s perfect for any reader who loves getting swept up in an enchanting, immersive fantasy world, and the book is pretty enough to sit out on a coffee table.
I have many family members who have eagerly been awaiting the arrival of a new Diane Setterfield novel. And what’s even more exciting is that this one is just as wonderful and beautiful as her debut novel, THE THIRTEENTH TALE. In ONCE UPON A RIVER, a young girl is found on the banks of a river but is a perfect mystery to everyone who lives nearby. Who is she? Where did she come from? And who sent her? As the story unfolds, various townspeople claim she was sent for them, and what they learn about themselves and one another will forever change them. Not only is Setterfield’s writing as beautiful as it has always been, but the message of community, hope, and love that is woven into this story will have any reader glued to their armchair hour after hour.
When my fiancée and I first started dating, one of the few things I knew about her was that she liked Isabel Allende. So, for our second date, I brought her what was Allende’s newest book at the time, THE JAPANESE LOVER. Considering how well that worked out, I’m going to continue the trend this holiday season by giving her a copy of IN THE MIDST OF WINTER, an incredible novel about three very different people brought together in a fascinating story that ranges from Brooklyn to Guatemala to 1970s Chile and Brazil. I have no doubt she’ll love it.