It’s that time of year again. As book lovers, we believe that a book is always the perfect present. Whoever you’re looking for, there’s something on this list for them. We aimed for more obscure or lesser-known titles, as well as our favorite new releases from 2018. If you pick a book from this list, the odds are pretty good they don’t already have it – either because it just came out so they haven’t gotten a chance, or because it’s not on their radar.
Did you, like us, forget that Hanukkah starts December 2 this year? Most of the books on our list are available online with one- to two-day shipping – so no matter what holiday you celebrate, there’s a perfect last-minute gift for you in here somewhere. (You can also check out our picks from last year.)
The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway by William Goldman
Best known for penning The Princess Bride, William Goldman also wrote a score of other books that have fallen into obscurity. In The Season, Goldman details his take on the 1967 Broadway season. Full of wit and insight, this book is remarkably prescient. Even though parts of it are a bit dated, it will still be relevant to the theater nut in your life. You may have to hunt a bit for a copy, as this book is out of print. However, if you can’t find a copy at your price point, we also recommend any of his other books, like his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade.
New: Buffy Sainte Marie: The Authorized Biography by Andrea Warner
This biography answers the question “Whatever happened to Buffy Sainte Marie?” Even if you haven’t heard of Buffy, you should have: she rose to fame in the 60s alongside Janis Joplin and Neil Diamond. Many of her songs are still well-known, despite being misattributed to other artists, like Elvis Presley. This book is sure to be a hit with baby boomers and music lovers. Read our review here.
New: Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found by Bella Bathurst
A literary look at sound from a number of angles, including everything from how acoustics work to the social impact of hearing loss. Read our review here.
New: No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs by Lezlie Lowe
A surprisingly revelatory look at how human culture has been shaped by toilets, and vice-versa. No Place to Go is centered around conversations about access (surprise: straight white able-bodied men have the most). This is the feminist toilet manifesto you didn’t know you needed to read. Read our review here.
New: Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong, and How the New Science Can Set Us Free by Wednesday Martin:
A pop social science book that explores female sexuality, and the history of the myths that abound in our culture. Read our review here.
New: The Dying of the Light by Robert Goolrick
The Dying of the Light is a sumptuous feast of a book, rich in texture and detail. Robert Goolrick tells the life story of Diana Cooke, the jewel of a dying Southern empire. She and her family invest everything they have, their very souls, into saving their estate, a sprawling house named Saratoga. Read our review here.
New: The Beauty of the Death Cap by Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze
At a slim 150 pages, Beauty of the Death Cap is a quick, engaging read. It would make an excellent holiday gift for fans of Nabakov’s Lolita, or anyone who loves language and has a dry sense of humor. Read our review here.
New: This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
In This Mournable Body, a woman named Tambudzai grapples with the harsh realities of living in Zimbabwe after the Revolution of the 1990s. Read our review here.
New: Open Me by Lisa Locascio
When a mixup sends Roxana, an 18-year-old girl, to Copenhagen, a mysterious Danish man named Soren whisks her away to live out one of his sexual fantasies. This book is marketed as quasi-erotica, a label I’m not so sure about. However, erotica or not, Open Me is a gorgeously written book. Read our review here.
LITERARY SHORT STORIES
New: The Dead Still Here by Laura Valeri
A quiet, thoughtful short story collection centered on women, Valeri makes excellent use of magical realism. We recommend The Dead Still Here for fans of Isabelle Allende or Rudolfo Anaya.
New: Lucky Man by Jamal Brinkley
Jamal Brinkley’s debut book A Lucky Man is a collection of nine excellently written short stories that showcase a deeply thoughtful body of work. Read our review here.
New: Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
In Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires weaves a tapestry of loosely connected stories about African-American people. She explores the complex relationships African-Americans have towards their racial identity in 21st century America. Read our review here.
New: Like a Champion by Vincent Chu
Characters find triumph in small moments in Vincent Chu’s new short fiction collection, Like a Champion. These quietly hopeful stories are a breath of fresh air. Read our review here.
Watershed by Colin Dodds
Watershed, a gripping thriller, begins when Raquel, a pretty young escort, is thrown out of a helicopter. From there, the story only gets stranger and more complex, as Raquel meets Norwood, a former sculptor who earns his living from odd off-the-books jobs and selling snakes. Read our review here.
New: Glamshack by Paul Cohen
Paul Cohen’s debut novel, Glamshack, is a gritty, sensual journey through a man’s obsession with a woman, and her fiance. Read our review here.
New: Where Night Stops, by Douglas Light
Where Night Stops, a new novel by Douglas Light, is a gripping thriller written in deliciously literary prose. Read our review here.
SCI FI / FANTASY
50 Short Science Fiction Tales
A primer course on sci-fi greats of the 60s, each of these stories packs a powerful punch.
New: Scribe by Alyson Hagy
A female-centric dystopian novel, Scribe by Alyson Hagy is a fascinating and quick read. Read our review here.
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
This book is a powerful look into one woman’s struggle with alcoholism and society’s attitudes toward alcohol in general. Knapp compares her relationship with alcohol to a bad love affair. She writes “Anyone who’s ever shifted from general affection and enthusiasm for a lover to outright obsessions knows what I mean.” The book is valuable for anyone who would like to gain insight into others’ addictions, or indeed anyone who’s struggled to any extent with the seductive nature of a good glass of wine after a hard day’s work.
Raised Eyebrows: My years inside Groucho’s house by Steve Stoliar
Steve Stoliar was a Marx Brothers fan who lived in Los Angeles. Through a chance phone call he ended up as secretary to his idol, the elderly Groucho Marx his idol. Stoliar gives an insight look at what life was like in his last years as he was forced to perform by Groucho’s “girlfriend” Erin Fleming. At times we get the picture of Groucho the wit and comedian, still sharp as ever, at other times a poignant picture of Groucho the old and sick man. Even if you’re not a Marx brothers fan, this book paints a vivid picture of what can happen to a celebrity past his prime.
New: Sick by Porochista Khakpour
Full of overly dramatic sensibility, Sick is a riveting read, especially for
hypochondriacs or anyone dealing with a chronic illness. Khakpour narrates her own life in a half soap opera-ish, half highbrow literature way. Read our review here.
The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberly
This book – a forgotten classic – deftly satirizes Cold War era politics. Funny and surprising, The Mouse That Roared is still relevant in the age of Trump.
New: 30 Before 30: How I Made a Mess of My 20s, and You Can Too, by Marina Shifrin
In 30 Before 30, comedian Marina Shifrin shares the story of how she turned her life around with one little list, and a lot of guts. This surprisingly optimistic collection of essays is full of humor, and even offers some advice about living with the reckless abandon of a 20-something that can apply to anyone, no matter your age. Read our review here.
Rhymes for the Irreverent by Yip Harburg
The man lyricist behind classics like The Wizard of Oz and “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” also wrote sharp, funny poems, often with a political bend. This 2006 reprint collects some of his best poems.
New: Two Towns Over by Darren C. Demaree
Darren C. Demaree’s Two Towns Over is an introspective illustration of drug culture in the American Midwest. Read our review here.
New: The Hatch by Joe Fletcher
Joe Fletcher’s The Hatch contemplates the mystery of human consciousness through a series of narrative poems constructed in a gradually developing, non-linear collection of verse and prose pieces overflowing with morbidity, misdirection and disconcertion. Read our review here.
FOR DOLLY PARTON FANS:
New: What Would Dolly Do? By Lauren Marino
With a candy-cute cover, this book goes through Dolly Parton’s career while inspiring its readers to be more like Dolly. This book just came out in April – so if you know a die-hard Dolly fan, now’s the chance to surprise them.
CHILDREN, ages 9 to 11:
Cheaper by the Dozen
This book, a classic, has fallen out of popularity, but it’s still a great read. The delightful story of a father who tries to raise his 12 children like efficient parts in a factory, it bears no resemblance to the early 2000s film of the same title.
Anything by Diana Wynne Jones
Like literally, anything by Diana Wynne Jones. Jones writes with the sensibility of English children’s classics like E. Nesbit and Edward Eager, but for a modern audience. If you’re worried they might have it already, avoid Howl’s Moving Castle, but anything else you can find is fair game. (Many are unfortunately out of print.) We recommend her for fans of Harry Potter or any other children’s fantasy.
His Shoes Were Too Tight by Edward Lear
Whimsical poet Edward Lear dates back to the mid 1800s, but his poems are still fresh. Children’s author Daniel Pinkwater put his favorite Lear poems into this collection, illustrated by Calef Brown.
The Dark Reflections trilogy by Kai Meyer
An inventive trilogy, these books are set in an alternate history where the Egyptian Empire controls Italy. Kai Meyer imagines a fascinating Venice with flying obsidian lions, terrifying mermaids, and a magical mirror maker with a dark past.
New: See all the Stars by Kit Frick
The debut novel by poet Kit Frick, this book explores a group of friends after a falling out rips them apart. Read our review here.
New: You are the Everything by Karen Rivers
Fans of John Green may like Karen Rivers’ book about two teens who find love after surviving a plane crash. Read our review here.
For the absurdist in your life:
Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau
This trilogy, written in the early 2000s, is a hilarious look at a group of friends. Some of their antics include picking locks (duh), and sneaking a self-published picture book about gender non-conformity into children’s hands.
New: Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell
Niffenegger’s stories are, as advertised, bizarre. In one, a woman inherits a house from a kindly elderly woman, and demolishes the house when she discovers something disturbing in the basement. Read our review here.
WHAT NOT TO GET
Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life by Radha Agrawal
A note of warning – if you saw this book and thought “This would be the perfect gift for my hippie-dippie friend!”, only do that if you’re really secure in the friendship. Agrawal includes an entire chapter on how to ditch friends that aren’t on the same “wavelength” as you.