Hello dear readers! It may not feel much like it but the holidays are almost upon us. This year, it’s important to #shoplocal and support independent bookstores like Strand and McNally Jackson. They’ve lost most of their revenue to Amazon with closures due to COVID and reduced foot traffic causing them to lose business.
As book lovers, we believe the best present to give to anyone is a book. There’s something for everyone, even non-readers (cookbooks, coloring books, puzzle books). Or, if you’re a non-reader yourself looking for something to get your reader friend, you’ve come to the right place.
As we do every year, we put together a handy guide of our favorite new releases and under-appreciated books from years past. Our goal in making this list was to avoid best sellers and gather some hidden gems that your gift recipient is almost sure not to already have. We tried to hit a wide range so that there’s something for everyone.
We’ll be adding to this list over the next week so check back! If you have any specific types of books you’re looking for or people you’re looking to shop for that you don’t see represented in this list, let us know in the comments! Also, check out our 2017 gift list, 2018 list, and 2019 list for even more ideas.
2020 Holiday Gift Guide for Book Lovers
Besotted by Melissa Duclos (2019)
Intimate, and colorfully written, Besotted by Melissa Duclos was an absorbing read. Told from the perspective of Sasha, a member of the Shanghai expatriate community, this novel is focused on her relationship with Liz, a young woman Sasha pulls to Shanghai and maneuvers into dating her.
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (2018)
A grim read but great for fans of apocalypse stories. Peng Shepherd’s Book of M is a tour de force, a grim-yet-hopeful speculative fiction novel with many parallels for the current coronavirus pandemic. The characters in the book grapple with their own mysterious pandemic: a wave of people throughout the globe suddenly begin losing their shadows, and no one understands why. With the loss of a shadow inevitably comes total memory loss.
The Wright Sister by Patty Dann (2020)
A sweet historical fiction novel of the Wright brother’s oft-forgotten sister. After she got married in her 50s, her brother suddenly stopped talking to her without any explanation at all. This epistolary novel is an imagined series of letters she writes to him. (Full review coming soon.)
TITAN by François Vigneault (2020)
François Vigneault’s TITAN is a slim volume, a quick but impactful read. Far in the future, humans have genetically engineered a race of super-strong, super-big people called Titans. When MNGR João da Silva arrives on the planet Titan, things are already tenuous. The relationship between Titans and “Terrans,” what they call humans from Earth, is hostile – one Titan snaps that she’d “rather scrub dreg out the line with my tongue” than work directly with a Terran. The planet is a powder keg, about to explode. That’s when Phoebe, a fiery red-haired Titan, arrives, pulling João deeper into a conflict he can’t escape.
How to Catch a Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in Nature by Marc Hammer (2019)
A small press read for nature lovers. Marc Hammer takes us into the bizarre world of mole hunting, in a book that’s part memoir, part poetry. (Full review coming soon.)
How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe (2019)
Webcomic author Randall Munroe (XKCD) has a gripping series of books in which he breaks down real science in wonderfully inventive, humorous ways (of course, illustrated with his wonderful drawings. How To answers questions like “How to Keep Your House from Moving” and “How to Power Your House (on Mars)”.
How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer (2020)
Published this year, this sweet affirmative guide compiles some of the best lessons Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer learned when making their podcast, By the Book, in which they strictly live by the rules of one self help book after another for two weeks at a time. This book manages to be helpful without being pushy or annoying, making it (I think) one of the only self-help books you can give someone as a gift without coming across like a dick. This book is kind of a salve for self-help book mania, making the case that sometimes the best way to live is making peace with what already works for us.
How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler by Ryan North (2018)
I genuinely recommend this book but I also couldn’t resist adding a fourth-in-a-row “how to” book (what can I say, I guess we’re obsessed with instruction this year). This book is both comedic and informative. Ryan North wrote it as a complete guide a time traveler would be able to use if dropped in the past, with answers to questions like “How can I invent penicillin?”
Classic: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
Milo finds himself bored and restless no matter what he does, always wanting to be somewhere else, until he’s sent a mysterious toy tollbooth and an electronic toy car that takes him to a magical place on a quest to restore Rhyme and Reason to the Kingdoms of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. This sweet, inventive book has a great message for kids who are quarantining – sometimes the best adventure is one through your own mind, and through learning. Plus, it’s fallen somewhat out of popularity in recent years, meaning kids are less likely to already have it. (Probably appropriate for ages 6-11)
Newer: Mister Monday (Keys to the Kingdom Book #1) by Garth Nix (2003)
This novel delivers a gripping fantasy world with satirical undertones that make it a great read for kids and adults alike. The protagonist finds himself trapped in a frustratingly bureaucratic and nonsensical world. Fans of Artemis Fowl will love this book. (Probably appropriate for ages 9-13)
The Cousins by Karen M. McManus (2020)
A gripping mystery/thriller novel for teens this delivers a satisfying read. (Full review coming soon.)
Giant Days volume 1 by John Allison (2015)
A cute story about finding yourself at college with your best buds by beloved webcomic author John Allison. Esther de Groot goes to college and faces the challenges of her “drama field” following her. Allison’s unique writing style, strong female characters and vivid imagination make this a great read. The final volume in this series just came out this year, so if your gift-ee likes this they can read the entire thing.