It’s surprising to some people when they find out that there are those who legitimately enjoy getting and giving books as gifts instead of treating them like reliable Christmas backup plans. But often, those people can be harder to shop for, since they’re deep enough in the medium that you can’t phone it in like you would have for your far-from-a-bookworm friend. Or maybe you’re the resident bookworm and want an easily emailable/textable list to show that you’re really not that hard to buy for. Whichever you are, this list should fulfill any and all of your book-gifting needs.
It’s hard to believe now, but there was once a time when humanity could focus on one thing for longer than a lunch break. For years, we’ve had meme after fleeting meme smash against the shores of the Internet, occasionally catching an innocent Ken Bone in its deadly riptide. But through it all, Tetris endured. It found its way into the hearts of the West in the waning days of the Cold War and it wouldn’t be a stretch to thank it for reunifying Germany as well as ensuring we didn’t end up living in an irradiated wasteland. It’s the surest proof that all the fear mongering and hatred America felt for the Soviets wasn’t nearly as deserved as those post-war warhawks would have you believe. Tetris might be the commonest ground we’ve ever had.$20
Not everything got easier as time went on and one of the things that went by the wayside was people’s ability and appreciation when it comes to home cooked meals. Sarah Zin was a victim of that deterioration as well as a painter. So when she decided to learn to cook for herself, she blended her educational pursuit and her passion to create an illustrated cookbook. Her cookbook comes at the end of her year of learning and has basic recipes that will help initiate new chefs into the intimidating world of feeding yourself.$16
Literary naturalists can sometimes fall by the wayside. That could be because their issues aren’t as enticing or topically conflicted as other forms of literature. But in a stretch of years where we’ve set high temperature records for months at a time while also cutting down and developing vast swaths of what used to be wilderness, we should probably get back to appreciating the value of nature. John Muir does just that in his book of wilderness essays, helpfully titled Wilderness Essays. If the world could adopt just a fraction of the enthusiasm and love this guy had for nature, maybe we wouldn’t have made such a mess of things.$13
When Europeans first came to North America, the extensive American wilderness was seen as a place where literal demons and devils took children to be corrupted and mutilated. Now we go glamping. Dan White’s book explores that transformation firsthand, tracing the history of sleeping outside by traveling the nation as well as relating it to figures like Emerson, Thoreau, Roosevelt, and Horace Kephart. There’s a reason we were the first country to found a national park and White wants to lay it all out from beginning to end.$19
An encouraging recent trend is the world’s re-emphasis on maintaining unique cultures instead of allowing globalization to turn us all into Wal-Mart shopping McDonald’s eaters. Monocle is a magazine that’s been giving recommendations and advice with that trend in mind since 2007 and expanded into book publishing three years ago. The Monocle Guide to Drinking & Dining is their most recent addition to their library. The book collects the anecdotes, advice, and recipes of those in the scene, both known and unknown. We have to say, the worldview it’s peddling is an optimistic one, and we wouldn’t mind if more people followed this kind of guide.$45
We’ve never been coy about how much we like Anthony Bourdain. He’s consistently proven himself a capable cook, writer, and host, so you know anything he does is going to be entertaining as well as educational. But interestingly enough, for a guy who made a name for himself cooking, he’s been out of the cookbook game for more than a decade. Appetites marks his return to the genre, this time reflecting Bourdain’s move to home-cooking and entertaining. Bourdain described himself recently as having “morphed into a psychotic, anally retentive, bad-tempered Ina Garten,” which means, under this cookbook, your guests will be too consumed by an almighty fear of you, their host, to admit they had a bad time.$23
There has to be a level of frustration Bruce Springsteen has when he looks at the reception of his work. A decent portion of his most popular songs is devoted to espousing all the ways America failed him and people like him. Maybe with this book he’ll be able to clarify a few things. Speaking of his songs, there are some significant stylistic similarities here. Since most of Springsteen’s songs are narrative, it makes a lot of sense that his written storytelling would reflect that. Even passing fans of The Boss will find something to latch on to in Springsteen’s autobiography.$20
A moment of honesty. We’re conflicted about including this pick on the list. It’s very existence disproves the idea on the cover. But the meat of the book is figuring out what to give a shit about and what you probably don’t have to. It’s about ignoring the constant stream of advertising and social pressure that tells us we need to have more things and be better and that we’re unique and exceptional in every way. It’s a valuable premise. But as much as we say they don’t, books get judged by their covers and “Let’s Be Reasonable about our Expectations and Abilities while also Allowing Ourselves Room for Failure” doesn’t exactly fly off the shelves.$14
We included The Nix on our 10 New Books You Should Read This Fall list, and we have it again here for all the same reasons. It’s a book that feels pretty damn relevant, since every day it feels like there’s some new thing we’re supposed to have a do-or-die opinion about. For example, Millenials are always finding out they’re the cause of all the world’s problems, just like the Baby Boomers also caused all the world’s problems. Then there’s the presidential campaigns, high profile protests getting sensationalized by the media, and the tendency of the Internet to react to every little stimulus like it was a skittish meerkat on a truly massive dose of cocaine. Even if it’s just to commiserate with an author feeling some of the same stuff as you, this is a book worth reading.$17
Ron Swanson shot into astronomical popularity on Parks & Recreation. So much so, that every few months, someone reposts something titled along the lines of, “Did You Know Ron Swanson Was In This?” Two things. One, his name is Nick Offerman and, two, there’s more overlap between the characters than you might think. Like Swanson, Offerman is an accomplished woodworker. So accomplished that, even if he never gets another role, the guy’s probably set for life.
Thankfully, he wants to share that pursuit with us more than just selling us nice chairs, and Good Clean Fun is full of everything you’d want and expect from Offerman. There are humor pieces, essays, odes to woodworkers, and insights into modern America’s woodworking scene. If any of that inspires you to try it yourself, there are also step by step processes for your own projects, giving you one more way to be slightly closer to Ron Swanson himself.$25
Being a psychic in a casino is a recipe for success. Nic Cage covered its lucrative potential in his 2007 blockbuster Next, a movie known for its flawless execution. A Gambler’s Anatomy hits a little harder, since it gives its main character literal face cancer. The story’s about a man who makes his money duping rich people out of money after they attempt to take on his unrivaled proficiency at backgammon, but then develops a tumor that messes with his eyesight. Also, he thinks he’s telepathic, which soon becomes a source of crisis for him. It’s confusing, but in exactly the right kind of way.$22
Jonathan Safran Foer
Family is a constant source of conflict and salvation in both literature and real life and it’s that sort of dynamic Jonathan Safran Foer explores in his most recent book. A family has to reconcile the distance between what they want and what they have and whether or not that distance means they can call home “home.” This is one of those books that hurts to read, so it might be one that’s a bit harder to gift. Just because you think everyone should read it, doesn’t mean everyone is going to want to. Case in point, this is about as much as we can do to make you read it and it might not even work.$17
This is sort of the gift card of the online reading community, but we never seemed to have as much of a issue with gift cards as other people. It’s free money at a place you were probably going to end up anyway, what’s the problem? In fact, this is better than a gift card, because giving someone Prime Reading is like buying them thousands of books, and originally you were only going to get them one. Your friends sound ungrateful.$11/month