Now that the turkey has been roasted, the cranberry sauce poured, the pie devoured, it’s officially time to start purchasing Christmas gifts. Today is Black Friday, so I highly recommend checking out the best sales. Let me point you in the direction of Loft (50% off everything), The Limited (70% off everything), H&M ($3 deals and big discounts), Zara (30% off everything), and Target (30% off clothing). Go ahead. I’ll wait.
All done? Wonderful. Now, let me invite you to consider gifting a few books this year. Books make for wonderful gifts, especially when you take the time to pick out something tailored to your giftee. I’ve broken down my top 20 books to give as gifts by genre, and added just a bit of description to help you decide. Feel free to ask questions or let me know about any books that should have made my list in the comments below.
To the books!
Fantasy and Sci-Fi
Among Others by Joe Walton
This is one of those rare but wonderful books that is equally good for young adult and adult readers. It is written as a journal of a Welsh adolescent who has gone through several traumatic experiences before being sent off to boarding school. Oh, and she can see fairies and perform magic. It’s a delightful read. Read my full review of it here.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Duh, you might say. No list of the perfect books to gift could skip over this classic. If your giftee has a penchant for fantasy and they haven’t cracked these open, then gifting this classic fantasy series–the fantasy series that started them all–is a no-brainer. Check out my full review here. And if your giftee has read LOTR, then let me suggest The Silmarillion. It’s LOTR’s more challenging cousin, and readers who finish it have earned themselves serious bragging rights. My full review of The Silmarillion can be found here.
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
I discovered Ubik back in college when I took a sci-fi course. It’s a mind-bending sci-fi novel from the same author who brought you Blade Runner (which was based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). It’s a solid glimpse into the type of sci-fi that was being written 50 years ago–a real page-turner that is both thought-provoking and entertaining. And so odd that it’s hard to describe. Give it a read and let me know what you think.
The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
This series of seven books is a solid fantasy story of epic proportions. Written by the same authors who also worked on the Dragonlance series, this lesser-known fantasy series follows a cast of fantastic characters–some of them dwarves and elves–through epic adventures as they explore a world that has been torn apart and seek to bring it back together again. The whole set would make a great gift for an adolescent or adult reader.
Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
If your giftee has read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi and is looking for something thought-provoking, something with beautiful, almost poetic writing, then I can’t recommend Cosmicomics enough. I’ve gifted it several times, always to great success. It is a small book of beautiful short stories, all of which fall solidly in the fantasy or sci-fi genre.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
This immensely popular novel is not likely to be unfamiliar, especially since a major motion picture of it was recently released, but on the off-chance that your giftee hasn’t yet read it, as I hadn’t until about a year ago, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a novel equally suited for adolescents and adults. Your giftee will race through it, I’m sure. It’s a must-read for any sci-fi fan.
Literary Fiction – The Classics
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
To the Lighthouse is often tauted as Woolf’s pinnacle work, but I think Mrs. Dalloway is far better. It is, without a doubt, my favorite novel of all time. Its scope is simple: it simply tells the story of one day in London, of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, preparing to throw a party. Written in the stream-of-consciousness style Woolf both created and became famous for, it is breathtakingly beautiful. If your reader is already a Woolf fan, then let me suggest her lesser known, but equally good, A Haunted House and Other Stories or The Voyage Out.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Far better than Great Expectations, which often gets recommended above it, A Tale of Two Cities tells the story of a cast of characters involved in The French Revolution, both in London and in Paris. It’s a beautiful, moving, long book–typical of its genre–that’s a must-read for any reader interested in the classics.
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
If your giftee is interested in eastern philosophy, this should be on their reading list. It tells the story of Siddhartha, a young man in India who goes along a spiritual journey and learns the basics of eastern philosophy along the way. It’s a short, powerful read.
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If you were to ask a random sample of 100 people what their favorite book is, I bet this book would be mentioned with great frequency. It’s well known for being a stellar book. It loosely tells the story of the founding of Mexico–very loosely–and is chock full of magic realism and hauntingly beautiful stories and sub-plots. If your giftee hasn’t read it, it should go on their list.
Literary Fiction – Contemporary
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
This novel could also have been easily placed under my sci-fi/fantasy list, but the magic in it is decidedly on the more realistic, subtle side. Gaiman is one of the most popular authors at the moment, and this is a great introduction to his work. It follows the journey of a mysterious main character as he travels around the Midwest discovering that real gods exist in our world and uncovering a thrilling, nefarious plot along the way.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Morrison’s Beloved is often lauded as her best work, but I like this one better. It’s a powerful story featuring a large cast of characters about what it means to be black in America. It’s an important, beautiful read.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
This was my favorite high school teacher’s favorite book. She had good taste. The Things They Carried is a collection of loosely connected short stories about the Vietnam War and what it was like to be a soldier caught up in it.
Never the Face by Ariel Sands
Several years ago I reviewed books for Booklist magazine and they sent me this gem. If your giftee enjoyed the 50 Shades of Grey series, then they’ll love this erotic novel that depicts a similar kind of sexual relationship. But this novel is much more realistic and much better.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I know, I know, you’ve probably heard of this novel. It was so insanely popular that they made it into major motion picture. If your giftee enjoys a good romance novel, they’ll love this book. It’s a compelling love story that is, I can attest, impossible to put down. And if you’ve seen the movie, forget it. The book is way, way better.
Unprocessed by Megan Kimble
Is your giftee a foodie? A social activist? An environmentalist? Then they’ll enjoy this chronicle of one woman’s attempt to eat entirely unprocessed food for one year. It’s more of an account of her year and what she learned and less of a how-to guide on how to eat unprocessed yourself. As such, its an entertaining read. See my full review here.
One Summer, America 1927 by Bill Bryson
Bryson is famously known for his jocular nonfiction works, covering everything from the Appalachian Trail to the history of household items, his books enjoy a great deal of success. As they should. I’ve read many of his works, but I found none more edifying than this one, which covers the events of the summer of 1927 in America. It’s a fascinating and humorous account that covers, among other things, Charles Lindbergh’s trans-atlantic flight, Babe Ruth’s career, and the early history of film. Read my full review here.
Winterdance by Gary Paulsen
Paulsen is well known for his survival novel The Hatchet (also worth a read) but I like this book even better. It covers Paulsen’s training for and running of the Iditarod sled dog race, which runs across the better part of Alaska. If your reader likes animals, the outdoors, or just really good true stories, this would make a great gift for them.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
In the last few months I’ve read all of the Plath’s major works, and I can attest that this is not only her best work, it is one of the best collections of poetry I’ve ever read. Moving, dark, and compelling, this collection is modern enough to be accessible to readers that aren’t overly familiar with poetry but deep enough to ensnare seasoned poets into its pages. Read my full review here.
A Net of Fireflies by Harold Stewart
If you’d like to gift a truly beautiful book, I can’t recommend a better choice than this. This collection of haiku and haiku paintings is printed in a traditional Japanese fashion of double folded pages and comes with a gold fan engraved on the cover. The writings it contains are as beautiful as the book itself. You’ll find the best haiku ever written translated beautifully. Read my full review here.