Every year, I ask for two things for the holidays:
A book, and a pair of fluffy pajamas. Compared to the immense challenge of finding the Perfect Book, buying pajamas is simple. Walk into a store, run your fingers on each pair of pajamas, choose the ones that best embody the feeling of a cozy evening curled up next to a fireplace. The book, on the other hand, requires thought, and browsing, and a bit of luck.
A book, selected deliberately and
precisely for your friend, can a wonderful holiday gift. Buying a book for a friend shows that you want to bring her delightful sentences and stories, that you want to brighten up her commute, and that you were thinking of her. But walking into a bookstore with a person in mind can be daunting. How can you know exactly what book your friend needs in her life at this exact moment?
With this collection of books — the vast majority of which were published in 2017 — we’ve made your task a bit simpler. Here's a book for every kind of friend you could possibly have.
For your friend who would make a great politician:
by Tracy Mathison, Tara Rossi, and Heidi Schoeneck See Joan Run See Joan Run — for office! This parody of Fun With Dick and Jane, created by the nonpartisan She Should Run network, follows a woman navigating a political world of "Dicks." All proceeds go to She Should Run's efforts to encourage more women to begin their political careers.
For your friend so quick you can barely keep up with her:
by Sally Rooney Conversations With Friends Twenty-six-year-old Rooney wrote Conversations With Friends in a snippy three months, while finishing up her Masters in literature at Trinity College in Dublin. Her protagonists, two college-aged best friends, speak in elevated and endlessly witty dialogue. But Frances and Melissa's friendship, and their rapport, face dissolution after Frances begins an affair with their older friend's husband. Conversations With Friends, a book in which text messaging is just as important and intelligent as face-to-face dialogue, is a book that will speak your language.
For your friend who wishes she could subsist off pure wanderlust:
by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thomas, and Ella Morton Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders The travel website makes finding your way off the beaten path a whole lot simpler. Within this book, you'll find 700 of the best Atlas Obscura Atlas Obscura destinations and discoveries, like the bar in South Africa situated inside a baobab tree, or Virginia's Great Stalacpipe Organ. Get ready to add some dream trips to the Bucket List.
For your friend who's still figuring out her relationship to her mother:
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie To describe life growing up on the Spokane Reservation, poet and novelist Sherman Alexie had to combine poetry, rambling essays, and comic verse, and create a type of memoir almost entirely of his own invention. Alexie was inspired to write this memoir following the death of his mother, Lillian; their fraught and complicated relationship is the book's focal point. Lillian was a very human amalgamation of contradictions — she supported her family through unimaginable poverty and was incredibly generous to others, but deprived her children of the affection they so craved.
For your friend who's about to get hitched:
The Wedding Toast I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun Drawing from her extremely popular 2015 New York Times Modern Love column, Ada Calhoun writes an account of married life — the good times, the bad times, and the boring times. Essentially, everything you never hear about during the wedding toast. In this collection of essays, you'll find thoughtful commentary on all the anxieties and joys surrounding marriage and long-term commitment.
For your friend from college:
The Idiot by Elif Batuman Remember the earnest, slightly goofy self you were during your freshman year of college? Well, you certainly will recall your former self while following Selin's first year of Harvard in the year 1995. Batuman spins a hilarious novel out of Selin's emotional discoveries, academic awakenings, and "firsts" of freshman year. Highlights include Selin's friendship with the international student Sveltana, her email romance with an aloof Hungarian math major, and the politics of her art class. In her own words, Selin is someone “trying to live a life unmarred by laziness, cowardice, and conformity.” You'll be won over by her nobility and humor.
For your social justice warrior friend:
by Lisa Ko The Leavers Eleven-year-old Deming Guo's mother goes to work at her job in a Bronx nail salon. And then, she doesn't return. His mother, Polly, was an undocumented immigrant, and cannot be tracked. Left without a mother, Deming is adopted by two professors, moves to upstate New York, and is given him a new name: Daniel. Even if Deming doesn't hear from Polly, we do. The wrenching novel of loss and the immigration system flashes between Deming and Polly's perspective.
For your friend who’s an avid journaler:
by David Nadelberg My Mortified Life: A Guided Journal to Gauge How Much You’ve Changed Since Childhood Participants on the podcast do, perhaps, the most mortifying thing possible: Read from their childhood journals in front of a live audience. This year, the creators of the Mortified Mortified podcast released this interactive journal, complete with 200 pages of thought-provoking and hilarious exercises that prompt you to compare your childhood experiences with who you are today. The best part? No need to read this journal aloud.
For your friend who keeps up with literary prizes
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders This year, Lincoln in the Bardo was awarded the Man Booker Prize, a prize awarded to the year's best English-language novel. Saunders' moving, inventive (and first-ever) novel is definitely unlike anything you've ever read before. It's narrated by a grand total of 166 characters, takes place in a graveyard, and has Abraham Lincoln as a primary character. The novel's collision of historical and fantastical will inevitably make you rethink life, death, and Lincoln.
For your friend who holds New York above all other cities:
Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City by Julia Wertz In this book, cartoonist Julia Wertz renders the nooks, crannies, and secret histories of New York in inventive, visually stunning illustrations. Wertz takes an unapologetically nostalgic stance as she weaves stories of a soulful New York threatened by big money, big business, and change. That "old" New York will always remain in her cartoons.
For your friend who’s thrilled about a
Sabrina the Teenage Witch revival: by Alice Hoffman The Rules of Magic Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owens are faced with the unfortunate circumstances of being born into a family plagued by a centuries-old curse, which began in the year 1620 when their ancestor was burned for witchcraft. Up until now, their mother, Susanna, has tried to protect her kids from their own budding supernatural abilities. After the siblings visit their aunt in Massachusetts, the site of where the family's trouble began, it's too late: Their powers blossom, and now the kids have to face the other part of the curse. If they fall in love, terrible things will befall their partner. Fun fact: Franny and Jet go on to become the aunts in Hoffman's Practical Magic, which was made into a movie.
For your friend who wishes her life were more of a fairy tale:
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado In this collection, Machado unveils a series of dark, surreal, feminist stories, which somehow give off both contemporary and timeless fairy tale vibes. In one of Machado's stories, a woman's otherwise happy marriage is threatened by the ribbon she wears around her neck. In another, a woman reminisces about her sexual past as a plague rapidly spreads around the world.
For your friend who dreams of world domination:
The Power by Naomi Alderman One day, adolescent girls around the world simultaneously grow the ability to shoot electricity from a newly emerged organ in their collarbone, called a skein. Soon, all women have this ability. In The Power, four narrators document how the world order is upended when women can fight back with fatal power, and are given not only a voice, but a force.
For your friend who hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since last November:
edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America If these political times have left you bewildered, let 23 of the most prolific and intelligent women writers around today help you make your way through the woods with essays both political and personal. Hear from Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed, Samantha Irby, and many more.
For your friend who read
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain one sitting: I Hear She’s a Real Bitch by Jen Agg Toronto restauranteur Jen Agg has made a name for herself in the tough, ruthless boy's club of the restaurant industry. In this memoir, you'll come to learn how Agg opened five restaurants and held conferences with names like, "Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy One Plate at a Time.” That's a true story.
For your wokest friend:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Starr Carter splits her time between her fancy private school and her poor, predominantly Black neighborhood. After witnessing the fatal shooting of her best friend, Khalil, by a police officer, Starr feels like she is splitting in two. As the sole witness to the crime, Starr has to make a choice about coming forward and potentially putting her family in danger.
For your little sister who’s consumed by the high school drama:
by Ruby Karp Earth Hates Me: Confessions From A Teenage Girl When most of us were juniors in high school, we were worrying about prom dates and college. That's what makes Ruby Karp, who's just finishing up her senior year of high school, different than the rest of us. Instead of just succumbing to the drama, Karp thoughtfully observed the high school ecosystem and wrote her findings down in this charming, hilarious book about navigating adolescence in the 21st-century.
For your friend who followed the 2016 election in minute detail:
Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur For 500 days and 500 nights, NBC correspondent Katy Tur covered the Trump campaign. During that time, she also attracted Trump's attention — his nickname for her was "Little Katy." Tur saw it all happen. In this book, she tries to make sense of it.
For your friend with immigrant parents:
by Scaachi Koul One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter Koul, a contributing writer at Buzzfeed, released this collection of essays to uproarious praise. Many of her sharply observed, confessional essays focus on her relationship with her parents who emigrated from India to Canada, and navigating certain aspects of a cultural heritage she simultaneously admires and struggles against. In other instances, Koul deftly comments on topics in the zeitgeist, like Internet culture and sexual assault.
For your friend who's hand a really tough year:
by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant Option B Sheryl Sandberg's husband, David Goldberg, died unexpectedly on a family vacation. Following that tragedy, Sandberg wrote she was in "the void," and doubted she could ever be happy again. Option B tracks the journey of Sandberg's grief, and the resiliency she developed. Sandberg and psychologist Adam Grant have compiled a powerful manual for resiliency. You're stronger than you think.
For your friend who's considering going into politics:
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco You think your job is stressful? Try working at the White House. Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for ten years, but her job became much more stressful once she had to keep up with a more presidential schedule. The book's bursting with juicy, behind-the-scenes stories of the Obama era. The real star, though, is Mastromonaco herself — her can-do attitude is sure to inspire anyone interested in politics.
For your friend who feels between worlds:
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons A warning: This bright and brilliant work of debut fiction is also a definite bummer. Thandi moves home to Philadelphia to care for her South African mother, who eventually dies of cancer. Thandi's left a 20-something, half-African, half-Black American woman left to navigate race and culture and motherhood without her anchor. She tells the story in vignettes, circling from the past to present, between narrative and ideas.
For your friend who likes her novels multigenerational and sprawling:
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee Pachinko begins in Korea at the start of the 20th century, when Sunja, the daughter of a fisherman, becomes pregnant by a married man. Unwilling to be his kept mistress, Sunja's only option is to accept a marriage proposal from a minister passing through Korea on his way home to Japan. From there, Lee tells the story of Sunja's ancestors as they make a home in Japan in the face of racial prejudice and adversity. Get ready to dig into seventy years of family history.
For your friend who grew up going to church on Sundays:
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood Poet Patricia Lockwood's father is a Roman Catholic priest, but not the kind you've ever encountered before. For one, he's married and has a child. He also plays a bright red electric guitar, and bumbles about the house in a thoroughly larger-than-life way. Lockwood left the church and ran away from home when she was 19. Priestdaddy, a memoir of confronting family, religion, and identity, begins when Lockwood and her husband move back home with her parents following an illness and financial difficulties.
For your friend who's searching for the next Great American Novel:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward's first novel since National Book award-winning Salvage the Bones, is the 21st century's answer to William Faulkner's long, southern odysseys. Set in rural Mississippi, this sprawling novel follows Leonie and her children on their way to pick up their white father from the state penitentiary. Since this book is entrenched in the history of Black America, it's no surprise that a ghost of a dead inmate joins them on their car ride.
For your friend who knows the suburbs harbor secrets of their own:
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng Shaker Heights, Ohio: A quaint suburb designed to be a getaway from the bustle of Cleveland. Looking around at the perfectly laid-out streets, you might think its residents were perfect, too. Yet since Little Fires Everywhere begins with Bill and Elena Richardson's house being deliberately set on fire, you now know: Things have never been perfect in Shaker Heights, and they became more complicated when Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, moved in next door to the Richardsons. Beginning with the revelation of the fire, Ng works in reverse, uncovering the racial tensions and family conflicts that could lead to such a destructive climax.
For your friend who loves David Sedaris above all:
Theft by Finding (1992-2002) by David Sedaris Sedaris has kept meticulous diaries of his day-to-day life over the years, and builds his essay collections from observations collected in his notes. For the first time, Sedaris has published the diaries themselves, written between the years 1977-2002. This huge tome is an essential companion to Sedaris' beloved essay collections, like Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day. You'll emerge with a deeper understanding of Sedaris' brilliant and unconventional way of looking at the world, beginning with the '70s and '80s, his years of addiction and financial struggle, up until his early days of success.
If your friend looks up to powerful women:
by Sheila Nevins You Don't Look Your Age...and Other Fairy Tales Sheila Nevins' IMDb page practically stretches onto infinity. She has produced more than a thousand HBO documentaries, won 26 Academy Awards, and has won more Primetime Emmy Awards than any other person. In this collection of ridiculously charming essays and anecdotes, the 78-year-old looks back on her career and the development of her witty life philosophy. Pay close attention to her chapter, "Advice to Women in a Male-Dominated Workplace." We all could use it.
For your friend who's moved back home:
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong Ruth's fiancé leaves her. She quits her job. Essentially, the life she'd built falls apart — and from there, where else is there to go but home? Ruth moves in with her parents and writes, in diary form, of the travails of being an adult with your parents. The strangeness of seeing her parents as fallible human beings is heightened with her father's Alzheimer's diagnosis; day-by-day, parts of the charming history professor she knew and loved are eroded away and replaced with something new entirely. Khong creates an endearing and bittersweet story of familial devotion.
For your friend who follows 17 Instagram poetry accounts and is considering a Rupi Kaur tattoo:
Wild Embers by Nikita Gill If your friend is an Insta poetry aficionado, she's probably already bought Rupi Kaur's The Sun and Her Flowers. So, get her this collection. Nikita Gil also got her start on Instagram. Gil's first poetry collection casts classic fairytale heroines as protagonists.