13 Books for Every Hard-to-Please Person on Your List

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We’re quickly approaching the winter holidays, and if you’ve already taken care of everyone on your gift list, I salute you. Personally, I’m more of the “panic-drive to Target on December 24 and buy everyone a bunch of marked-down crap” persuasion, but I’m trying to do better this year, given that last Christmas was, well…a bit different. (TBT to me becoming an absolute holiday maniac in order to compensate for not really getting to see my family. Ah, 2020!)

To that end, I’ve compiled a super-specific list of crowd-pleaser fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, memoirs, essay collections, and other books (new and old) that are sure to please even the pickiest gift recipients in your life. Because, really, who needs another sweater?

For the (wink-wink) friend with benefits: Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell

You may not want to get this one for anyone in your immediate family (unless you guys are cool like that), but this collection of stories by the likes of Brandon Taylor, Alexander Chee, Carmen Maria Machado, Roxane Gay, and many more is the perfect gift for a new lover.

A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles

Okay, I may be biased toward this book as a brand-new Austinite, but I’m hardly alone in my admiration (ahem). Even if you don’t live in Texas, this overview of the state’s history from the 1870s to the 2020 presidential election will have you thinking about the South in a whole new way.

For the oenophile who loves a high-low moment: Big Macs & Burgundy by Vanessa Price and Adam Laukhuf

Anyone can pair fancy food with fancy wine, but what vintage do you serve with, say, Cincinnati chili con carne? This cheeky yet genuinely helpful tome that advertises “wine pairings for the real world” has all the answers. Rosé and fries forever, baby!

For the person starting out on their self-acceptance journey: The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

The Body Is Not An Apology

There’s no real solution to the enduring problem of existing in a body, but this book—which is chock-full of insight about the intersections of capitalism, white supremacy, and shame—is sure to make anyone on your list feel at least a little bit more empowered.

The Year I Stopped Trying

If only Heaney’s books had existed when I was a driven, closeted teen! Get this one for the kid or adult in your life who could use a heartwarming but not-at-all-saccharine coming-out story.

For the stalwart Selena stan: Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

“I’m using [Selena’s] legacy to talk about queerness and desire and the bisexual-girl problem of ‘Do I want to be this woman? Or do I want to kiss this woman?’ Or even, ‘Do I want to kill this woman?’” Lozada-Oliva told Vogue in October, and this novel-in-poetry more than lives up to that pull quote. Consider it for that friend who still plays “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” on repeat.

I don’t know about you, but reading really good poetry always inspires me to write some of my own. Is it of Jenny Zhang’s quality? Uh, no, but hey, if the creative juices are flowing, who am I to stop them? This slim volume is all but guaranteed to summon the muses for the poet in your life.

McCarthy’s 1963 best-seller—which chronicles a group of upper-crust young women in New York City shortly after their graduation from Vassar—feels as witty and relevant as the day it was written. Plus when your friend has finished it, the two of you can watch the movie.

For the working-on-it home cook: To Asia, With Love by Hetty McKinnon

Nobody can craft a recipe quite like McKinnon, who is best known for New York Times hits like vegan tantanmen and breakfast udon. Her voice is both instructive and friendly, lending confidence to even the most kitchen-challenged among us.

Work Won’t Love You Back

Fine, this could be read as an ever-so-slightly shady gift for that one coworker who’s always beating you to meetings, but Jaffe’s exploration of the ways that labor has historically exploited workers across industries is eminently worth reading, no matter how you feel about your job.

For pretty much any dad: Dispatches by Michael Herr

Okay, not all dads are into Vietnam War history, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that many are, and all of them would benefit from reading Herr’s stunning account of his experiences as a war correspondent in Vietnam for Esquire.

Nobody is writing about lingerie—as an industry, an art form, and an everyday part of life—quite like Harrington, and this guide to intimate apparel is as fun to read as it is cute to display on a coffee table.

Ah, the adult impulse to classify anything teenage girls are into as somehow suspect. Sherman’s book is a direct rejection of that idea, celebrating the history of boy bands through impeccable research and super-fun illustrations that will captivate tweens and adults alike.


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