books you can give to people
they are all very good
Interrupting our sporadically scheduled programming to do something new, which is: recommend some books that you can give to friends and loved ones in the coming month.
Books make great gifts for so many reasons… A book gift communicates shared “intelligence” (i.e., “I read”). A book says, “I know a thing or two about your personal taste,” which is what gift giving is all about. A book is also as intimate a gift as you want it to be. You can do what I did in high school and highlight certain passages that you want the reader to notice; you can slip a little note between the pages or dog ear a certain section. You can write a dedication at the opening of the book and state why the book means so much to you and why you want it to mean something to the person receiving it. Does that sound too much like a marriage proposal? Perhaps it is, and maybe a book gift could be that, too.
Or it can just be a relatively inexpensive thing that you buy for someone who is impossible to buy for, because a book is, above all things, pretty small, and doesn’t take up much space on a shelf or the floor, and can be easily left on the sidewalk for someone else to take if the person receiving it decides they don’t want it after all.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Give this book to: Someone who, when you ask a simple question, like, “do you enjoy trying new hobbies?” has a tendency to expound philosophically and somewhat nonsensically (but charmingly) about the larger questions surrounding that question. This person should be someone who consistently undermines the difficulty of things. For instance, maybe they took you on a long walk through their hamlet outside of Paris this summer, and they said, “it’s about a two-hour walk,” but really it was a six-hour walk, and you loved every moment of it, but particularly the end part when you got Milka bars with crispies in them at the grocery store.
Do not give this book to: Anyone who will read too much into the religious arc contained within the book, which is a pretty significant criticism of Christianity (there is a poet Jesus, and one of the Satan characters is a sharp-shooting cat named Behemoth). Do not give it to your nice granny.
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
Give this book to: Anyone in your life who says, “I wish I read more,” and who has stacks of those popular Instagram (TikTok?) books on their shelves, plus a few classics they’ve never cracked open (no disrespect here, because, me too). Give this to someone who is a mother, maybe, but not too new a mother, because it’s feminist horror centered around postpartum psychosis, and a new mom might look at you upon completing this book and be like, “do you think I am this way?” and that’s a horrible thing to be asked by a person.
Do not give this book to: Aforementioned new mother.
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
Give this book to: Someone who’s always saying “I should read the Russians” but never actually reads the Russians. Or, to someone who loves family drama and/or true crime. Give this to someone who speaks in monologue sometimes, or would be intrigued by hive-mind racism that can overtake a small town in the wake of a crime.
Do not give this book to: Your conservative uncle.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Give this book to: Anyone who’s been through a separation or divorce, especially if they have a child, or anyone whose parents have been through a separation or divorce. Give this to someone who thinks sparse language can often be the most beautiful, and who thinks a lot of emotion can be compressed into a small space, and that maybe that’s the best way to consume a lot of emotion.
Do not give this book to: Anyone currently going through a divorce, probably.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Give this book to: Fuck, anyone? Anyone who’s ever experienced loss, or love, or loss of a loved one. Anyone who is afraid of death but doesn’t want to be.
Do not give this book to: The guy who does your taxes. I tried, and he hated it.
Man v. Nature by Diane Cook
Give this book to: Your friend who loves anything post-apocalyptic and strange. Your friend who says “I don’t get the hype around Sally Rooney.” Your friend who can always look at the world and see how it could be slightly different with a few tweaks, and those tweaks sometimes get at the heart of things in a way that scares you. Your friend who is capable of saying things succinctly, to the extent that they are disarming, but in a way that you love. To anyone who’s ever wondered aloud why “things” are the way they are, and genuinely thought they would be better if they were different.
Do not give this book to: Your enemy. Your enemies don’t deserve to read these perfect stories.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Give this book to: Your friend who randomly speaks in poetry sometimes. Your friend who can never take a task for what it is, but somehow invents some better, more original way of doing anything. Your friend who is soft and tender, and who feels things earnestly, and who, despite living through a lot, still maintains a level of beauty in the world, and who would not be embarrassed to read that sentence and identify with it.
Do not give this book to: Your estranged family members, who won’t read it anyway.
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
Give this book to: Someone who has cheated, or been cheated on, or gone through one of those awful breakups with someone who is nearly perfect but not quite perfect enough, and who their mother probably loved, but what does their mother know?
Do not give this book to: Anyone you’re trying to flirt with.
Bad Behavior: Stories by Mary Gaitskill
Give this book to: Anyone who’s ever been like “I don’t get the hype around ‘Cat Person,’” or, “I don’t get the hype around Sally Rooney.” Or even anyone who’s ever said, “I thought the Hulu adaptation of Normal People was better than the book.” Give this to someone who does what I lovingly call “romantic tourism,” or, in other words, who dates a lot of different kinds of people just for fun, and avoids getting too severely burned, and says they are at their best when they are meeting someone new.
Do not give this book to: Once again, anyone you’re trying to flirt with.
In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
Give this book to: Your friend who’s been in a bad relationship, like a bad relationship, and struggled (understandably) to get out of it, particularly if that friend is queer. Or to anyone who loves incisive, beautiful writing, and feeling sunburnt by prose.
Do not give this book to: Your bad ex, or anyone’s bad ex.
Tonight I’m Someone Else: Essays by Chelsea Hodson
Give this book to: Your friend who decorates her home with things from Urban Outfitters but in a way that everything looks fucking incredible. Your friend who’s about to go on vacation and is like, “what do I bring with me to read?” because this book is thin but powerful and should be read en plein air, like camping, or on a beach, or at a café in some city where they don’t normally live.
Do not give this book to: Your mother. She won’t get it.
Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction by Charles Baxter
Give this book to: Your artist friend, even if they aren’t necessarily a writer, because everyone can stand to benefit from the way that Baxter thinks about the art we create and consume, and why we create and consume it.
Do not give this book to: Your dad, who will be like, “I don’t write fiction?”
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