25 last-minute book gifts to stuff in your favorite reader's stocking

You may want to buy a few of these for a present to yourself. It’s been a hard year — you deserve it!


Marci Rae Johnson
December 19, 2017 11:58PM (UTC)

I suffer from bibliophilia and I’ll admit I often prefer to spend time with books rather than people, but that’s not a problem . . . is it?

One thing I love almost as much as the books themselves is recommending them to people, so here I've selected 25 of the best titles I've read this year (out of the 104. So far. There are still a few weeks left of the year, you know).

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I read eclectically and widely, so there should be something here for everyone on your gift list, or you may even want to pick up a few for an early Christmas present to yourself. It’s been a hard year – you deserve it!

Speaking of hard years, while I didn’t plan to do this, quite a few of the books on the list have a political angle, from a French philosopher who seems to have predicted the Trump era, to an apocalypse novel that could prove prophetic soon, to a classic treatise exploring the effect of screens and entertainment on American society. Furthermore, 17 of the 25 authors here are women, which also seems appropriate, with the recent resurgence of feminism and the #MeToo movement.

Most of these books were published within the last few years, though a few older classics appear as well. Happy reading to you and yours!

hello-sunshine-gateway"Hello Sunshine," Laura Dave
This humorous novel straddles the chick lit-line. It’s got all the qualities of a good entry in the genre: female main character, love interests, happy ending, solvable relationship problems – but there’s something more here, as well. Ultimately, this book shows us what it’s like to struggle to live an authentic life in our current culture that values appearance and image more than anything else. An added plus: it’s also food porn. This book is perfect for the Food Network or HGTV junkie who feels maybe just a bit guilty about their love for reality-TV shows.

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Buy it on Amazon here.

society-of-the-spectacle-gateway"Society of the Spectacle," Guy Debord
Okay, so I’ll admit I haven’t actually finished reading this one yet, though I started it over a month ago. This book, written by a French philosopher, is dense, and it’s been a long time since I took that philosophy course in college. It’s worth a read, though, for anyone looking to understand our current political and cultural predicament. For a taste of the wisdom here: "Understood on its own terms, the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life . . . is mere appearance."

Buy it on Amazon here.

amusing-ourselves-to-death-gateway"Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business," Neil Postman
The lover of classic cultural criticism on your list has probably already read this one, but it’s worth another read. When this book was first published in 1985, television’s detrimental societal effects was the pressing concern. With the proliferation of screens since then (and the invention of the internet, of course), the book may be even more relevant now than it was then.

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Buy it on Amazon here.

life-at-home-in-the-21st-century-gateway"Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors," Jeanne E. Arnold, et al.
This study, produced by three anthropologists and a photographer, makes some great points about consumerism and over-busyness, as well as giving insight into how American families use the spaces in their homes. It claims to be the first "systematic" study of its type, in its documentation of the "staggeringly complex material worlds of contemporary American families." Or, if you want to just look at the pictures, there’s some amazing clutter porn here, along with inspiration to get off the couch and clean your house for those fast-approaching family holiday visits. Buy it for the fan of "Hoarders: Buried Alive," or for your favorite anthropologist.

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Buy it on Amazon here.

one-second-after-gateway"One Second After," William R. Forstchen
A fast-paced apocalypse novel in which the "end of the world as we know it" has been instigated by a war that America loses, this book may almost too real for most people on your gift-buying list, unless, that is, you’ve got to find that special present for Uncle Bannon. There’s nothing he likes more than contemplating the END OF ALL THINGS. This is the first book of a trilogy, and the final book, :The Final Day," just came out in October, so if you’re feeling generous, get him all three!

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Buy "One Second After" on Amazon here; buy "The Final Day" here.

the-guest-room-gateway"The Guest Room," Chris Bohjalian
This is the perfect book for your friend who loves to be disturbed. Honestly, I could barely get through this it, it was so disturbing, yet it was hard to put down! The plot, which involves teenage sex workers who murder their Russian "bodyguards," is especially timely. Because of Russia, I mean. Right? This is also a great one for the Twitter-obsessed bibliophile. Bohjalian is very friendly on Twitter and will totally respond if you tweet to him. That’s how I found out that he reads in the bathtub every night. TMI?

Buy it on Amazon here.

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citizen-gateway"Citizen: An American Lyric," Claudia Rankine
As a book that has won numerous awards, this is the one to buy for your cousin who’s getting his MFA in poetry writing. Rankine's work generally considered one of the most important poetry books of the last 10 years or more, and every serious poet should have it in their library. Or, buy it for your white-supremacist uncle who needs to learn what it’s like to live as an African-American in our country. It may not change his views, but it’ll provide for some exciting Christmas dinner arguments.

Buy it on Amazon here.

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small-great-things-gateway"Small Great Things," Jodi Picoult
Here’s another one for your uncle. In this book, an African-American nurse is accused by a white supremacist couple of killing their infant shortly after birth. Is she really guilty? I won’t spoil it for you (or for your uncle), but as with all of Picoult’s books, this one is a real page-turner and, as her books tend to be, extremely timely, exploring issues of race and politics in America.

Buy it on Amazon here.

my-not-so-perfect-life-gateway"My Not So Perfect Life," Sophie Kinsella
This is what our current political climate has brought me to: chick lit. But after being inundated with bad news day after day, a little decently written, humorous, fast-paced chick lit can be just the thing. And as Sophie Kinsella books are set in England, this one also appeals to my inner-Anglophile. Buy this for the woman in your life for her bathtub reading, along with a good bottle of white and some dark-chocolate truffles.

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Buy it on Amazon here.

hungry-heart-gateway"Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing," Jennifer Weiner
Speaking of chick lit, this memoir by genre writer Jennifer Weiner is what started my recent chick lit binge. One of the fun things about reading her novels, after having read this memoir, is noticing all the parallels in them to her life, and then seeing where she diverges from her own narrative. Also, her awkward childhood and adolescence will make this one appealing to any woman who has ever felt awkward (that is, all of us).

Buy it on Amazon here.

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middle-school-big-fat-liar-gateway"Middle School: Big Fat Liar," James Patterson
This book is number three in Patterson’s Middle School series, and I was forced to listen to it on audio in the car by my 11-year-old son. While I don’t normally dabble in literature for middle-school boys (nor books of the James Patterson persuasion), the book is surprisingly funny and contains some good lessons for kids that aren’t packaged in too cheesy of a manner. Get this one for the eight to 12-year-olds on your list (boys or girls), or wrap it up for your buddy Donald Trump. It reads at his grade level, and the message is one we need him to hear.

Buy it on Amazon here.

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the-best-we-could-do-gateway"The Best We Could Do," Thi Bui
This bestseller is for the graphic novel connoisseur. I checked this out from the library for my son and he passed it on to me, making it the first graphic novel I have ever read. I was impressed by the narrative of this poignant memoir, which follows a family’s journey out of war-torn Vietnam. With this book, I had made the mistake that most graphic novels are for kids, so imagine my surprise when I encountered a childbirth scene, complete with rather graphic images. So maybe wait a year or two before you buy this one for your 11-year-old nephew. It’s best for the sixteen-and-up crowd.

Buy it on Amazon here.

tomorrow-there-will-be-apricots-gateway"Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots," Jessica Soffer; "Swimming Lessons," Claire Fuller
With compelling female characters and top-notch prose, these two novels will appeal to the literary-minded feminist in your life. Soffer’s book will also interest foodies, as the main character is a 15-year-old girl on a quest to recreate the recipe for her mother’s favorite meal.  Fuller’s book will entice bibliophiles with its book-focused mystery and a setting that includes a charming local bookshop.

Buy "Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots" on Amazon here, and "Swimming Lessons," here.

Idiot_rd2.indd"The Idiot," Elif Batuman; "The Weird Sisters," Eleanor Brown
Another set of books that will appeal to the literary feminist, but this one will also interest the college student on your gift list, or the friend who loved college and still pines for those days. College student Selin, narrates her college adventures and mis-adventures in in Bautman's book, while the "The Weird Sisters" is set in a small liberal-arts college town. The father of the three sisters in this latter book is a Shakespeare professor and scholar (thus the "weird sisters" reference), and the entire family communicates mostly through Shakespearean quotes.

Buy "The Idiot" on Amazon here, and "The Weird Sisters," here.

bleaker-house-gateway"Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World," Nell Stevens
This beautifully written literary memoir is a must-have for all the writers on your gift list. Author Nell Stevens wins a grant to go anywhere in the world to write her novel and picks a place where she thinks she’ll encounter the least distractions: the Falklands. Distraction-free it is, but seeing how she deals with the challenge of being alone with herself for a long period of time is eye opening. In the end, did she get a novel out of the experience? No, not one that has been published, anyway: I Went to the Falklands and All I Got Was This Stupid Memoir. But not stupid at all, and the lesson here for writers is not only to never give up, but also, be willing to write what comes to you – even if it doesn’t follow your original plan.

Buy it on Amazon here.

the-stranger-in-the-woods-gateway"The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit," Michael Finkel
Here’s another book about purposeful isolation, only Christopher Knight spent 27 years alone instead of just three months like Stevens. Part biography, part mystery, this nonfiction title is as gripping as a novel, and the descriptions of Knight’s time in the woods will so appeal to your dad. In fact, the copy I got for my dad just arrived today.

Buy it on Amazon here.

furiously-happy-gateway"Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things," Jenny Lawson
And then we have another inspiring, never-give-up kind of memoir — but this one, as the title suggests, is hilarious! And yes, also horrible. Jenny Lawson struggles with debilitating depression and anxiety, and here she documents the struggle honestly and brutally while also managing to maintain a remarkable sense of humor. Her first memoir, "Let's Pretend This Never Happened," is worth a look as well.  In fact, get your memoir lover and/or depressed sister both. It’s best to read them in order.

Buy "Furiously Happy" on Amazon here, and "Let's Pretend This Never Happened," here.

eleanor-oliphant-is-completely-fine-gateway"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine," Gail Honeyman
Speaking of depression, in this novel, the title character, surprisingly, Eleanor Oliphant, is not actually fine at all. In fact, she tries to kill herself. I won’t mention any spoilers here (besides that tiny one), but this book is so compelling that I read it in just two days, and just like the Jenny Lawson books, it’s also extremely funny and leaves you with a good feeling, which is just what any reader needs these days.

Buy it on Amazon here.

purity-gateway"Purity," Jonathan Franzen
Yes, I know,  everyone hates Franzen. Still, I thought I needed more male authors on this list, so here ya go. But seriously, I love this type of book – long (this one’s over 600 pages), epic novels that you can really get lost in, in which the main characters’ psyches are probed in minute detail. Give it as a hate present, if you like, though the recipient may end up loving it, contrary to expectations.

Buy it on Amazon here.

born-a-crime-gateway"Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood," Trevor Noah
Hey, another male author! Noah is a funny guy, and yes, there is some funny stuff in this book, but it’s not all jokes. There’s also a lot of eye-opening discussion of South Africa and Apartheid/post-Apartheid life as we see Noah, a bi-racial kid, growing up in a world where he just doesn’t fit in anywhere. Fans of "The Daily Show" will love this one.

Buy it on Amazon here.

today-will-be-different-gateway"Today Will Be Different," Maria Semple
Let’s not get too crazy with the male authors, now. This novel is one of the most enjoyable audiobooks I listened to this year. Not only is the story funny and serious and compelling all at once, but the narrator is someone you’d love to hang out and gossip with at your neighborhood Starbucks. This is Semple’s second novel, and her first one, "Where’d You Go, Bernadette," is just as fun (the audiobook version again). Pick this book up for your friend who has to do a lot of driving and needs some entertainment in the car.

Buy "Today Will Be Different" on Amazon here, and "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," here.

harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-gateway"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," J.K. Rowling
If your friend as a lot a lot of driving, gift him or her a Harry Potter audio book. Book seven of the series is 21 hours and 26 minutes long! Last year I had to drive my kids 40 minutes to and from school, and Harry Potter helped us through. This is a fun listening experience, even if you’ve already read the books and seen the movies. Narrator Jim Dale is one of the best; I’d even go so far as to say the audiobook is better than either the book or the movie.

Buy it on Amazon here.

the-bookshop-on-the-corner-gateway"The Bookshop on the Corner," Jenny Colgan
This book belongs in one of my favorite new genres: books about books and/or bookstores.here, a librarian loses her job and ends up running a bookstore out of a van in a rural community. This is the perfect book to give to anyone who’s ever dreamed of running a bookstore – which, let’s face it, all of us who love books have had that dream at some point.

Buy it on Amazon here.


Marci Rae Johnson

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