One of my favourite things to gift people for Christmas (or any time of the year to be honest) is a book. I spend a lot of time putting thought into which book to get for which person, so in order to save you some time, here is the full list of books I purchased for my friends and family (and a few extras in case your loved ones have already read the books I suggest). Happy reading!
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
This is a little bit of a cheat because this wasn’t technically a Christmas present, more like a book I gifted to my mother in the general vicinity of Christmas. This is because I started reading Ask Again, Yes on the first day of my Christmas break, devoured it, realised my mother would love it and frantically searched a local bookstore for a copy for her to devour over the Christmas break. Ask Again, Yes is the story of two families – the Gleesons and the Stanhopes – who are brought together when the fathers of both families become partners while working for the NYPD. They become neighbours and two of their children, Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, develop a friendship that eventually blossoms into love. However, an explosive event tears the two families apart and the rest of the novel is a beautiful examination of forgiveness, redemption, family and love. This book is as close to perfect as it gets and it was hands down my favourite book of 2019.
Perfect for: Literally anyone, I’m never going to shut up about this book.
They might also enjoy: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Normal People by Sally Rooney
Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years by Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel is an oldie but a goodie. It’s a transdisciplinary look at why human societies have developed so differently across the globe and makes the case that that geography and biogeography are responsible for the differences we see rather than race. It’s hugely comprehensive, covering a massive range of time periods and geographies, so there’s something in it to interest everyone.
Perfect for: Politics nerds, history nerds, geography nerds and nerds in general.
They might also enjoy: Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
Invisible Women examines the ways in which men are considered to be the default in countless areas of life and how this is actively harming women and causing them to lose out in ways even they might not fully understand. Some of the revelations in this book had me throwing the book across the room (the bit about Viagra still haunts me) but it is meticulously researched and impossible to put down.
Perfect for: Your friendly local feminist, data nerds.
They might also enjoy: The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Ninth House is the start of a thrilling new fantasy series by the wildly popular Leigh Bardugo. It follows Alex Stern, a young woman with a mysterious past and the ability to communicate with the dead, after she is admitted to Yale on the condition that she use her powers to police and curb the worst excesses of the university’s secret societies. Ninth House is fast paced, twisty and compulsively readable. I’m already eagerly waiting for the next installation.
Perfect for: Adventurers, horror fans, wizard wannabes.
They might also enjoy: The Folk of the Air Trilogy by Holly Black, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
This is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev
If, over the last couple of years, you’ve felt that truth and reality are more nebulous substances than they used to be, This is Not Propaganda is the book for you. Pomerantsev travels the world speaking to trolls for hire, activists, dissidents and fact checkers to understand the new ways that misinformation is being spread and utilised across the political spectrum. Mixed in with all of this is a touching family memoir recounting Pomerantsev’s parents’ clash with the KGB and their flight from Russia.
Perfect for: Politics nerds, current affairs junkies, inducing an existential crisis about the meaning of reality.
They might also enjoy: Why We Get The Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman, We Need New Stories by Nesrine Malik
The Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan
The Father of Lions is a powerful true story about the evacuation of Mosul Zoo after the city becomes occupied by ISIS. It recounts the efforts Abu Laith to care for the animals and keep them alive through the occupation as well as the impact of the occupation on Abu Laith’s own family and friends. A beautifully human story of perseverance and love in the face of evil.
Perfect for: Animal lovers and politics nerds (ideally people who are both).
They may also enjoy: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, A Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
The Immortalists was my favourite book of 2018 but unfortunately by the time I read it it was too late to give it to anyone as a gift. It tells the story of four siblings who, as children, are told the date of their deaths. The novel then follows each of the siblings throughout their lives seeing how this knowledge affects them and the choices that they make, leading the reader to question wonder their fates were predetermined or a matter of choice. It’s a beautiful story about family and what it means to truly live.
Perfect for: Everyone, I see no reason why someone wouldn’t enjoy this book.
They may also enjoy: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Interestings is a brilliant novel that follows a group of friends who meet at a summer camp for gifted teens and how their lives as adults have diverged dramatically from what they envisaged as young, artistic idealists. It also examines what it means to be ‘interesting’ and the role that power and privilege plays in artistic success. I love this novel because it perfectly captures the fervent passion of teenage friendship, the joy of finding your tribe and the different ways that these friendships can evolve as you grow older.
Perfect for: Your favourite local eccentric, the best friend you met at a summer camp for gifted teens.
They may also enjoy: Anything else by Meg Wolitzer, I’d read the phonebook if you told me she’d written it.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Three Women is exactly what it says on the tin, the true story of three American women and their romantic and sexual lives over a period of eight years. Maggie is a young woman who has chosen to come forward about having had an affair with her English teacher in high school, Lina is a stay at home mother whose husband refuses to kiss her, prompting her to revisit an old flame and Sloane is a happily married business owner whose husband enjoys watching her have sex with other men. While these stories may seem utterly disparate, Taddeo uses them to make bold statements about love, desire and the struggles of modern womanhood.
Perfect for: Your favourite ladies.
They may also enjoy: Trick Mirror: Reflections of Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me by Adrienne Brodeur.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
A lovely combination of romance, mystery and nature writing, Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya Clark, a ‘Marsh Girl’ who was abandoned by her family and grew up alone in the marshes of North Carolina. When a local boy turns up dead, the townspeople immediately suspect Kya and over the course of the novel we see her true story unfold. This is a story of survival and loneliness but also of the sustaining beauty and bounty of nature.
Perfect for: Nature lovers, romantics
They may also enjoy: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, Educated by Tara Westover