Still searching for presents to give out this holiday season? You can breathe a sigh of relief, because holiday shopping just got easier — at least for the bookworm in your life. When in doubt, buy a book.
If you're looking for books to give, then we have those in droves, thanks to the advice of Read With Jenna authors. Speaking to TODAY.com, they shared their favorite books to gift as well as their gifting strategies (because there is an art, as author Emma Straub's recommendations demonstrate).
Some authors, like Kristin Hannah, Ann Patchett and Taylor Jenkins Reid like to give children's books to adults to conjure up a whimsical spirit. Katy Hays always goes the biography route, and Abi Daré recommends memoirs (Viola Davis' and Michelle Obama's, to be precise). If you're looking for cookbooks and inspirational reads, we have those as well.
Below, find a few specific names of books as well as suggestions to go about buying books during the holiday season.
Ford, the author of the Read With Jenna pick “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy,” tells TODAY.com he likes to give Book of the Month subscriptions as gifts, so the receiver “can choose their own books each month from a curated list of the best of the best.” He also likes to give “The Complete Calvin & Hobbes," which he describes as a “gorgeous four-volume set that's perfect for readers age 9 to 90.”
If you’re looking to give someone a book published this year, Ford’s pick is “Solito” by Javier Zamora, another Read With Jenna pick. “In the spirit of the holidays we should turn our attention to those less fortunate, especially those who are forced to risk their lives to give their children the things we take for granted,” Ford says. “Give this to the most cynical person on your list and watch as it becomes a system upgrade for their heart.”
Krupitsky tells TODAY.com she has given “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer and “Having and Being Had” by Eula Biss to many people in her life. “Both of these books have helped me process the sea change of the last couple of years, and have helped me reassess my priorities (or re-connect to the priorities I think I've had all along!) in a world which is changing so quickly it sometimes feels impossible to keep up,” she says.
The author of Read With Jenna’s November 2021 pick “The Family” also recommends “Walk the Vanished Earth” by Erin Swan for an adventurous reader. “This was the first book I read after my son was born this summer, and so perhaps the highest compliment I can give it is: it captivated me during a time I was getting maybe three hours of sleep a night, and it gave me a vibrant and unforgettable world to escape into when I needed it most,” she says.
Hays, the author of November 2022's Read With Jenna pick “The Cloisters,” says she loves to give Stacy Schiff biographies because they work for everyone on her list. “They're nonfiction, but read like fiction so you can capture readers of both categories right away,” she tells TODAY.com, adding she’s a particular fan of Schiff’s Cleopatra biography.
As for recent releases, she says she’s gifting three books from 2022 to “anyone and everyone:” “Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt, “Memphis” by Tara M. Stringfellow, and “Four Treasures of the Sky” by Jenny Tinghui Zhang.
“I own a bookstore,” Ann Patchett tells TODAY.com. “All I give are books.” The author of “The Dutch House” says she loves giving people books by Kate DiCamillo, especially “The Magician’s Elephant,” because people are “floored to discover how much they enjoyed something they thought was for children.”
Patchett, the owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., also loves to gift “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” and “Graceland at Last” by local author Margaret Renkl because she can always give people signed copies.
Joella says fellow Read With Jenna pick “Black Cake” by Charmaine Wilkerson makes for a perfect gift. “Charmaine is such a skilled writer, and the story is beautiful and complex and entrancing,” he tells TODAY.com. “Not to mention the unforgettable cover and the constant thought of that cake.”
The author of November 2021’s bonus pick “A Little Hope" also shared he gave “Gateau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes” by Aleksandra Crapanzano to his wife for her birthday because she collects cookbooks. “It's such a stunning, original book that I think we'll be giving it out this year to all the cooks we know!”
Abbott tells TODAY.com she recommends giving Nella Larsen's “Passing,” a "slender, sly Harlem Renaissance novel" from 1929 about a complicated friendship between two women, because “it's full of mysteries and open to interpretation.” The author of the August 2021 pick “The Turnout,” Abbott says student discussions that arose when she taught the book would always be thrilling. “Every student read it differently, especially the ending. It's a book that launches conversation — the best thing!
She also recommends giving “Daughters of the New Year” by E.M. Tran to “everyone in your life, but especially mothers, sisters, daughters.”
“I don't have one go-to book for gift-giving because I believe in choosing a title according to the specific tastes and tendencies of the person on the receiving end,” Charmaine Wilkerson tells TODAY.com. That said, she tends to recommend books by Anne Tyler and Toni Morrison.
The "Black Cake" author shared a special moment of bonding over books with her stepmother. “Back in the '90s, I opened a padded envelope to find that she had mailed me the very same novel that I had just mailed to her: 'Ladder of Years’ by Anne Tyler.”
As for a recent pick, Wilkerson says one of her favorite books released in 2022 was “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus. “2022 has been a great year for books, so I don’t think you could go wrong very easily,” she adds.
Joanna Quinn tells TODAY.com she likes giving cookbooks as presents. “We don’t often buy them for ourselves so it feels like a real treat to be given a beautiful hardback recipe book,” she shares. The author of the October 2022 pick “The Whalebone Theatre" says she has been giving copies of Olia Hercules’ “Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine.”
“She’s a wonderful Ukrainian food writer who has done a great deal to keep people aware of what’s been happening during the war and her books are a celebration of her courageous homeland,” Quinn says.
For the non-chefs in your life, Quinn recommends “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver and Katherine Rundell’s new biography of poet John Donne, “Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne."
Taylor Jenkins Reid
The “Malibu Rising” author tells TODAY.com she loves to give a collector's edition of “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery as a gift. “It's perfect for children and adults — and is a wonderful story to come back to time and again as you grow older,” she says.
Jenkins Reid also recommends “Woman of Light” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, describing the author as a “stunning new talent,” and raving that the book is “a great choice for any book lover who appreciates a beautifully written story.”
“The holidays make me think of unity; and since books are great ways to connect people, I love giving books that take the reader on a journey to another place, another time, or another culture,” Dennis-Benn tells TODAY.com. Dennis-Benn, the author of August 2019 pick “Patsy,” recommends two books to give as gifts: “Big Girl” by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan and “Vagabonds” by Eloghosa Osunde.
Renkl tells TODAY.com she picks a new gift-giving favorite nearly every year. “During through the first years of the pandemic, I gave everybody a copy of ‘The Book of Delights’ by Ross Gay,” she shares. “It's exactly what its title says it is: a collection of observations, sometimes sweet and sometimes funny, often both at the same time, about the small joys that add up to a life filled with meaning, even in tumultuous times.” Renkl added Gay’s newest book, “Inciting Joy,” is out just in time for holiday shopping.
The author of December’s book club pick, “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss,” said she is also in love with Mary Laura Philpott's new memoir, “Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives.”
“In writing about a terrifying emergency in her family, Philpott recalls other times when danger or fear gripped her,” Renkl says. “But though this story begins as the story of a mama bear seeking answers to a teenager's health crisis, it unfolds into a tender and hilarious meditation on love itself — on what it means to love, fully and fiercely and unceasingly, even knowing that love will never be enough to keep our loved ones completely safe.”
Mott, the author of July 2021’s pick “Hell of a Book,” tells TODAY.com he’s given “Lord of the Flies” to countless friends and family over the years. “Many of them read it in school when they were young, but have never revisited it in adulthood,” he says. “Each time I gift this to someone and they take time to reread it as an adult, they find so much more depth and meaning in it than they ever did when they were young. It truly is a book that grows with the reader.”
He also recommends giving “Olga Dies Dreaming” by Xochitl Gonzalez as a gift this year.
Berman recommends two books to give as gifts: “Slow Days, Fast Company” by Eve Babitz and “Bad Thoughts” by Nada Alic. Berman tells TODAY.com she’s given copies of “Slow Days, Fast Company” many times over the past few years in particular because of how “instantly transporting it is.”
“From the first page, you’re pulled into both 1970s Hollywood and the incomparable mind of Eve Babitz, and everyone I’ve ever given it to has wished it were longer,” she says.
The author of the August 2020’s pick “The Comeback” describes “Bad Thoughts” as “a collection of darkly funny short stories and sharp observations that will leave you with emotional whiplash," saying it’s “perfect for your most sardonic friend, or least festive relative.”
Nikki Erlick, author of the Read With Jenna pick "The Measure," recommends an array of books for an array of readers. She recommends "Tuck Everlasting," "The Giver," and "The Book Thief" for young readers. Travelers or cinephiles might like "Accidentally Wes Anderson," and holiday bakers can read "Dorie's Cookies."
Another book buying tip from Erlick? "I love to give someone a signed copy of their favorite book. This gift requires slightly more advanced planning — and a little bit of luck — so I try to keep an eye on book tours and signing events throughout the year for the authors who my family and friends adore, and if all goes well, then I can give them a personalized copy at the end of the year!"
Lily King, the author of "Writers & Lovers," has to make sure she doesn't accidentally buy people copies of "The Transit of Venus" multiple times. "I wanted to give it to my brother this year but first I checked my online order history and I’ve given it to him at least twice already over the years," she says.
As for a recent book? King shouts out "We Take Our Cities with Us" by Sorayya Khan, a memoir about "the intersection of the personal and the global in the life of one family."
Jean Kwok's first recommendation is Naomi Novik's Scholomance trilogy. "This series gives magical boarding schools a dark and deadly twist. I fell in love with the heroine, a reluctant dark sorceress who attracts spells of mass destruction at every turn. Original, funny and touching, this trilogy is a true delight from beginning to end," she says.
Or, for the mystery lover in your life, Kwok says to check out "Marple: Twelve New Mysteries," an anthology collection that she contributed to along with Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, Leigh Bardugo and Ruth Ware.
Abi Daré, author of "The Girl With the Louding Voice," recommends "Becoming" by Michelle Obama, calling it a "powerful" and "deeply inspirational" book.
"I love how it teaches intentionality in seeking for people who lift us up, and celebrate us, and the grace with which she advocates for women and girls, the messages of inspiration, hope, faith, resilience, determination. I felt her words in a deep part of my soul, and came away forever changed - and when I share this book with my Black female friends, I hope they come away feeling inspired and as hopeful as I did," Dare said, also recommending "Finding Me" by Viola Davis.
"When I was a young girl, my grandmother gave me my first copy of 'The Wizard of Oz', and I remember falling into the whimsical, fantastic world with Dorothy. Every year thereafter, I received a new Oz book on my birthday. I continued the tradition with my son, and am now continuing it with my granddaughter, to whom I recently gifted a new, Illustrated, Interactive edition. The times and form may change, but the story remains indelible," Kristin Hannah, author of "The Four Winds," says.
On the 2022 releases front, Hannah recommends "Lessons in Chemistry" by Bonnie Garmus, saying, "I have recommended this book dozens of times throughout the year. Readers love the combination of wit, voice, and women's history. Elizabeth Zott is a character that remains in one's mind."
Qian Julia Wang
Qian Julia Wang, author of "Beautiful Country," calls this memoir an "an eye-opening and searing meditation on race that will stay with readers forever." She also nods to "The School for Good Mothers," saying, "Who doesn't love a dystopian novel that awakens us to the structural barriers in our own world?"
"Cantoras" is the story of five queer women and their friendships over the years as they each search for love, freedom, and family, while living under the dictatorship in Uruguay. "Every single person I've given it to has told me the novel totally swept them away, introduced them to a history they had known little about, and introduced them to an unforgettable cast of characters," Coster says.
"Neruda on the Park" by Cleyvis Natera is the story of a family and community under threat as a fancy new building is built in their neighborhood. "It's a poignant look at a neighborhood, and at a fraught relationship between a mother and daughter, but it's also thrilling, sexy, and surprising," Coster says.
The author of "A Burning" recommends "Activities of Daily Living," a meditative novel by Lisa Hsiao Chen about a Taiwanese immigrant, her obsession with a performance artist and her relationship with her aging stepfather.
J. Courtney Sullivan
"Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" by Gabrielle Zevin came out this year, and "Friends and Strangers" author J. Courtney Sullivan already recommended it to multiple people. "I have given or recommended this book to so many people--men, women, young, old. Everyone loves it," she says.
Her go-to pick is normally "How to Write an Autobiographical Novel" by Alexander Chee. "It's a beautiful collection of essays about identity and social justice and seeing the world through a writer's eyes," she says.