Book Gifts for Readers and Writers - 2023

December 4, 2023

Need that perfect gift for the reader or writer in your life? Here's our lineup for 2023's best gift ideas, from classics to recent releases.

Fiction For the Bibliophile

Reading Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire is like stepping into an episode of Fawlty Towers or the British version of The Office, except in an old, dusty bookstore. Full of hilarious footnotes and dry humor (sorry, "humour"), this is one of 2023's most charming books. Also quirky and light is What You Are Looking for is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama, a translation that reads like a modern fable about how books and community can save us. It speaks quietly and simply, but walks with a big philosophical stick.

For Fans of the Uncanny

The Ghost Variations by Kevin Brockmeier is reflective but fun, a book like The Midnight Library: in its premise of death, the overarching narrative is about life (what makes it meaningful). Reading it is a bit like stepping into a macabre curiosity shop. Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt is a dual-narrative ghost / love story that will haunt and hypnotize. Like an episode of The Twilight Zone co-written by Hilary Mantel and Mary Shelley, it's downright incredible.

For the Literary Fiction Lover

No magic, just enchantment via prose. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann are literary greats when it comes to turning a phrase. Both books are beautiful and deeply poignant. Amor Towles' read is unexpectedly funny and whimsical, at odds with the grim backdrop of Bolshevik Russia. McCann's novel is set in New York City in 1974, and its ensemble cast of characters will break your heart and put it back together again.

For the Fairy Tale Scholar

Nicholas Jubber's The Fairy Tellers is fascinating, like reading a (quite scholarly) adventure tale that spans three centuries. It's a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of storytellers that you know, and some that you don't--but should. Happily is a memoir-like collection of articles from Sabrina Orah Mark's namesake column in The Paris Review. With her hallmark fairy tale-like, cutting prose, Mark reflects on the tales that stitch our personal and cultural fabric.

For the Budding Witch

As its title suggests, Grimoire Girl by Hilarie Burton Morgan is more of an actual grimoire, a charming, approachable record of how one woman and mother cultivates magic and joy. The Witching Year is a memoir about becoming a practicing witch: read it for insights, the occasional tip, and the cliff notes on Paganism 101. Stay for the self-deprecating humor and anecdotes.

For the Modern Philosopher

Two very different approaches to questioning our place in the world and the nature of selfhood. A timeless classic, A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit is literally about how and why people get lost, and how (or whether) they're found. A collection of autobiographical essays, Field Guide is like having a literary shaman at your side. Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv is more journalistic in nature, but also quite personal, an empathic exploration of mental health and psychiatry. If it were an episode of 60 Minutes, it'd be called "Psychiatry and Self: Medications and the Mind."

For the Nature Nerd

Each chapter of Ed Yong's An Immense World zooms in on the senses, abilities, and physiology of animals, wrenching our gaze away from the human world for a healthy dose of biology and a much-needed perspective shift. For a more walloping perspective shift, pick up The Quickening by Elizabeth Rush, an adventurous yet intimate memoir about climate change, scientific discovery, and in the background: procreation. Rush redefines the Antarctic explorer story, bucking the outdated, male-centric gaze and training our focus on collaboration, community, and heart. If we're going to save the world, it's not going to be through conquest.

For the Woman in Your Life Who Needs a Good Laugh

Please Don't Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes is Phoebe Robinson in book form. It's not just her life stories, it's her. Open the cover, and a stand-up comedian will hang out with you on your couch, filling your living room with pop culture, expletives, and laugh-out-loud opinions. Also hilarious is Jessi Klein's I'll Show Myself Out, which will be most appreciated by mothers or those who want to understand them. Klein aptly characterizes the lonely, isolating, transformative tragi-comedy of the early days of American motherhood.

About the Author: Sasha Bailyn lives in New York state surrounded by trees and her son’s pillows forts. She writes memoir and magical realism. For regular content on the life of a bibliophile / writer / mother / magician, follow her on Substack.

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