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A reader's gift guide 2022

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Photo by cottonbro / Pexels
Photo by cottonbro / Pexels

So you're ready — almost — for the holidays, except for those few tricky gifts that you just can't seem to figure out.

How about books? Easy to wrap, they make people happy to get them. Why not look for these great ones?

Lovers of fantasy stories will love Illuminations by Alan Moore, a collection of short stories with an underlying theme of comics and the industry. Perfect for the young gamer or comics reader.

For those who like novels with a twist, wrap up The Storyteller's Death by Ann Davila Cardinal, the tale of a girl who learns, at age 18, that she's a storyteller, which is something that's passed down through the women of her family. But this blessing turns out to be a curse when she sees a murder that happened long ago. Give it with The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern by Rita Zoey Chin, also a story of a young fortune teller and a vision she may or may not have wanted.

Image courtesy of Pamela Dorman Books  

The person who loves to people-watch and connect with, well, everybody will want Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley, the story of an advice columnist who amuses herself during her commute by watching the other people on the train — until the day something happens, and commuters suddenly become something more. Pair it with Has Anyone Seen My Toes? by Christopher Buckley, a hilarious novel about life during a the pandemic, when one's health is the least of one's worries.

Give the historical fiction lover A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa, the tale of an African woman who's captured and sent to a plantation in Puerto Rico for the sole purpose of having babies that are always taken from her immediately after they're born. How she survives and heals is part of this book's appeal.

The reader who loves to laugh will thoroughly enjoy Random by Penn Jillette, the story of an almost-21-year-old who inherits a pile of debt from his horrible father, and it's due to the (even more horrible) loan shark when the guy turns 21. Will a roll of the dice eliminate all his problems? Lucky is the person who gets this book and finds out.

And if you've got a father-son duo on your gift list, see if you can get them to share The Ski Jumpers by Peter Geye, the tale of a son who can never forgive his father, a father who has a past the son is just now learning, and a brother who's caught in the middle.

General nonfiction
The reader who wants a little diversity in their selection will love Latino Almanac: From Early Explorers to Corporate Leaders by Nicolas Kanellos, PhD, which is absolutely filled with mini-biographies of Latino luminaries, heroes, and inspirations, and it's perfect for any reader age 14 and up. Give it with Indigenous Firsts: A History of Native American Achievements and Events by Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Arlene Hirschfelder, and Paulette F. Molin, which has fast facts about the achievements of Indigenous Americans.

If you're looking for something unusual for someone science-minded, then find The Handy Engineering Answer Book by DeLean Tolbert Smith, PhD; Aishwary Pawar; Nicole Pitterson, PhD; and Debra-Ann C. Butler, PhD. It's perfect for anyone who works in or dabbles with any kind of engineering today; it's also the kind of book your dedicated science fan needs.

For the person who always embraces the good in life, Inciting Joy by Ross Gay will be a welcome gift. It's a collection of essays on the things that make us happy, that cause us to count our blessings and smile, and that gather us together. Wrap it up with Happier Hour by Cassie Holmes, PhD, and help someone decide what's worth their joy.

There's just no way your animal-loving recipient won't want a copy of Possums Are Not Cute! by Ally Burguieres. It contains adorable photos of possums of all ages, in cute poses and just living their best lives. Bonus: possum facts and trivia! Give it along with Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses by Jackie Higgins, for a gift that'll make your animal lover roar.

The historian on your gift list will enjoy Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast by Joan DeJean, the true story of 132 women who were taken from France to the mouth of the Mississippi and released in 1719 — partly because they'd been accused of crimes they didn't commit, and because they were considered a commodity: women were needed in the new settlements. Pair it with The Women of Rothschild by Natalie Livingstone, about influential women in one famous family, women who left their marks on the world, despite the men in the family who tried to shut them out; or with The Scandalous Hamiltons by Bill Shaffer, the story of a Gilded Age scandal and the beginning of tabloid-style journalism.

They will also whoop when the wrapping comes off The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland, the story of a man who actually broke out of Auschwitz and lived to tell the world what was going on. It's a true story that reads like a deadly thriller.

Image courtesy of Portfolio  

For the person who is obsessed with current events, Adrift by Scott Galloway could be the gift this year. It's a book of charts: where America's been, where we seem to be heading, and how our leaders are leading. Give it with Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Legends and Lies about Our Past, edited by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer. Together, these books are both eye-openers, for sure.

Or give them The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything by Mike Rothschild. It's an eye-opener. Add to it Seek and Hide by Amy Gajda, about our right to privacy throughout history, what it means, and how the demand for privacy today can be a good thing or a bad thing; or Conspiracies and Secret Societies, third edition by Brad Steiger and Sherry Hansen Steiger. How could anyone not want to own one of the last books by these two late, great authors?

For your media-obsesssed giftee, It's Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO by Felix Gillette and John Koblin is a nice look at how we watch television, even in an age of streaming. It will go well with a book that reads like a movie: Same Ground by Russell Wangersky, about a journey across America, in search of a family story.

For the loner in your life, or the person who longs for connection, On Belonging by Kim Samuel might be a great gift. It's a book for our times, in four categories: isolation in our relationships, belonging in nature, being alone in political spheres, and a sense of belonging within our inner cores. Pair it with The Newlyweds: Rearranging Marriage in Modern India by Mansi Choksi, about three modern couples who've set aside tradition and arranged marriages in favor of love on their own terms.

The reader who's concerned about migration and immigration this year will want to read Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World by Gaia Vince, who says that climate change will cause worldwide change in cities; and Somewhere We Are Human, edited by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guinansaca, which is a collection of stories from migrants and new citizens.

Is there a parent on your gift list, one that continually gets to the end of their rope? Then give What to Do About Your Troubled Child by Laura J. Stevens, MS and Richard W. Walker, Jr., MD, about behavioral disorders in children ages 3—11, and how to cope with them.

If you know someone who is interested in the paranormal, then give them Here & Hereafter by Tyler Henry, who is a Hollywood medium. What can they learn from the dead? Find out by adding Hollywood Horrors by Andrea Van Landingham. Oh, the scandals and murders in Tinseltown past!

Image courtesy of Scribner  

Won't your reader enjoy Great Short Books by Kenneth C. Davis this holiday? The answer is yes: this book is about books — specifically, more than 50 short novels by authors you know and don't know. Wrap it up with a gift certificate to your favorite bookstore.

Music lovers will absolutely want Loud by Tana Douglas, a memoir of rock & roll and working with the band (Douglas was the rock world's first female roadie). And yep, there's plenty of behind-the-scenes stories. Your giftee won't be able to resist.

Another adventure to find: Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure by Rinker Buck. The author built an old-time wooden flatboat and sailed it down the river. You can't miss what happened then...

Board-game lovers will enjoy A Game Maker's Life by Jeffrey Breslow, with Cynthia Beebe; there's plenty of insider info to make any player smile. It would also complement This Is NOT a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan, about passion, obsession, and being a big — really big — fan.

For the reader who loves a sweeping, but differently told life story, I Always Knew: A Memoir by Barbara Chase-Riboud might be just right. This is the story of the author and artist, as told through a series of letters written to her mother. It showcases not only Chase-Riboud's life but also her works, and the many people she met along the way. Wrap it up with Seven Aunts by Staci Lola Drouillard, about the author's far-flung, but very beloved, aunties and the ways they held the family together.

The Hollywood watcher will be so happy to receive Garcelle: Love Me as I Am by Garcelle Beauvais with Nicole E. Smith, a biography of Beauvais' life, work, struggles, and triumphs. Pair it with another great Hollywood memoir: Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me by Ralph Macchio.

More from Hollywood: Check out No Filter by supermodel Paulina Porizkova, or Don Rickles: The Merchant of Venom by Michael Seth Starr? So many gifts, so little time...

Image courtesy of Hachette Books  

And for the art lover, put Con/Artist: The Life and Crimes of the World's Greatest Art Forger by Tony Tetro and Giampiero Ambrosi beneath the tree.

African American studies
The activist in your life will be very happy with The White Allies Handbook by Lecia Michelle. Yes, it's meant to teach white readers how to eliminate racism within their own lives, but it's also a good way to learn to help friends who are working on it. It would go well with with No Justice, No Peace by Devin Allen, with images by Gordon Parks, which is filled with inspirations messages and pictures from 60 years of activism.

For the reader — male or female — who's interested in the culture of manhood, you'll want to give Patriarchy Blues by Frederick Joseph, a collection of essays, poetry, and reflections on what it means to be a man today.

Image courtesy of Legacy Lit  

Readers of any age will enjoy Originals! Black Women Breaking Barriers by Jessie Carney Smith, PhD, a fascinating (and browse-able) collection of mini-biographies about Black women who changed the world. Give it along with Ride or Die by Shanita Hubbard, a feminist manifesto for Black women, and slip Black Women Will Save the World by April Ryan (yes, the journalist) into the package, too.

The restless person who longs for the meaning of home will want to have The Long Road Home: On Blackness and Belonging by Debra Thompson, a book with one foot in America, one foot in Canada, and a search for place between them. Wrap it up with Fruit Punch by Kendra Allen, a coming-of-age memoir about growing up a woman in the South.

The historian will enjoy The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in An American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge, a sweeping and detailed story of two slave-owning sisters who became fierce abolitionists, and the legacy they left to the Black people to whom they were related.

For LGBTQ readers
For the person who loves dark, gothic, romantic mysteries, give Mourning Light by Richard Goodkin, the story of a man who can't let go of the guilt he feels since his lover died. Coincidentally, that death happened on the exact same day he met another man that he can't stop thinking about.

Those who like a good memoir will want to read A Place Called Home by David Ambroz, a tale of homelessness, foster care, coming out, and how sheer determination put that all in one man's past.

Image courtesy of NYU Press  

For someone who made a difficult decision this year, Families We Keep by Rin Reczek and Emma Bosley-Smith is a good idea. It's a look at LGBTQ people who have decided to stick with their families, though there may continue to be a struggle for acceptance or a total lack of it. It means work, and this book might help. Know your giftee well before giving this book.

Until recently, there really haven't been a lot of books about bisexuality, which is why you might want to give Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality by Julia Shaw to someone special. There's a lot to know about the subject, from genetics to legalities, celebrities to monogamy.

The Trans reader on your gift list will want to own Fat, Crazy, and Tired: Tales from the Trenches of Transformation by podcaster Van Lathan, who writes that being fat was harder than being Black. Needless to say, this book is funny and inspirational, and the recipient will love it. Pair it with Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad by Hil Malatino. For those who sometimes struggle, this book is great acknowledgement.

For the reader who loves history, The Women's House of Detention by Hugh Ryan could be the perfect gift this year. It's the story of a prison in New York's Greenwich Village that, for nearly 45 years, was the landing place/home/jail for thousands of women, gender-nonconforming people, and Transgender men. Angela Davis was there. So was Afeni Shakur. This book takes the reader there, too. Add to it Manifesting Justice: Wrongly Convicted Women Reclaim Their Rights by Valena Beety.

People "of a certain age" will absolutely love getting Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn, a thriller-mystery about four women who've worked as assassins for decades, but suddenly everyone thinks their methods are outdated. They're sent on vacation, but it's really no vacation. How do they get out alive?

Image courtesy of Soho Crime  

Lovers of short mysteries will love to find Reader, I Buried Them and Other Stories by Peter Lovesey. This book, in celebration of Lovesey's more than 50 years of mystery writing, is full of mayhem and murder, and you know your giftee will want it.

Image courtesy of Penguin Books  

True crime
So your giftee is obsessed with the Godfather movies, eh? Well, then, you can't go wrong with The Godmother: Murder, Vengeance, and the Bloody Struggle of Mafia Women by Barbie Latza Nadeau, the story of the women behind the men in the mob. Giving it to someone is an offer you can't refuse.

For those who can appreciate a good true crime tale set outside the US, look for In the Mouth of the Wolf by Katherine Corcoran, the story of a journalist who's about to expose corruption in the Mexican government, but she's thwarted in many ways. When she's found dead in her motel bathroom, Corcoran, then the AP's Mexico bureau chief, goes in search of answers. Speaking of answers, give it with The Forever Witness by Edward Humes, the story of a double murder in Seattle more than 30 years ago. The trail went cold... until the use of DNA became more common and other technology put the case front and center.

Sometimes, the setting of the story is everything. Case in point: All That Is Wicked by Kate Winkler Dawson. In 1871, Edward Rulloff was awaiting execution — but several people wanted him released because of his intelligence. Was his brain too refined to belong to a killer? Add to it Killer Collections: Dark Artifacts from True Crime by Paul Gambino, a loaded-with-photos anthology of items associated with murder.

Image courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers  

What do you give the businessperson who's also a people person? The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love with People by Maurio Porcini, which shows why it's best for a business to put people first, always, and unapologetically. Readers who want to know where the next trend is may find it here.

The entrepreneur in your life might enjoy Launchpad Republic: America's Entrepreneurial Edge and Why It Matters by Howard Wolk and John Landry. Let them know that history agrees with their can-do spirit. It would go well with with Flywheels: How Cities Are Creating Their Own Futures by Tom Alberg, about how businesses can partner with cities to attract the brightest employees and citizens.

For the person whose dream is to head a corporation, Leading Lightly by Jody Michael could be the perfect gift. It's a book that advocates for a gentler way of leadership, one that's easier on the led as well as the leader. You're the Leader. Now What? by Richard Winters, about being a good leader, from the Mayo Clinic, would be a nice complement to it.

If there's a new grad or a newly unemployed-just-looking person on your gift list, look for Sell Yourself by Dr. Cindy McGovern, all about making and promoting a personal brand that employers will find irresistible.

Another book for prospective leaders: True North by Bill George and Zach Clayton, about authenticity in leadership and how to keep it. Also look for When Women Lead by Julia Boorstin, for the female entrepreneur who's ready to succeed.

For someone who watches their pennies, or who's thinking about dabbling in crytpocurrency this coming year, give Cloud Money: Cash, Cards, Crypto and the War for Our Wallets by Brett Scott, which goes deep into the new frontier that is digital financing. Pair it with Finance for the People by Paco de Leon for a nicely balanced gift.

The reader who loves a good business biography will enjoy Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hseih by Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre, about a beloved business and the visionary who created and nurtured it.

The business leader who enjoys looking into the future may like reading Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization & Make Hybrid Work for Everyone by Lynda Gratton, about how to make away-from-the-office work succeed. Wrap it up with Competing in the New World of Work by Keith Ferrazzi, Kian Gohar and Noel Weyrich, about radical adaptability in business today.

Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Sigma  

For those who love the movies, half the fun is wondering if what's on the big screen is really possible. Licence to Kill: The Science of 007 by Kathryn Harkup looks at all the what-ifs of the Bond movies, from the POV of real science, and no armchair detective will be able to resist.

Foodies would love getting Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World by William Alexander, which weaves a long, juicy trail from South America and Mexico to the New World and beyond to show how one vegetable changed the way we eat.

Romantics with an inner streak of science-lover will be enthralled by Wired for Love by Stephanie Cacioppo, a neuroscientist. It's the story of her unlikely (but absolutely wonderful) romance, a devastating loss, and why we bother with love anyhow.

For gearheads, Racing Green: How Motorsport Science Can Save the World by Kit Chapman would make a great gift. It's the story of how innovation in our vehicles is saving lives, taking the sting out of commutes, and helping environmental causes.

Health, death, and grieving
For the person who hates to exercise, hates eating healthy (let's face it), and stresses about it all, you can't go wrong with The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care by Rina Raphael. Doesn't that title say it all? Give it with A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence by Mary Pipher, about aging, losing, and knowing that life goes on.

Someone who's struggling with a diagnosis that's not yet determined may want to read Inside the Orphan Drug Revolution by James A. Geraghty, about rare diseases and how modern medicine is in the midst of a revolution in care. Beware before you give this book, but it may be the perfect thing for the right person. Wrap it up with This Boy We Made by Taylor Harris, the story of Harris's son, and a little boy's health mystery.

For medical-minded recipients, think carefully before giving This Is Assisted Dying by Stefanie Green, MD, one doctor's story about patient care and the end of life, as it could be controversial.

Someone who's grieving might also appreciate After Affects by Andrea Giliat, on various kinds of grief; When a Child Dies by Claire Aagaard; Letters of Note: Grief, compiled by Shaun Usher, a collection of meaningful letters; or All of This by Rebecca Woolf, on losing a husband and regaining strength.

The person who suffers with chronic pain may want to see The Song of Our Scars by Haider Warraich, about pain, suffering with it, and surviving it. Pair it with How Am I Doing by Dr. Corey Yeager, for your recipient's mental health.

If you know someone who loves reading true medical stories, you can't go wrong with Spare Parts: The Story of Medicine Through the History of Transplant Surgery by Paul Craddock. It's filled with a good timeline of bad medicine and how far we've come in keeping people alive with someone else's body parts.

Image courtesy of Harper Wave  

No doubt you know someone who longs for total silence. That's the person who should have Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise by Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz. It might be right to also throw in Good Anxiety by Dr. Wendy Suzuki, about seeing anxiety in a whole new light.

The reader who is still trying to tease out all there is to know about the pandemic will want to read Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus by David Quammen. Yes, it's all true, but it reads like a thriller. Give it with Plagues and Their Aftermath by Brian Michael Jenkins, for a wider look through the history of that which affects us.

Image courtesy of Anne Schwartz Books  

Children up to 6
The preschooler who loves polar bears will love getting A Bear Far from Home by Susan Fletcher and Rebecca Green, based on the true story of a gift from Norway to England, and the meaning of home. Give it with The Worst Teddy Ever by Marcelo Verdad, the story of another kind of bear and its love of a little girl.

For young environmentalists, A Planet Like Ours by Frank Murphy and Charnaie Gordon, illustrated by Kayla Harren, could be a great gift. It's a sweet, uncomplicated reminder to love the earth we have.

For young Black boys, a book like Black Boy, Black Boy, Celebrate the Power of YOU by Ali Kamanda and Jorge Redmond, with pictures by Ken Daley, is a welcome gift. It's an inspirational book full of all the good that Black men do, and that a Black boy can hope for.

The child who's having a rough holiday may want to have There Was a Hole by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Carrie O'Neill, read to them. It's the story of a little girl who's missing something, and she thinks she's the only one. It's a pretty sweet tale of loss and coping that would go well with Everything Will Be Okay by Anna Dewdney, with pictures by Judy Schachner, a comforting book for when nothing goes right.

For the kid who needs a boost of confidence, Most Perfect You by Jazmyn Simon, illustrated by Tamisha Anthony, is a good choice. Irie hates her hair, and she wishes it were different. Her mother's answer is perfect.

For the littlest reader (think: someone who entered the world this year), Hello, Baby! I'm Your Mom by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jui Ishida, is the sweetest, gentlest, most perfect gift. Hint: it's really for mom... Pair it with My Hero by Brian Biggs, which is really a good book for dads and kids.

Youngsters who love the water will love opening Monsters in the Briny by Lynn Becker, illustrated by Scott Brundage, about the monsters that live in the sea; it's a great introduction to mythology and cryptozoology. Add it to Too Many Pigs in the Pool by Wendy Hinote Lanier, illustrated by Iris Amaya. Yep, it's a pigsty in there.

Image courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers  

Children 6—9
Seriously, who doesn't like pizza? If so, they'll also like Pizza! A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli, a cute, colorfully illustrated, fun book on everybody's favorite food.

For the kid who loves monsters, Mythical Beasts by Stephanie Warren Drimmer could be the right gift. It's full of information from National Geographic Kids about real animals that were somehow mythologized throughout history.

If there's a child on your list who loves legends, then The Return of the Christmas Witch by Dan Murphy and Aubrey Plaza, with illustrations by Julia Iredale, is the book. It's the story of Kristtorn, who was Santa's twin sister, a battle, a mystery, and a bit of Christmas darkness. (No worries. happy endings abound).

For the kid who's suddenly become a big brother or sister, The Baby-Changing Station by Rhett Miller, illustrated by Dan Santat, is absolutely the best gift. It's the tale of a boy who isn't happy that there's a baby brother in the house, until he discovers a machine that changes the baby, but not in diaperish ways...

Image courtesy of Workman Publishing Company  

Children 9—14
The young environmentalist will be so happy reading Meltdown: Discover Earth's Irreplaceable Glaciers and Learn What You Can Do to Save Them by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Lily Padula, which is full of ideas, information, pictures, and graphs, as well as a sense that kids really can save the world. Add it to Dinosaur Atlas from National Geographic Kids, a large-size book all about dinos and where they lived. Your young scientist will love it.

If there's a child who loves good historical fiction, then find The Other Side of the River by Alda P. Dobbs, the second part of a story featuring a character based on a real girl who immigrated to the US after the Mexican Revolution. If your intended recipient hasn't read the first book, give both.

Image courtesy of Random House  

Young adult books
The social media-obsessed teen may need to read The Facebook Narcissist by Lena Derhally, which may make them think twice before posting and sharing.

If you read Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, you know that it's a great book to share with your young adult this holiday, because it's not in a version that's adapted for young adults.

If you have any questions or need other suggestions, please do lean on your favorite librarian or bookseller. Seriously, they are like your favorite comic book superheroes, only better, because they know books.

Season's readings!