The Best Books for the Women (& Girls) in Your Life

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Everything is weird now, that much we can all agree on. But one thing that never goes out of style—pandemic be damned—is the art of giving your favorite people the perfect book. Below are our top choices to give the women in your life. And make sure to throw one in the cart for yourself as well. You deserve it.

For your sister…

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

If this year has taught us anything, it’s to stockpile any bits of media that make us lol. I do not actually have a sister. But! If I did, I’d like to think we’d have the same sense of humor because that’s the kind of shared trait that pumps steadily through a family’s DNA. And I would definitely give this sister Wow, No Thank You, this collection of essays that tackles aging, marriage, and life in small-town America. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what she’s writing about, because anything Irby touches cracks me up.

For your sister-in-law…

Frontier Follies by Ree Drummond

Now, I do in fact have a sister-in-law. And I usually give her cookbooks for the holidays. But I decided to switch it up this year and give her a collection of essays instead. Wild, I know. Ree Drummond aka The Frontier Woman is one of the original food bloggers who can turn even a simple trip to the convenience store into comedy gold. Her book, Frontier Follies, follows in the tradition of domestic humorist writers like Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck, with some recipes sprinkled in for good measure. Some of the anecdotes are lifted directly from her blog, but even her longtime followers won’t notice and will be able to enjoy them all over again. Mommy brain and all.

For your mom…

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

Immediately after binging The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, I picked up the 1983 book by Walter Tevis. I needed more. Although the book doesn’t feature Anya Taylor-Joy’s amazing wardrobe or steamy Netflix scenes, it is just as engaging and very soothing. Tevis devotes page after page to detailing how Beth approached the challenge of a chess board, game after game. I found it very satisfying to see the way her mind would look at a problem, then keep working out ways to solve it. The effect was almost hypnotic. How fitting, then, to gift this to a mom who’s undoubtedly distracted by a laundry list of worries.

For your aunt…

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Aunts are fun. Everyone knows it. So make sure to give yours a fun read. Ties That Tether is a romance novel that helped me survive November’s election week with my fingernails intact and my screentime report relatively low. When Azere, a 25-year-old Nigerian woman, falls for a white (and decidedly non-Nigerian) man, she’s forced to choose between love and her family. Going deeper than your average light and fluffy romance, Igharo deftly shows how one woman dedicates herself to preserving her Nigerian culture after emigrating to Canada. But there’s still good fun to be had, as Igharo scatters in references to all your favorite rom-coms throughout the book.

For your mother-in-law…

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Only the best for your mother-in-law, right? Sure to be at the top of many ‘Best of 2020’ lists, Yaa Gyasi’s latest book deserves all the praise. A stunning follow-up to her debut novel, Homegoing, Gyasi delivers again with this richly layered novel about a Ghanaian family coping with heartbreak, depression, and addiction in Alabama. Full of beautiful, flawed characters, and deeply resonant conversations on science versus religion, Gyasi’s writing is completely gripping. Every single word lands as perfectly as your mother-in-law’s double chocolate brownies.

For your bestie…

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

You’d give anything to hug your best friend right now. In the meantime, you can settle for giving her Baer’s touching collection of poetry, whose poems gracefully tackle the absurdity of attempting to juggle work, childcare, and 100+ other responsibilities in the middle of a global pandemic. Most outstanding of all is Baer’s dedication to female friendship, as seen in poems like, Girls’ Night Out. And some lines deserve to be tattooed on our hearts, or at least on the fridge: “When life throws you a bag of sorrow, hold out your hands/ Little by little, mountains are climbed.” Giving your bestie this ode to modern womanhood is like sending a giant hug in the mail.

For your kid’s teacher…

The Searcher by Tana French

Your kid’s teacher is arguably the hardest working woman in your life. And she deserves a break this holiday season (or, at the very least, the chance to be engrossed in something other than your 1st grader’s unruly penmanship). Slide a Target gift card into the new Tana French book and call it a day. This story is a slow burn of a mystery about a retired detective who moves from Chicago to rural Ireland. His plans are to fix up an old cottage and recover from a divorce but then he gets sucked into helping a local boy find his missing brother. I blissfully ignored my family for two weeks to find out what happened to that boy.

For your (older) daughter…

Body Talk edited by Kelly Jensen

If you’ve spent any time with a tween lately, you know that some things are new (hello, TikTok) and some things haven’t changed at all. Unfortunately, girls are still wildly uncomfortable in their bodies. Every human body tells a story and editor Kelly Jenson has gathered together 37 stories from writers, models, actors, musicians and artists who delve into what it means to operate a body today. The anthology goes beyond puberty and body confidence to tackle everything from disability to body hair, fat positivity, reproductive health, and living with a chronic illness. The book is a great reminder that we can all share cringey experiences and learn to love the things that make our bodies what they are.

For your (younger) daughter…

Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

If you’re looking for a book that’s as sweet as your daughter, this is it. Danbi Leads the School Parade is an adorable picture book that follows a young girl, Danbi, after she moves to the States from Korea. The dazzling illustrations and text make this an enjoyable read-aloud for adults alike. And early readers will also enjoy reading this one on their own, since they’ll be able to relate to Danbi’s first-day-of-school jitters.

For your mom-group ride or die…

Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology by Zibby Owens (editor)

There are friends and then there are mom-friends: the women who have been with you in the trenches since day one. You’ve deliberated the nitty gritty together, from potty training to the best ways to remove puke from upholstery. The group text is open 24/7 and there’s no such thing as TMI. And these women deserve to be gifted Zibby Owens’ anthology with original essays from 60+ authors, Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology, born of her podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. Chronicling everything moms don’t have time to do: eat, workout, have an R-rated encounter with their partner, breathe and read, this collection covers so much territory with candor and tenderness.

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Toby Lowenfels is a writer and mom of three in Nashville. Follow her daily musings at @tobyfels.