The Best Books to Gift the Women (and Girls) on Your Holiday List

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Books are among the most thoughtful items you can gift someone, and this is especially so when it comes to the most important women (and future women!) in your life. Here are a few of our favorites for this holiday season…with a little something for each of your lady-VIPs.

For your mom…

100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet by Pamela Paul

Whenever my kids are running amuck reenacting Lord of the Flies, my Mom says to me with a puzzled look on her face, “I don’t remember you ever doing this.” She does remember every candidate in the 1972 Chicago mayoral race… and all the items mentioned in Pamela Paul’s 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet. This collection of bite-sized essays by the editor of The New York Times Book Review takes readers on a nostalgic tour of the pre-Internet age. The book illustrates how profoundly technology has changed our lives; it covers some things we don’t miss at all (actual paper maps) and others we do (handwritten letters). All the items mentioned in this book will validate your mother’s memory with humor and depth.

For your sister…

Mrs. March by Virginia Feito

I like to think if I had a sister, we would share the same twisted sensibility, and she would delight in this psychological thriller as much as I did. Mrs. March is an Upper East Side housewife whose life is shattered when she discovers that everyone believes the main character of her husband’s new book to be based on her. (This is the opposite of flattering, for reasons you’ll see when you read the book.) What follows is a plot within Mrs. March’s mind, a downward spiral of claustrophobic paranoia, horror, and wickedly dark humor. It’s kinda like if Virginia Woolf wrote a slasher. Fittingly, Elizabeth Moss is set to play the title character in the film adaptation. Let’s just say this book would look stunning under the tree with a big scarlet bow.

For your bestie…

Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

She’s always there for you no matter what. So now’s the time to return the favor with an invaluable gift: escapism. The mystery Dead Dead Girls is about Louise Lloyd who is living in Prohibition-era Harlem, dancing & drinking every night, when a detective blackmails her into helping him with a case. A murderer is targeting young Black women in the neighborhood and she’s gotta catch him before getting nabbed first. The story flows at a good pace, with sexy details from the time period—like when she steals police files and hides them in her garter strap. Reading this together will give you even more telephone fodder, as if you needed it.

For your book club…

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Pretty much the most important book you’ll buy all year is for the annual book club gift exchange. No pressure. So make sure to hit it out of the park with Somebody’s Daughter. In her memoir, writer and podcaster Ashley C. Ford takes readers through the story of her childhood, from the absence of her incarcerated father to a harrowing event she experiences as a young woman. It’s an amazing story of forgiveness and family, with Ford’s sincerity and vulnerability coming through at every turn. Buckle up.

For your favorite teachers…

New Teeth by Simon Rich

The book that made me LOL the most this year was New Teeth, so I’m looking forward to giving it to the hardest-working people I know, which is obviously teachers. Screenwriter and former SNL-writing-staffer Simon Rich’s charming short stories feature toddler detectives, a mutant gorilla grandpa, and sentient LaserDiscs. Through the absurdity of it all, there are social commentaries on family life, office bureaucracy, and aging. I think teachers in particular will appreciate how Rich plays with history. For instance, murderous co-parenting pirates call each other passive aggressive, a term they clearly did not have access to in the 1600s. And we could all use some humor in these freaky-deaky times.

For your mom-group-text…

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

If you’re looking for a short novel with sublime sentences, Whereabouts by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri is a beautiful journey through an Italian city. The loosely formed plot is perfect for a snow day when you’re about to lose your ever-loving mind and need a few moments to yourself. But you might want to pace yourself. I read half of this then set it aside for two weeks because it was going too fast. Some books need to be savored like the last stash of holiday chocolates you keep hidden on the top shelf.

For your mother-in-law…

On Animals by Susan Orlean 

We’re all a little rusty these days when it comes to the art of cocktail fodder, so why not give the gift of conversation? Susan Orlean’s On Animals is a collection of quick and entertaining essays chock full of delightful facts on creatures from rabbits to pandas, donkeys, tigers and lions. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself with a growing interest in mules. Personally, I would read Orlean’s insights on any topic under the sun, but she’s at her finest here as she examines our enduring relationships with the largely unknowable lives of animals. This book is perfect for anyone who loves animals and/or beautifully-crafted essays. To quote Queen Bonnie Raitt, Let’s give them something to talk about. How about love, love, love, love?

For your sister-in-law…

The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook by Laurel Randolph

My sister-in-law and I have somehow fallen into the routine of gifting each other cookbooks. This year I’m shaking it up by choosing one a little off the beaten path. Featuring a foreword from Bill Oakley, former Simpsons showrunner, The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook has 70 classic recipes based on foods the characters have eaten on the show, and all the dishes seem simple and (actually) delicious. There’s Bart’s Chocolate Marshmallows, Flanders’s Planter’s Punch, and Krusty Burgers, just to name a few. This book is so entertaining and well-designed, it’d be a welcome addition to any kitchen or coffee table.

For your aunt…

Dreaming of You: A Novel in Verse by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

Everyone deserves at least one funky aunt per lifetime. If you happen to be blessed with an especially unconventional one, then do her right with this volume of experimental prose. A young Latinx poet grappling with loneliness and heartache decides to bring Tejano pop star Selena Quintanilla back to life. The séance kicks off an uncanny trip, taking the reader on a journey through a dead celebrity prom narrated by a Greek chorus of gossiping spirits. OK so maybe it’s not for everyone. But the alternate endings punched me in the heart, and the raw prose, brimming with pop culture references, is equal parts offbeat and fun. Just like your aunt.

For your darling but very hard-to-shop-for friend…

I am “Why Do I Need Venmo?” Years Old by Janine Annett and Ali Solomon

If the two of you ever look at each other while gardening together on a Sunday afternoon and exclaim “we’re so old!” then this book of captioned cartoons is going to be a much-appreciated and entertaining gift. Authors Annett and Solomon celebrate the hilarities (and indignities) of getting older, and anyone who’s “at the very very very tail end of the millennial age group” (like us) and older will giggle with recognition. Btw, I am “can’t digest cheese” years old, in case you were wondering.

For your neighbor…

Wonder Seeker: 52 Ways to Wake Up Your Creativity and Find Your Joy by Andrea Scher

If anything, the past couple years have taught us to love thy neighbor more than ever. Give your neighbor the present of being present with this book. Through 52 creative ideas, Scher helps us all answer the question: How do we create better conditions for wonder to arise? Her activities are easy to execute — like challenges to find the beauty in unlikely places such as the grocery store — and can be enjoyed solo or with friends, family, and even strangers.

For your work wife…

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

Maybe you see her more often on Slack than in real life these days, and you know she always has your back. But your favorite coworker could also use a break. What better way to disconnect from the daily grind than with a book featuring a heavy dose of flirting and an optimistic ending? In Talia Hibbert’s newest rom-com, the most capricious Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner. Act Your Age, Eve Brown takes the classic enemies-to-lovers trope and inserts a dose of reality as both of the main characters are on the spectrum. Something easy, breezy, and 100% stress-free.

For your tween daughter…

Going Viral: A Socially Distant Love Story by Katie Cicatelli-Kuc

Although I haven’t yet arrived at the stage of parenting a tween, I fully intend to keep Going Viral on deck for when the time comes. Claire is a junior in high school during the pandemic, living in New York City in a cramped apartment with her family, forced to communicate with her girlfriend only through FaceTime. After developing a crush on a different girl across the street, Claire writes a story that goes viral, causing her to embark on a rollercoaster of teenage emotions. What you think is going to be a cute love story actually ends up being a fairly profound lesson about how we portray ourselves online and in person. This book is lit, as the kids say.

For your toddler daughter…

Little Messy Marcy Su by Cherie Fu, Illustrated by Julie Kwon

Depending on the hour, my three-year-old can either be Shirley Temple or Joan Crawford. No matter her mood, though, her favorite story these days is Little Messy Marcy Su, a partially-bilingual Mandarin picture book about a plucky daughter with a messy bedroom and a mother who’s at her wit’s end. In the process of cleaning her room, Marcy Su manages to destroy the rest of the house just in time for her grandparent’s visit. It’s such an adorable story that’ll hopefully teach kids to be self-reliant even if the results are far from perfect. I love that it has three generations of family and, of course, I found the mother very relatable.

For your niece…

The Bug Club by Elise Gravel

If you have the kind of niece who’s more into microscopes than princesses, she’ll love this book dedicated to the magical world of bugs. Not only is the book full of beautiful illustrations, the author is also a lifelong bug aficionado who makes sure to include tons of funny critter facts. Everytime I read it with my children, we discover something new to ooh and aah over. And it’s fun to see which facts are retained in their little cotton candy brains.

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