The Best Books We’re Getting and Gifting This Holiday Season

From a book about the female body to a novel about a climate catastrophe these books are all, as the kids say, certified bangers.

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The Best Books We’re Getting and Gifting This Holiday Season

One of the best emails I get every year is from a friend I’ve known for nearly a decade. We don’t see each other enough anymore but I know I’ll always hear from him in mid-December, when he sends around a list of the 10 best books he read that year. It’s to a small group of people, many of whom I’ve never actually met. Though there are no “rules” for this once-a-year quasi-book club, there’s very little back-and-forth; everyone replies with a short seasonal greeting, followed by their straightforward list of 10, and very limited commentary. With each subsequent email, my running “to read” list gets a little bit longer, and I always love seeing which of my books from last year made it onto this year’s lists.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled this gift guide, although I also suggest that you take advantage of it for yourself — these are all certified bangers, as the kids say. And yes, we’re now only a few days out from Christmas but the wonderful thing about shopping for books is that bookstores are going to be open all week. These were all published over the past two years (and most came out this year) because I had to give myself some sort of time parameter, otherwise I’d go on forever.

Happy gifting (and reading)!

Please Report Your Bug Here, by Josh Reidel

Please Report Your Bug Here, by Josh Reidel, gives its protagonist—in his 20s, working an unfulfilling tech job, desperate for connection but not sure how to find it — something meaningful (or at least diverting) to focus on when he discovers a mysterious glitch in the app he’s meant to be improving. At first, it’s just that, a mystery, but as he begins sniffing around and meeting other people who may or may not have information that will help him figure out what’s going on, the book becomes a larger conversation about people, our relationships, and how tech and money distort both.

Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, by Cat Bohannon

Eve: How The Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolutionby Cat Bohannon, is an incredible book that combines anthropology, evolutionary biology, neurology, gynecology, and about seven other disciplines to explain how the female body evolved to what it is today, and why our often-confounding bodies are the way they are. Bonhannon’s voice is fun and cheeky, and her book answers questions I didn’t even know I had. I promise you this will be a hit — and will make your recipient literally gasp aloud.

Need a bit more convincing? Check out my longer review, and an excerpt from the book, from October.

The Dimensions of a Cave, by Greg Jackson

I was surprised at how little buzz The Dimensions of a Caveby Greg Jackson, generated in the general literary press because it’s one of the most intriguing books I read all year. The protagonist is a journalist hunting down a story about the government using virtual reality technology as a national security tool, and, as everything he learns provides more questions than answers, his sense of self becomes less and less stable.

It’s certainly not a light book, and there’s one particularly bleak passage toward the end of the book that has taken on even darker salience for me as I’ve absorbed news of the atrocities in Palestine and Israel over the past two months. But it’s thoughtful about the horrors that both governments and regular people perpetrate, and it’s a deftly written page-turner — a Heart of Darkness-esque thriller for the mid-2020s.

All This Could Be Different, by Sarah Thankam Mathews

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews  was widely acclaimed last year, so I’m not exactly breaking new ground here, but the belief this book holds — that we can make a better world; that all this could be different — is so beautiful, it deserves all the praise it received and more.

It’s set up like a classic coming-of-age novel, but it ends with the protagonist not just finding herself, but finding community. The path there is windy, rocky, and full of self-set traps that she falls into, but it avoids most of the cliches of this genre.

Before I read this last year, I’d sworn off new takes on the bildungsroman (Sally Rooney mimicry has gone too far!!), but I’m so glad I immediately went back on my word. This was the last — and best — lost-20-something book I’ll ever read.

Queen of Dirt Island, by Donal Ryan

Queen of Dirt Island, by Donal Ryan, is a supremely satisfying read. Ryan manages to keep each chapter the length of only a single physical page (front and back) while still conveying an incredible range of emotion and plot. It’s a great technique but never distracts from the real meat of the novel, which focuses on four generations of women and their struggles, hopes, and dreams. It’s a beautiful story of a family and includes the best women-written-by-a-man I’ve ever read.

Damnation Spring, by Ash Davidson

It’s the late 1970s in the Pacific Northwest, in a town largely controlled by various timber interests, and a local midwife begins to suspect that pesticide runoff is harming fetuses in the womb. Damnation Springby Ash Davidson, captures the spirit of climate justice — though it takes place decades before that term entered our political lexicon — and the indignant, righteous anger that fuels the modern environmental movement.

Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan

I’m going for a one-two punch here since these are both so short, they can easily be knocked out in an afternoon — and maybe your lovely recipient has a couple of free days coming up. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan takes place around this time of year, and fits into the category of “bittersweet Christmas story.” But author Claire Keegan isn’t trying to pull your heartstrings or be maudlin; her prose is clean and simple, yet able to deliver an incredible emotional wallop about the effects of the Catholic Church’s Magdalene laundries.

Assembly, by Natasha Brown

Assembly by Natasha Brown is narrated by a Black woman working in finance, and the book is her inner monologue as she heads to a weekend at her boyfriend’s family’s country estate. The novella lingers on the racism she’s experienced and her reflections on upward mobility, but I couldn’t tell exactly how and where it was going to end. But when I got there, I almost immediately wanted to start it again.

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