giftable books for specific readers

Books are my favorite gift to give or get, but choosing the right book for someone else sometimes feels as precarious as an act of divination. Generally, I adopt a resolutely impractical line in gift guide composition, but in the hopes of being somewhat helpful, I thought I'd share a list of the books I'd most like to give or get this year (I already own a fair few of them). Most are relatively new releases.


For toddlers who love adjectives: Pomelo Explores Color by Ramona Badescu. Pomelo is a miniature pink elephant who lives in a garden with his best friend Gigi (a snail), many cheerful potatoes, his favorite dandelion, and an enigmatic and alluring frog named Rita. After checking this book out of the library for more than two months, we bought a copy and are still reading it every day.

For the budding folklorist: The Wolf, The Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by John Klassen. A story literally set in the belly of the beast, and pretty close to perfect, if you ask me. I laugh every time I read it, and Hugh adores it, too.

For the child who likes to find the story by themselves: Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio, about a dapper Parisian crocodile on his way to work. This wordless picture book is full of subtle visual jokes and absurdly charming details, and every time we read it, I want to eat roast chicken.

For readers of fantasy, young and old: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, about a kind 11-year-old boy (why do these feel like such a rarity in lierature?) who finds himself swept away as he tries to help the people he cares about. A must-read for any fan of His Dark Materials.

For the non-fiction reader dazzled by the world: A New Map of Wonders by Caspar Henderson, whose blog of the same name is one of my favorite places to go when I need to read something marvelous. I suspect the book will be even better.

For the person who adores clothbound books and David Hockney (me): the hardcover British editions of Autumn and Winter by Ali Smith. Smith is a gorgeous writer with a genius for rendering precise detail, and while Autumn was somewhat unsatisfying, I have hopes of Winter and the books themselves are incredibly lovely.

For the hungry and melodramatic: A Super Upsetting Book About Sandwiches by Tyler Kord, which maybe has the best title on this list.

For the classicist and feminist, two essential books: The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson + Women and Power by Mary Beard.

For stargazers, and assorted relations who loved Hidden Figures: The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel. There are too many little-known stories about women in science, and I am glad a few are finding their way to print.

For cooks of elevated thriftiness: Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura and friends (pictured above). It's a very fancy book about avoiding food waste.

For budding art monsters: Donald Judd Writings by Flavin Judd and Caitlin Murray. Judd's writing is like his art: clear, weighty, considered and inspiring.

For the interiors-obsessed: David Hicks: Scrapbooks by Ashley Hicks.

For painters: David Hockney by Chris Stephens and Andrew Wilson. A bright orange tome full of beautiful paintings.

For photographers of literary sensibilities: Blind Spot by Teju Cole (see above). Earlier this year, I read Known and Strange Things, and dazzled by Cole's thought and lucidity and love of W.G. Sebald, bought this as a treat for myself on dark winter days.

(Sidebar: these newish editions of Sebald would be a beautiful gift for any fabulist.)

For lovers of nonsense: Mr. Lear by Jenny Uglow. (The Pinecone is one of my favorites, even if it is a bit dry, because the story of Sarah Losh's church is remarkable.)

For aspiring critics: The Collected Elizabeth Hardwick.

For lepidopterists: Mariposas Nocturnas by Emmet Gowin. Ravishing photographs of South American moths.

Two books for poets: Olio by Tyehimba Jess (an incredible book to handle and explore) + Debths by Susan Howe (who is maybe the writer I most wish I could be, on the days when I am not wishing to be Mac Barnett or W.G. Sebald).

For pretty much everyone: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
And for dressing up a set of second-hand books: jacket sets by Juniper Books. I covet the Harry Potter covers for my collection.


Top image: Blake, William, and Chauncey Brewster Tinker. "The Book of My Remembrance", Plate 21, From A Small Book of Designs Printed By Blake At Lambeth.