Books make perfect last-minute (but thoughtful) gifts

Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree


An almost all-purpose gift idea

We’ve all been there. A major holiday is just a week away, and we have put off getting a gift for an important person in our life. When this happens to me, I usually get them a book.
Here is a curated list of suggestions. Most but not all of these are recent books. Unless otherwise stated, the books below are available at or for online buying and at major bookstores. If older than a year, used versions may be available, and in most cases, e-books and audiobooks are also an option. For e-books, there is the Kindle store, Rakuten’s Kobo store, or Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Support local independent bookstores! Many of these are available at Uncle Hugo’s, DreamHaven, Once Upon A Crime, Red Balloon Bookshop, Moon Palace, Birchbark, Black Garnet, The Irreverent Bookworm, or Boneshaker Books.

For food lovers and cooks

“Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes from the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters,” 2023. By Hillary Dixler Canavan and other experts at Eater, the best online magazine of food and restaurant news.
“Food Stories: Writing That Stirs the Pot,” 2022. 2023, 2nd expanded edition. By various authors. From Bitter Southerner, another online magazine, and growing source of some of the finest contemporary American writing of all kinds. The magazine won a James Beard award for food journalism. Only available at
“Northern Soul: Southern-Inspired Home Cooking from a Northern Kitchen: A Cookbook,” 2022. By Justin Sutherland.

Nonfiction for the curious

“Master Slave Husband Wife,” 2023. By Ilyon Wood. A true story about an enslaved married couple who escaped by traveling openly but disguised as a sickly white man and his Black servant.
“Beyond the Wall – A History of East Germany,” 2023. By Katja Hoyer. Acclaimed historian Katja Hoyer sets aside the usual Cold War caricatures of the GDR to offer a kaleidoscopic new vision of this vanished country.
“Who By Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai,” 2022. By Matti Friedman. The story of Cohen’s transformational tour of Israel and Egypt in the opening weeks of the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Speculative fiction and fantasy

“Tsalmoth: A Vlad Taltos Novel,” 2022. By Steven Brust. The latest-but-one novel in the amazingly long Vlad Taltos series. The next one, “Lyorn,” is available to pre-order for spring of 2024. Check out Brust’s website
“Starter Villain,” 2023. By John Scalzi. A likable failson who dreams of being a pub landlord suddenly inherits his uncle’s supervillain empire. Hilarity ensues. Also see Scalzi’s website
“The World We Make: A Novel,” 2022. By N. K. Jemisin. Jemisin’s “Great Cities Duology,” which began with “The City We Became” and concludes with “The World We Make,” is a masterpiece of speculative fiction from one of the most important writers of her generation.

Crime fiction, mystery

“Brooklyn Crime Novel,” 2023. By Jonathan Lethem. By the author of the incomparable “Motherless Brooklyn.”
“The Last Devil To Die (Thursday Murder Club Series #4),” 2023. By Richard Osman. This is the latest (I hope not the last) in the debut series by a beloved, funny British game show host, which concerns a group of four very interesting retirees living in a community in the heart of modern England.
“I Have Some Questions For You,” 2023. By Rebecca Makkai. “A twisty, immersive whodunit perfect for fans of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History.’” – People magazine

Literary fiction

“A Shining,” 2023. By Jon Fosse. Translated from Norwegian by Damion Searls. Fosse is the 2023 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. “Strange, haunting and dreamlike, ‘A Shining’ is the latest work of fiction by Jon Fosse, ‘the Beckett of the twenty-first century’” – Le Monde
“Heaven and Earth Grocery Store,” 2023. By James McBride. “A murder mystery locked inside a Great American Novel. … Charming, smart, heart-blistering, and heart-healing.” – Danez Smith, The New York Times Book Review
“The Vaster Wilds – A Novel,” 2023. By Lauren Groff. An instant NYT bestseller, and named best book of the year by NPR, Time and others.
“Julia – A Retelling of George Orwell’s 1984,” 2023. By Sandra Newman. Best book accolades from LitHub, Esquire, the Guardian and People.
“The Ferryman,” 2023. By Justin Cronin. Another NYT bestseller, lauded by other writers, this is one of those dystopia-disguised-as-utopia novels of Big Ideas and a gripping mystery plot.

Children & families

“The Eyes and the Impossible,” 2023. By Dave Eggers. This book can be read in private by any kid with a third-grade or higher reading level, yet is sophisticated enough to interest teenagers. But really it just begs to be read aloud in family gatherings of multiple generations. Yes, it’s that good, and that universal. Oh, and it’s narrated by the dog, who is The Eyes.
“Letters from Father Christmas,” 2023. By J. R. R. Tolkien! This one is kind of self-explanatory.


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