6 Books That Make Perfect Emergency Gifts

It happens to the best of us. Between birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and holidays, at some point you’re going to forget to buy someone a gift. But with just a bit of planning ahead, you never again have to suffer through the indignity of this awkward exchange: You: ”But, but, I didn’t get you anything!” Superior friend, with just a hint of self-pity: ”That’s okay.” But it’s never okay, which is why I’ve created this list of six books you can use to shield against any and all gift-giving emergencies. Here’s hoping these books will one day save you the embarrassment of saying, “Hello, loved one. I forgot about your special day. Please accept this lightly enjoyed pack of Rolos as my apology.”

1. Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. If you have family members or are human, you’ll be able to relate to Dad is Fat. If neither of those terms apply to you, I’m left to assume that my coffeemaker has become sentient and decided to read my work. I hope you enjoy the article, and thank you for the coffee, old friend. Gaffigan’s collection of essays pokes fun at the everyday aspects of family life with an endearing, self-deprecating wit. This is the perfect “I wasn’t aware it was customary to exchange Valentine’s Day presents with your mailman, but here you go, Hank!” gift.

2. Ant Farm, by Simon Rich. Not to be confused with a literal ant farm, which would make an atrocious emergency gift. (Life tip: don’t give ants to a person you love. It’s like buying someone a perpetual errand.) Ant Farm is a densely comedic collection of essays on hilariously accessible topics including what goes on at the grown-ups’ table, as imagined at the kids’ table, and how it goes when the “guess your weight” guy from the carnival gets hitched. Just right for those “Of course I remembered the IT guy’s birthday!” kind of days.

3. A Bombay Brown Leather Journal. The journal gets the “G rating” of emergency gifts: it’s suitable for all ages. When you present someone with a journal, you’re basically saying that the innovative musings of his brilliant mind simply must be preserved for future generations! (My mom bought me a journal last year. The card said “good luck,” but the subtext was pretty obvious.) A journal makes the perfect, “Oh you’re not pregnant? Umm, just kidding! Happy err… joke day?!” gift.

4. The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky. We could all stand to have a little more happiness in our lives—I bet even Brad Pitt has days when he wakes up, looks in the mirror, and thinks to himself, “Ugh, this old face again?” But a note of warning: giving someone a book subtitled A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want is all about presentation. “I’ve read this book, and I think you might find it interesting,” is a lot more tactful than, “Here, use this to get your life together.”

5. Everything That Rises Must Convergeby Flannery O’Connor. Collection of short stories or essays—especially those that are universally considered to be awesome—contain a little something for everybody. They’re like literary piñatas. While commercially successful collections like Tina Fey’s Bossypants or Mindy Kaling’s Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? also make amazing gifts, they’re so ubiquitously popular that you run the risk of your giftee already owning them.

6. Your Favorite Book. Personally, I don’t like to hand out copies of my favorite book so freely. I believe a favorite book is a gift to be shared deliberately with only a handful of special people. It makes an exceptional, “Really? A half birthday? Congratulations, I guess?” gift.

What book do you think would make the perfect emergency gift?