Because the holidays weren’t difficult enough, man invented the Secret Santa exchange, that age-old pastime in which you must procure gifts for good friends, curmudgeonly coworkers, and casual acquaintances alike. It can be tricky to pick up something you know will be a hit. But it can be done, with the safest bet of all: a good book. Here are a few 2014 releases that are so universally crowd-pleasing, they’ll be treasured by anyone and everyone on your Nice List.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
By now, it may actually be illegal not to adore this finalist for the National Book Award. It’s rare that apocalyptic fiction can be called “glittering,” but Station Eleven‘s story of a pandemic and the interconnected lives it touches, from a traveling Shakespeare troupe to survivors at an airport outpost, is so seamlessly spun, few other words do it justice.
As You Wish, by Cary Elwes
You know what else is probably illegal? Not having seen (and read) The Princess Bride. Elwes (Westley himself) takes you behind the scenes of the filming of this beloved adaptation of William Goldman’s equally beloved book. From dealing with a tardy R.O.U.S to giant-sized flatulence, here’s an account (with additional commentary from other members of the cast and crew) that every fan of twue wuv will need.
The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin
In The Walled City, there are three rules: run fast, trust no one, and always carry your knife. So begins one of the most refreshing takes on the YA dystopia trend. Three teens narrate the story in alternating chapters, each trying to claw their way out of this dark, damp, and dangerous ruin of a city, Hak Nam, brimming with criminals and unfortunates. What’s even more frightening? It’s based on a real place. If that doesn’t get your giftee’s heart racing, you might want to check their pulse.
We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory
Ever wonder what happens to all the characters who survive horribly traumatic supernatural terrors? They end up in a support group, like any other cluster of damaged people. As Gregory unpacks each character’s backstory—from the man called the Monster Detective to the guy who’ll never take off his sunglasses—in this slim little number, he simultaneously untangles and entangles their mysteries and their troubles. It’s clear pretty early on that the monsters these people fear can’t all be referred to in the past tense.
The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgar Cantero
Bringing home the trophy for the year’s book that should most quickly be made into a Wes Anderson film is Cantero’s twisted yet hysterical gothic ghost story. Few good things happen to young men who inherit estates from mysterious, distant relatives, and that’s exactly where we pick up with A. He’s just crossed the pond to take possession of Axton House with his mute (but cleverest of them all) companion, Niamh. There are secret societies and ghosts and intrigue, but what makes this story stand out is its unusual mode of storytelling: modern epistolary, with journals, notes, security footage, audio recordings, and the odd cipher or two.
Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
America’s best-friend-in-chief has written a book! This is one of the happiest times since Tina Fey bestowed Bossypants on the world. Poehler groupies and mere casual viewers of Parks & Recreation alike will want to read the skinny on Poehler’s life, from her childhood outside of Boston to her tenure on Saturday Night Live (including that rapping-while-pregnant Sarah Palin bit) to her lessons on motherhood.
So, Anyway…, by John Cleese
Now for something completely different. Well, not quite, but when your read is written by one of the founders of Monty Python, you know you’re not getting just any old memoir. This is a comedic bildungsroman, chronicling the rise of one of the finest employees of the Ministry of Silly Walks comedy has ever seen. It would be daft to give your Secret Santa anything less than this, or a shrubbery.
How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran
In 2011, Moran taught us How to Be a Woman. Now she’s back with her first foray into the world of YA, a coming-of-age story that tells us how to build a girl. In Joanna Morrigan lies a teenager relatable to all: so displeased with her awkward, clunky self that she reinvents herself into Dolly Wilde, a hard-charging rock journalist who takes the early 90s music scene by storm, for better or for worse. It’s frank, hilarious, and a total must-read.
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak was funny on The Office, and now he’s hysterical in his debut short-story collection. The humor is offbeat and sometimes absurdist, but the tone is intensely human and warm. In bite-sized nuggets of story we meet Sophia, the sex robot with an unrequited love; Wikipedia Brown, a detective for our time; and Sisqo, attending the roast of Nelson Mandela. Bonus: If your gift recipient has little ones, be sure to consider Novak’s other 2014 offering, the riotous The Book With No Pictures.
What’s your favorite go-to book for gift-giving?