So you’ve divvied up the office Secret Santa list already, or you’ve set up a gift exchange among friends. Maybe you’re lucky and you get paired up with someone whose tastes, preferences, and interests you fully understand—or maybe you’re not so lucky, and you barely know this stranger, let alone what kind of desk tchotchkes they might enjoy.
Good news! There’s only one question you really need to have answered: do they like books? If you’ve nabbed a book nerd of any stripe, we’ve got a few gift ideas so universal, so culturally relevant, and so completely on point that your recipient is bound to be bowled over by them.
Milk & Honey (Exclusive Deluxe Edition), by Rupi Kaur
You may scoff at a book of poetry making a list of surefire gifting hits, but this collection captures the moment we live in like few other published works. The collection was originally published by viral star Kaur, and has since spent 27 weeks (and counting) on the New York Times bestseller list. Each of the book’s four chapters serves a unique purpose, but all tell the story of survival, whether that survival is related to abuse, love, loss, or the bitter expectations put on femininity. Add this one to the list of handbooks for the modern woman—or, even better, the modern man.
HBO’s Game of Thrones Coloring Book
You’ll want to pair this with a red colored pencil (or 12), freshly sharpened. Fans of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series or its hit TV adaptation will be able to wreak their artistic revenge on the likes of Joffrey Baratheon, or treat favorites like Sansa to some opulent duds. And if, at any point, the intricacies of Cersei’s gowns grow tiresome, this versatile coloring book allows you to take a breather with plenty of monochrome pages featuring gloomy Jon Snow and his brothers in Black.
Appetites: A Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain
Appetites is the surly, globe-trotting chef’s first cookbook in more than a decade, and with it Bourdain reminds us why he has been a mainstay in our cultural psyche for so long. Every page is imbued with his characteristic sarcasm and wit, ensuring this no ordinary cookbook. These are typically delicious recipes colored by Bourdain’s life experiences, most especially his recent turn as devoted and enthusiastic family man.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
Patchett’s a beloved storyteller, and her latest decade-spanning novel shows exactly why: she understands the complicated beasts we humans are and perfectly captures that complexity in each of her stories. Here, she turns her keen eye on two intertwining families, whose initial destruction and eventual merger have consequences affecting multiple generations. In Southern California, an infidelity dissolves two marriages and smashes together six children, both a devastating and bonding situation that resonates throughout the 10 lives involved.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Never bet against an Oprah’s Book Club pick. Whitehead’s devastating novel chronicles a young slave’s fraught journey to freedom from life on a Georgia plantation. In this story, however, the Underground Railroad is no metaphorical means to salvation. It’s a literal network of secret tracks and tunnels, manned by engineers and abolitionists. While it is, by nature, a heartbreaking read, The Underground Railroad is an intricate literary odyssey that, in its unsparing observations, ultimately delivers something close to hope.
Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple
The freshly shelved follow-up to Semple’s enormously successful Where’d You Go, Bernadette puts the focus firmly on the micro moments of life. Eleanor Flood is all of us. She vows that today is the day she will actually get done all the little things on her list: shower, go to yoga, find some time for romance with her husband. Much like the rest of us, she finds that things do not go according to plan. In fact, they go rather wildly (hilariously) awry. What started as one day’s to-do list turns into a strange new world for Eleanor.
The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer has been all over our TV and movie screens the past couple of years, and now she has taken over our collective bookshelves as well. Schumer brings her hilarious, highly personal touch to a collection of essays about her teenage years, her family, her past relationships, and her sex life, all of which shape the (very funny) woman she is today. And it’s not all fun and games: in the course of these essays, Schumer touches on a number of emotions and grand themes, stitching together a relatable narrative for just about anyone. Any book that features the words “honesty bomb” in a blurb by Tilda Swinton ought to be on your shopping list.