Books, like underwear, can be terribly personal gifts with the power to embarrass or delight their recipients. There’s no need to take those sorts of risks with your cousins or co-workers. Instead, give one of these broadly appealing, sumptuous hardcovers, each of which earns their sticker price and then some.
For the Dungeon Master
“Dead Astronauts” by Jeff Vandermeer (McClelland & Stuart)
The universally praised Southern Reach trilogy, which includes “Annihilation,” the book upon which the eponymous Natalie Portman film is based, catapulted Jeff Vandermeer out of the fantasy section into the broader literary realm and made him one of the most visible and well-regarded genre writers working today. Delight your favorite nerd with his latest novel, out just in time for the holidays, which boasts the most arresting and well-designed dust jacket in recent memory.
For the people watcher
“Bill Cunningham: On the Street” by The New York Times (Clarkson Potter)
For those who enjoy looking at people, clothes, street scenes, or celebrities, this career-spanning collection can’t be beat. Those who live under a rock might not be familiar with the late New York Times fashion photographer and noted man-about-town, and those are the very people who could use this stunning reminder of fashion’s infinite variety.
For the concerned millennial
“The Hard Tomorrow” by Eleanor Davis (Drawn & Quarterly)
Davis has written a graphic novel about a thirty-something couple trying for a baby while reckoning with the inevitability of a terrible future. The way she draws and writes about the lives of Hannah, an activist, and Johnny, a pothead, gives the form its due, creating a beautiful story from the horrible worries that plague everyone of child-bearing age.
For the masochistic houseplant enthusiast
“Orchid Modern” by Marc Hachadourian (Timber Press)
Those who raise orchids are the most patient and meticulous indoor gardeners to walk this earth. Marc Hachadourian, who curates the orchids at the New York Botanical Garden, shares his plant genius in such a gentle, helpful way that even those with no trace of green in their thumbs can sort of, almost, kinda envision keeping an orchid alive. Better gardeners will learn how to cultivate orchids in a terrarium. Everyone can admire the nice pictures of these vexing, lovely plants.
For every cook
“The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer (Scribner)
By all accounts, the latest edition of the 1936 classic is an essential addition to every home cook’s library. In addition to ethnic cuisine (finally!), “The Joy of Cooking” now includes Instant Pot recipes, fermentation instructions, and kitchen organization tips. And at 1,200 pages, it will surely be among the heaviest, biggest adult presents at any holiday celebration.
For the book hoarder
“Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home With Books” by Nina Freudenberger (Clarkson Potter)
A few years ago, book-lovers gathered their pitchforks against the growing interior design trend of displaying books with their pages facing out. None of that pseudo-minimalist nonsense is included here. Instead, Freudenberger spotlights the splendid, enviable personal libraries of literary figures whose owners obviously care about their book collections and have actually read them, too.
For the purple person
“The Beautiful Ones” by Prince (Spiegel & Grau)
Before his death, Prince wrote, by hand, 50 pages of his life story and shared them with Dan Pipenberg, with whom he was to collaborate on his memoirs. These handwritten pages are included in full alongside Pipenberg’s commentary, one of Prince’s own scrapbooks, reproduced lyric sheets, and an overwhelming array of candid photographs documenting every era of The Artist’s career.
For the insufferable film snob
“Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.” by Allison Castle (Taschen)
The opulent cinematography of Kubrick’s exquisite 1975 costume drama, set in 18th-century Ireland and based on a novel by Thackeray, has earned “Barry Lyndon” a place among the director’s best-loved films, yet it remains a deep cut when compared to chart-busters like “A Clockwork Orange” and “2001.” Taschen has given it a treatment befitting its stature, presenting movie stills, essays, interviews, candid photos, and relevant ephemera from the Kubrick archives alongside a remastered DVD.
For design-conscious people who like to chuckle
“Keep Scrolling Till You Feel Something: 21 Years of Humor From McSweeney’s Internet Tendency” (Mcsweeney’s Quarterly Concern)
For two decades, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency has been the go-to blog for short-form humor. This collection, featuring submissions from Hollywood-caliber contributors like Jesse Eisenberg and Meghan Amram alongside the quips of not-at-all famous writers, resembles a bible, with an Italian Renaissance-style cover, gold-edged pages, thumb tabs, and a red ribbon marker sewn into the binding, making it markedly more haute than the other humor compendiums and blog-based books taking up space in our nation’s bathrooms.
For the little musician
“Pokko and the Drum” by Matthew Forsythe (Simon and Schuster)
Pokko’s parents give her a drum, quickly regret their decision, and suggest that she play outside. Soon, the young frog is joined by a cadre of forest creatures playing instruments of their own. Forsythe’s text is both stirring and darkly funny, but his watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil art is just plain gorgeous.
For the cat dad (and/or his human progeny)
“My Cat Looks Like My Dad” by Thao Lam (Owlkids)
Sure it’s nominally for children, and children will delight in Lam’s cheerful paper-collage illustrations of a man and his cat stretching, napping, and scratching themselves in a remarkably similar manner, but an ever-growing number of self-proclaimed cat dads, particularly those of a certain vintage, will love the book’s early ’80s vibe, as well as the dad’s aviator specs, mustache, and tribal-print yoga pants.
For the pint-size urbanite
“Small in the City” by Sydney Smith (Neal Porter Books)
A tiny child of indeterminate sex wearing a bobble hat traverses a snowy city in search of a lost cat. Intricate double-page spreads and deft linework imbue the journey with wonder and peril. Smith’s city, whether depicted in the sliver of a building or a bustling street scene, displays his masterful sense of perspective, allowing readers of all ages to feel just as small as the book’s intended audience.
Eugenia Williamson is a Chicago-based writer and editor.