Illustration by EW

EW's literary gift guide: The 30 best holiday books of the year

December 18, 2019 at 10:00 AM EST

‘Tis the season! This year, the publishing world fielded no shortage of great gift options — from visually striking art volumes to transporting travel books to star-studded biographies, there’s a little something for everyone. EW combed through hundreds of options to curate a list of 30 titles we think would make for perfect presents, sorted by theme. Enjoy reading — and shopping!

Amazing Art

Illustration by EW

Attention, owners (or friends of owners) of bare coffee tables: We’ve got options. For the finer art-inclined, look to Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction: The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, a fascinating exploration of the abstract and Concrete art movements that flourished in South America between the mid-1940s and the late 1970s. We’ve also got iconic photographer Bill Cunningham’s On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography, his first published collection which features classics from The New York Times as well as never-before-seen snaps. In Drag: The Complete Story, readers get the privilege of flipping through pictures of gorgeous queens while also getting an in-depth history of the nonconformist art. Intrigue abounds in The Art of Looking Up, a stunning collection of 40 ceilings around the globe that rank among the world’s greatest artworks. And if movies like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? or A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood have you hooked on all things Mr. Rogers, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History offers a fresh, beautiful look at the iconic children’s program.

Open Your Mind

Illustration by EW

For the person in your life who could use a little enlightenment. We love Dan Kois’ How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together, an illuminating story of family connection in the digital age, especially for the season of holiday vacations. Womentality: Thirteen Empowering Stories by Everyday Women Who Said Goodbye to the Workplace and Hello to Their Lives provides provocative perspective on gender and work, while Jenny Odell offers a roadmap for productive disengagement in the best-seller How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. The cat lovers in your life won’t know what they have coming with the surprisingly wise The Karma of Cats: Spiritual Wisdom From Our Feline Friends. But most mind-opening of all may be Astro Poets: Your Guides to the Zodiac, offering readers a thoroughly clever, Astrology-tinged guide to living in the world today.

Travel Inspiration

Illustration by EW

We’ll begin with Patricia Schultz’s classic 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, repacked this year in a deluxe edition that feels essential for any home hoping to offer a sense of escape. (Also, seriously: You can plan many trips out of this.) Want to stay a little more local? What bibliophile could resist the adorably illustrated and expertly devised A Booklover’s Guide to New York? For a little nature, offer the gift of getting lost in The Nature of Yosemite: A Visual Journey; for a look at Italy like you’ve never seen before, go for Gray Malin: Italy. And travel books don’t get more distinctive than Ai Weiwei’s photography collections. His latest, Beijing Photographs, 1993-2003, contains stunning portraits of China’s capital.

Tasty Reads

Illustration by EW

What’s your recipient in the mood for? We’ve got a definitive pescatarian cookbook on file with the 900-recipe The Joy of Seafood: The All-Purpose Seafood Cookbook. We’ve got an icon’s sweet latest, Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection: 100+ Recipes to Take Your Sweet Treats to the Next Level. (If you’re selfish like us, you’ll gift that one early for some Christmas Eve magic.) We’ve got deliciously unique Palestinian recipes in Yasmin Khan’s Zaitoun. We’ve got an inspiring, National Book Award-nominated memoir from chef Iliana Regan, Burn the Place, for those looking to dig deeper into the stories behind their food. And our personal favorite, an entertaining guide that’s so deliciously simple it’ll become your kitchen bible: Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over. It’s as ideal as it sounds.

Icon Stories

Illustration by EW

Looking for memoirs and biographies of the famous? 2019 yielded dozens, but these are a few of our favorites. Elton John’s Me made for a dizzyingly intimate and vibrant autobiography, perfect for any music (or really, pop culture) fans. Prince’s posthumous The Beautiful Ones reads compellingly incomplete, rich with handwritten lyrics and notes and never-before-seen photos. Michelle Obama’s Becoming is still selling strong, and now it’s back in a stunning deluxe edition. Acclaimed biographer Michael Seth Starr offers a fascinating, comprehensive take on the career of Captain Kirk himself in ShatnerAnd what of icons writing about icons? Hillary Rodham Clinton and her daughter Chelsea Clinton teamed up for The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience, offering a timely celebration of female empowerment.

Book Club Favorites

Illustration by EW

For the readers, these novels spark the kind of conversation that book clubs are made for. On the heavier side, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys immerses readers in Jim Crow-era Florida, where two black boys come of age in a brutal reform school, while Margaret Atwood delivers an equally thought-provoking novel in her sequel to The Handmaid’s TaleThe Testaments. A pair of spiritually driven debut works of fiction — Cara Wall’s The Dearly Beloved, following two ministers and their wives over decades of social change, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer, about a slave who may have special powers — ask big questions in elegant, entertaining packages. And you can never go wrong with an Ann Patchett novel. Her latest, The Dutch House, delivers an engrossing spin on the fairy tale, a family saga with some darker elements perhaps best left unpacked until after the holiday dust has settled.

Related content:

The 10 best books of 2019
Here are EW’s top 10 fiction books of the decade
The 10 best debut novels of 2019

Comments