We’ve rounded up the best books that came out in the past year for the specific hard-to-shop-fors on your list, including, but not limited to, the Niece Currently Trying to Occupy Trump Tower, the Ferrantephile, and the Complicated Cousin. (Check back in on Monday for our comprehensive coffee-table-book gift list.)
For the Dad Who Loves Tall Tales
Moonglow, by Michael Chabon
The brilliant straddler of genres dances down the line between truth and fiction in this faux memoir about the grandparents of “Mike Chabon” — heroes and survivors of World War II — and their complicated love.
For the Niece Currently Trying to Occupy Trump Tower
Nicotine, by Nell Zink
Zink’s millennial activists sometimes do foolish things, but the unfailingly witty novelist endows her idealists with so much passion that it almost gives you hope for the future.
For the Uncle Who Thinks Dylan’s Nobel Was Long Overdue
Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
Dylan published his Chronicles a dozen years ago, but this year’s best rock autobiography belongs to his blue-jeaned stepchild, a frank and eloquent guide down the long, dusty road.
For Pretty Much Everyone
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead’s fancifully literal train track to freedom leads to alternative “states” both hopeful and horrifying. His gutting adventure is essential in a national moment caught between great progress and great peril.
For the Harried Mom With the Dark Sense of Humor
Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple
Anyone who liked Semple’s hilarious second novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (and 1.5 million readers did), will warm quickly to this soberer follow-up, in which the title mantra of self-improvement proves ironically too true.
For the Ferrantephile Who Just Can’t Get Enough
Frantumaglia, by Elena Ferrante, trans. Ann Goldstein
In essays laying out her life and art, the pseudonymous author of the Neapolitan novels, unmasked this year by an Italian journalist, crafts a persona almost as irresistible (and almost as fictional) as her work.
For the Southerner With a Gothic Streak
Virgin and Other Stories, by April Ayers Lawson
Writing about sex, abuse, religion, and the pain of trying to connect, Lawson skirts both caricature and sentimentality. But this wouldn’t be for the conservative Christian on your list.
For the Funny Feminist Friend
You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein
Comedy doesn’t always translate from TV to the page, but Klein, Amy Schumer’s head writer, surpasses most of the onscreen talent in essays that redefine feminism in her own wry image.
For the Foodie Who Also Binges on Ken Burns
Ten Restaurants That Changed America, by Paul Freedman
From very old-school Delmonico’s to franchise pioneer Howard Johnson’s to the Bobo paradise of Chez Panisse, Freedman’s history isn’t just food porn; it’s cultural analysis from a delectable new angle.
For the Comics Fan Who Likes to Really Dive Deep
Jerusalem, by Alan Moore
The creator of Watchmen and V for Vendetta finally completes his magnum opus, a Pynchonesque parade of set pieces encompassing human history in the space of a couple of city blocks and more than a thousand pages.
For the Complicated Cousin
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
Not a novelist to turn away from pain or complexity, Patchett follows a blended family and its sundry children 50 years forward, evoking laughter, tears, and understanding in unexpected places.
For the Daughter Who Toggles Between YA and Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
The young essayist puts her ideas about race and justice into fiction, but her debut novel is no polemic; it’s a tough drama about young black Californians and their tight (if stifling) community.
For the Shakespeare Nut
Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood
The author reinvents The Tempest for the modern day, casting Prospero as a theater director working on a production of The Tempest. It’s the fourth in a series of Shakespeare remakes by novelists like Jeanette Winterson and Anne Tyler. Why not gift the whole set?
For Anyone Who Keeps Asking Who the Hell Voted for Trump
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
A rust-belt memoir charts the decline of the white working class in Vance’s Ohio hometown, showing all that’s missing in the lives of the people who threw the dice on an unstable pseudo-populist.
For Anyone Who Keeps Asking How “We” Could Let It Happen
Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, by Thomas Frank
Sanders and Warren fans will find a lot to savor here, but even die-hard Clintonites will appreciate Frank’s dissection of a Democratic Party that lost its appeal to some of the people who need it most.
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