Book-loving friends seem easy to shop for — just buy them a book, right? But if you stop to think about it, do you have any idea exactly which book? Do you know what they’ve already read? Do you know the celebrated authors they secretly hate and the unheard of ones they love? Luckily, you can avoid that mess by giving a book-adjacent gift, instead. We spoke to writers, editors, publishing people, and other avid readers to track down the best gifts for bookworms — that aren’t books.
Gifts for keeping books tidy
Even book lovers who prefer minimalist home décor can easily enter Hoarders territory when it comes to their shelves. Rachel Krupitsky, who works on marketing strategy at Penguin Random House, said an unexpected gift helped her remedy this problem: “My husband installed floating bookshelves around our apartment as a surprise — so that I didn’t have to stop buying and bringing home books.” In small apartments without much floor space, floating bookshelves are an ideal solution to literary overcrowding.
One of the best gifts Jen Bergstrom, senior vice-president and publisher of the Gallery Books Group, ever received was a pair of elephant bookends “from one of my favorite authors, who knows that I have way too many books in my office and my apartment, and that the elephant is my spirit animal.” For anyone whose spirit animal is actually a dachshund: We like this set of chartreuse bookends.
If you’re buying for someone whose style is more nautical, you could opt for these white whale stoneware bookends.
Or if their spirit animal is actually Richard Serra, these brutalist black marble bookends will probably match up with their home décor.
Gifts for not losing your page
The best book-ish gift Abbe Wright, editor of Read it Forward, ever received was a pink leatherette bookmark that read “When something goes wrong in your life, just yell ‘Plot Twist’ and move on.” She said, “it was especially meaningful because [my former boss] gave it to me after my dad died. Whenever I look at it, I’m reminded to not get mired in my grief but rather to keep putting one foot in front of the other.” Wright’s specific bookmark is no longer available, but C.R. Gibson makes others, like this one about a “book hangover.”
Instead of a bookmark, Nicole Lamy, New York Times Match Book columnist, likes to use one of these vintage book-cover postcards to keep her place in a book because she loves the imagery and meaning behind them. She’ll also hang them on the wall for inspiration or mail one to another book-loving friend
This understated metal bookmark — engraved with “Be Right Back” — is a sleeker option.
Gifts for people who lend out books
Book lovers enjoy lending out their favorite books to friends — as long as they get them back. Wright would love to be gifted bookplates because “perhaps if my friends kept seeing that in the front of all the books they’ve borrowed from me, the guilt would help the books get returned.” Get a set for the friend whose books you’re always borrowing.
Like Wright, one of Bergstrom’s best friends is “a voracious reader who always loans out her books to people, and then complains when she never gets them back.” She gifted her this elegant, personalized embosser so her friend can “mark her territory, so to speak.” The rubber stamp will emboss your friend’s name on the page — no ink required.
You can also order this book stamp with your giftee’s name and initials, so they can leave a scholarly mark on their book collection.
Best armchair-reading accessories
Krupitsky said her dream gift would be “a vacation to a quiet island where I could read in peace,” but she’d gladly settle for nice noise-canceling headphones to simulate an oasis, even on the subway. Strat writer Steven John thinks these Plantronics headphones are the absolute best at “[shutting] out all the background sound, from voices to vehicles to everything in between.” Perfect for reading in solitude.
For a more affordable pair, these wireless headphones got a rave review on Amazon: “The sound quality is crisp and enjoyable, trust me when I say the noise-canceling version is worth the extra money. If you’re a fan of softer music like scores or jazz and hate that you can’t listen to it well in public, that mode helps quite well with it.”
To go with the headphones, Emily Temple, senior editor at Lit Hub said the best gift she ever got was a gray cashmere throw: “It lives on my loveseat in my apartment, where I do most of my reading, and it’s so soft and cozy that I think it has probably led to me finishing more books, because I am very rarely tempted to get up from under it, except to make more tea.”
Far less expensive, a lot more colorful, but just as cozy, we like this lightweight warm-tone blanket.
Gifts for reading in the bathtub
Reading in the tub is one of life’s better luxuries, and this metal tray makes it easier. Temple said as a kid she “dreamed that one day someone would invent a machine that would hold up my book and turn the pages for me so I could submerge completely while I read.” In the meantime, she’d love if someone gifted her ones of these trays: “They may not turn the pages for you, but they at least keep you from dropping your brand new hardcover in the water. Which yes, I have done, both as a child and as an adult.” The stainless steel is rust-resistant and the book rack is adjustable to get just the right angle.
Strat writer Verena von Pfetten once spent two and a half hours in the tub thanks to this tray which she said has “the naturalistic appeal of an expandable Danish secretary desk.” Adjustable to the size of their tub, it’s also designed to hold a stemmed wine glass and has a circular spot for soap — or their favorite candle — making for the best bath, ever.
Gifts for nocturnal readers
Lamy recommended this book lamp from Mighty Bright that’s perfect for reading in bed: “It has a flexible, really nice texture, it’s a little bit squishy, compact and light, and has a flexible arm.” It’s rechargeable via an included USB cable.
Gifts for bookworms who love games
From the website Electric Literature, this game is “basically a literary version of Cards against Humanity,” says Halimah Marcus, executive director of the site. “We had a blast writing the clues.”
This is technically a book, not a game, but it’s unlike any other book because it’s also a fully functional camera. It explains the fundamentals of photography while letting you practice taking and developing your own photos as you read. Gregory Sato, assistant manager of online sales for Housing Works bookstore, bought one for his niece and said, “even if she only uses it once, I just want to see how it works for my own sake.”
Experiential gifts for book lovers
Rather than buying someone a straightforward book or two, Lamy said she’d love to be gifted a subscription to a literary magazine, to inspire her future reading. “That’s how I make book discoveries,” she said. “I follow up on stories that I love and I know to watch for those authors publishing books.” A subscription to One Story comes without too much commitment, since it publishes, yes, just one story each month.
Another little cheat: this is a book gift but without the pressure of picking a book. A subscription to the First Editions Club from Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore comes with a signed copy of a newly published book each month. Luis Jaramillo, author of The Doctor’s Wife and director of the school of writing at The New School, said the selection, “like the bookstore itself, is extremely well-curated.”
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