A Bossy book-buying note: Your local independent bookstore needs and appreciates your business now more than ever, and the staff will have endless great ideas for book gifts. (The book covers on this site link you to Bookshop, a site that supports the beloved indies that keep us swimming in thoughtful book recommendations and excellent customer service all year round.)
Happy early holidays!
01 The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown
All These Wonders celebrates the twentieth anniversary of The Moth Radio Hour by offering 45 tales of ordinary and famous people forever changed by their experiences.
The storytellers represented here range from John Turturro to Tig Notaro; from a young female spy during World War II to a hip-hop star adjusting to one-hit-wonder status. All These Wonders offers peeks into the storytellers' various ventures into the unknown and how their experiences shaped their lives and their outlooks.
This is perfect for reading in small bursts, yet it has enough substance to sink your teeth into at 350 pages. There's another complementary book of stories from The Moth as well, The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories about Defying the Impossible.
I've given these as gifts before, but this holiday I'm also buying both of these books for myself, because when I went to buy them as gifts this year, I remembered that I am a terrible and greedy book hoarder.
02 The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon
The subtitle of Wired writer Simon's book is Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems, and in the book's pages, he shares some of the most incredible, sometimes revolting, consistently fascinating tricks and techniques used by critters in the natural world to procreate, eat, evade predators, and survive.
A bolas spider releases pheromones that mimic a female moth in order to lure male moths in for a meal; a pearlfish finds safety by swimming into a sea cucumber's anus; another creature chokes sharks with copious amounts of snot.
This is a quirky science and nature read perfect for someone interested in either topic. (It could also fit the bill for a preteen or teenager who might delight in nature's fascinatingly horrifying and oddball schemes.)
03 Journeys of Simplicity by Philip Harnden
The subtitle of Harnden's slim (144-page) book is Traveling Light with Thomas Merton, Bashō, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard & Others, and this slim book offers calming wisdom that can be taken in during short sittings.
The author shares the accounts of the limited belongings forty travelers carried on their journeys or the few items they owned before their deaths. You don't need a lot to experience this world and find fulfillment, and Harnden's book emphasizes that those who accept a certain level of discomfort, who own sparingly, and who don't focus on material goods might possess the most important skills of all: mental fortitude, humility, and an eye on the big picture and on greater worldly and spiritual issues.
04 Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Yes, I am including a book that I believe I'm going to get as a gift this Christmas. Greedy!
This year the hero that is Dolly gave a million dollars to Covid-19 vaccine research, continued to provide free books monthly to young children across the country through Imagination Library, and kept up her various other decades-old foundations, scholarships, and support measures for those in her home state of Tennessee. She also sang and spread her Dolly joy throughout the world.
This wasn't the only Dolly Parton book published this year (She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh is another), but it's the only one written by Dolly. (And as the singer-songwriter-actress-philanthropist herself has said, "Nobody knows Dolly like Dolly!") Songteller includes previously unpublished photos, behind-the-scenes stories and memories.
05 The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think by Jennifer Ackerman
It says a lot about how many birders are on my gift list that I had a tough time deciding which bird-focused title to include here. (Sibley's What It's Like to Be a Bird; 2020's Flight Lines by Andrew Darby; and Beletsky's Bird Songs--which comes with a digital audio player of 250 songs--are several other great options.)
In The Bird Way, Ackerman brings science to life, pairing facts with her own personal observations to paint fascinating pictures of how birds do what they do and why. She explores the evolution of understanding about birds and also showcases female researchers.
06 Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle
Last year I gave Strange Planet to teenagers and young-at-heart family members on my gift list; this year's Stranger Planet is another installment showcasing Pyle's clever, dry wit and observational humor.
Pyle draws from his popular Instagram comics (and offers thirty original comics as well) to point out our absurd habits, traditions, fears, and joys by viewing our lives through the lenses of cartoon alien creatures trying to make sense of us. He's spot on and so so funny.
This is a small (6 by 6) book perfect for tucking in with other books or gifts for the holidays.
What books are you gifting this holiday season?
I've mentioned before that I like to give books that can be read in short bursts (criteria that applies to any of the titles listed here) and/or books related to a giftee's specific interest (science, music, birds, etc.).
I hope the ideas here will help you with beautiful book gift ideas for anyone on your list. You might also like the gift lists Shhh! Books I'm Giving as Gifts This Holiday and Shhh! Books I'm Giving Kids and Teens This Holiday.