The holidays this year are going to be, well, unique.

Some family members won’t be there. Others are coming, regardless of whatever’s going on in the country. Still others are sending their regards and a box of presents, which is something you might do, too. And here’s the good news: books are easy to wrap, easy to box, and easy to ship. Why not try one of these great books for that person who can’t make it to your table this holiday season?


Does anybody need another book about a natural disaster? Ha, of course they do! So that’s why you should look for “The 2084 Report: An Oral History of the Great Warming: A Novel” by James Lawrence Powell. Yes, it’s set in the future. You can hope so, anyhow…

If your giftee would love a good, multilayered novel about family and best-forgotten memories, then look for “Hieroglyphics” by Jill McCorkle. When Lil and Frank move back to Frank’s childhood hometown, the past moves in with them. Wrap it up with “True Story: A Novel” by Kate Reed Petty, the story of childhood trauma and the chance for those who lived it to recover from it.

For the giftee who’s about to pack up and move across the country, “The Exiles” by Christina Baker Kline might be a good choice for a gift. It’s a novel about three women who are exiled to Australia more than a century ago when exile was punishment. Fans of “Orphan Train,” listen up. Wrap it up with this: “Flyaway” by Kathleen Jennings, a dark twisted tale of vanishings and family horror in Australia.

Surely, there’s someone on your gift list who’s wished at some point this year that they could be cloned. Wrap up “The Mirror Man” by Jane Gilmartin with a “careful what you wish for” note. Wrap it up with “The Operator” by Gretchen Berg, the story of a woman who wishes she’d never overheard what she did.

For the giftee who loves to be surprised, wrap up “The Book of Hidden Wonders” by Polly Crosby. It’s the story of a girl whose father entertained her with a story in which she’s a character, and it becomes a big bestseller. Good for her, right? Or not so much. Wrap it up with “The Falling Woman” by Richard Farrell, a book about a woman who supposedly died in a plane crash — only she didn’t, but she wants to stay “dead.”

The person on your list who loves a good family drama will want “The Lost Orphan” by Stacey Halls under the tree this year. It’s the story of two women and one little girl, and a secret that won’t be able to be kept for long. Pair it with “The End of the Day” by Bill Clegg, a novel of friendship, relationships, and the resolution of long-buried secrets.

No doubt, there’s a historical fiction fan on your list, so there’s no doubt that you’ll want to wrap up “Bonnie: A Novel” by Christina Schwarz. Yep, it’s a fictionalized tale of Bonnie Parker, and how she became one of the early 20th-century’s most iconic outlaws. Wrap it up with “The Big Finish” by Brooke Fossey, a novel about two outlaws that you’d never put together and their great escape.

If you’ve got a big reader on your list, it’s hard to find something they haven’t already seen. That’s why you should wrap up “Layoverland” by Gabby Noone. It’s the tale of a woman who lives a life she’s not proud of, so when she dies, she goes to purgatory. There’s a chance for her to go to heaven, but it involves helping the guy who killed her. Pair it with “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig, the story of a possible place that offers a re-do of life. It’s a spot between living and dying, but it’s not what your giftee thinks it is…

The short-story lover will enjoy “Cat Person” and Other Stories” by Kristen Roupenian, a collection of creepy, odd tales that doubles as a gift of shivers. Can’t go wrong if you pair it with “The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home” by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor. Doesn’t the title tell you everything you need to know?

Is there someone on your list who loves a good sink-your-teeth-in novel? Then wrap up “When These Mountains Burn” by David Joy, a tale of two men wrapped up in the drug trade — one, a father with a son who’s an addict; the other, an addict himself. And the DEA is asking for help… You can’t go wrong if you wrap it up with “Nine Shiny Objects” by Brian Castleberry, a novel of (supposed) UFOs and the legacy the sightings left.

For the novel-lover who professes to hate their job, you can’t go wrong with “Hench” by Natalie Zina Walschots. It’s the super-witty story of a woman with an unusual job (hey, somebody’s got to do it!) and what she does to remain gainfully employed after the next-to-worst thing happens. If you’re smart, you’ll pair it with “Lies Lies Lies” by Adele Parks, the story of a family and the party that changes everything…

Lovers of family-drama-type novels will whoop when they open “Louisiana Lucky” by Julie Pennell. It’s the tale of three sisters and a big lottery pay-out that will make all their dreams come true. Or not. Pair it with “Betty,” by Tiffany McDaniel, a lovely novel of family and what happens when you learn things about them you don’t want to know.

And for the science-fiction-fantasy reader, you couldn’t find a better gift than “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” by Christopher Paolini. It’s a story of new worlds and a journey to make sure that the universe survives; it’s thrilling, and it’s edgy. Hint: it’s also over 800 pages, so add a bookmark to this great gift.


The giftee who loves a good historical mystery will relish “The Streel: A Deadwood Mystery” by Mary Logue. Set in Deadwood, South Dakota, this story sees a teenage Irish immigrant whose brother is involved in a kerfuffel and she’s got to clear his name. The problem? He has a golf claim and it ain’t no small thing.

Historical mystery lovers will also love “The Day Lincoln Lost” by Charles Rosenberg, a thriller-type novel that asks “What if…?”

If there’s someone on your list who likes smart crime-solvers, you’ll be glad you wrapped up “The Revelators” by Ace Atkins. This novel features one of Atkins’ best-loved sheriffs, Quinn Colson, and a crime syndicate that’s threatening everything he holds dear.


Give your historian something a bit different this year by wrapping up “Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio” by Derf Backderf. Written entirely in graphic-novel style, it’s a look the event that changed America more than 50 years ago. Wrap it up with “The Hardhat Riot” by David Paul Kuhn, a book about a little-remembered event that happened four days after the Kent State shootings.

What do you get for the person who loves reading about boats and submarines? You wrap up “Under Pressure: Living Life and Avoiding Death on a Nuclear Submarine” by Richard Humphreys, that’s what. When the author was just eighteen, he joined the Royal Navy and served underwater. What more can an adventure-lover want to read about? Can’t go wrong when you pair it with “Whatever It Took” by Henry Langrehr and Jim DeFelice. It’s the story of an American paratrooper at the end of World War II.

For the person who would love something a little unique this holiday, look for “The New Witch” by Marie D. Jones. It’s a book about Wicca, spells and potions, magic and all kinds of things that today’s spiritual practitioner needs to know. Wrap it up with “Earth Magic” by Marie D. Jones, a guide for the sorceress in you.

Is there someone on your list who craves a good scare? Then look for “Demonic Foes” by Richard Gallagher, MD. He’s a psychiatrist who specializes in the paranormal, particularly in demonic possession. You can feel the shivers from here.

  • The new or about-to-be parent on your gift list will love having “Calm the Hck Down” by Melanie Dole. It’s filled with common-sense parenting that will help your giftee take a big and much-needed breath. Wrap it up with “How Babies Sleep” by Sofia Axelrod, PhD. And wish them a nighty-night.

For the parent of older kids, wrap up “What Girls Need” by Marisa Porges, PhD, a book about raising strong, resilient future women, and “And Then They Stopped Talking to Me” by Judith Warner, a book about surviving middle school and the mean kids there.

It’s been an unusual year. So show your giftee that it’s possible to buck up and survive by wrapping “Why Fish Don’t Exist” by Lulu Miller. It’s the story of an early 20th century scientist and the day he watched his life’s work as it literally shattered. What he did was astounding, and a great lesson for 2020. Wrap it up with another book on what’s underwater: “Monsters of the Deep” by Nick Redfern. This book is more cryptozoology than biography, but for fishing fans, that’s fine.

Here’s a fun read: “Sealand” by Dylan Taylor-Lehman is the story of a micronation called Sealand, which is just off the British coast, and the Royal Family that rules it. With a little of everything in this book — history, pirates, battles, kings and even an attempted coup — your historian and the travel fan will love it. Pair it up with “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State” by Kai Strittmatter. This book is a little more serious, and adds a nice balance.

The reader who loves quick essays will want to unwrap “This Is Major” by Shayla Lawson. It’s a funny-serious look at race from a Black woman who shares her thoughts on work, celebrity, names, “Black Girl Magic” and more. Pair it with “Why Didn’t We Riot?” by Issac J. Bailey, a book about being Black in America today.

Here’s an idea from dad to son or the other way around: “A Better Man” by Michael Ian Black takes a look at masculinity and what it means to “be a man” in the 21st century. Wrap it up for your son or son-to-be, who’ll get there someday. Wrap it up for Dad, to thank him for the guidance, paired with “The Toughest Kid We Knew” by Frank Bergon, a story of the “New West,” California, and life in small towns and ranches of today’s West.

Armchair scientists will be happy to see “The Handy Physics Answer Book, Third Edition” by Charles Liu, Ph.D. beneath the tree. This Q-and-A format is easy to read, easy to browse, and fun to use. Wrap it up with another science-y book: “The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars” by Jo Marchant, a book about how looking at the night sky makes us human.

For the giftee who is also a conservationist or activist, “Mill Town” by Kerri Arsenault will be perfect beneath the tree. It’s a story of a town in Maine, the local industry that may or may not be hurting the locals, and life near the mill. Consider adding these titles to your gift: “Barnstorming Ohio: to Understand America” by David Giffels and “Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It” by Tom Philpott for a total understanding of our country now. And since this subject runs deep this year, so you might also want to look for “Death in Mud Lick” by Eric Eyre, a look at the opioid epidemic, set in coal country.

Do you have a person on your list who has a serious case of wanderlust? Then wrap up “Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages Through the Unknown City” by Gary Kamiya, drawings by Paul Madonna. It’s an easy-to-browse book of things to look for when you’re looking for somewhere different to visit. Pair it with “The Change: My Great American, Postindustrial, Midlife Crisis Tour” by Lori Soderlind, the story of one woman, one elderly dog, and a road trip to remember.

The DIY woman on your gift list (and the one who craves self-sufficiency) will love having “Girls Garage” by Emily Pilloton. It’s a super-helpful book about using tools, fixing things, understanding do-it-herself language, tackling projects, and getting it DONE. Bonus: it’s great for women ages 16 to 96. Wrap it up with “A Lab of One’s Own” by Rita Colwell, PhD and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, a book about women in science and how inequality and sexism has hurt the industry, and what women can do about it today.

If there’s a traveler — physically or of the armchair sort — “The Women I Think About at Night: Traveling the Paths of My Heroes” by Mia Kankimaki is what you’ll want to give this year. It’s a story of ten historical female pioneers, and the author’s journey from continent to continent to get to know them. Pair it with “Olive the Lionheart” by Brad Ricca. It’s the story of Olive MacLeod, who went to Africa by herself more than a century ago, in search of her fiancé, who’d gone missing.

Is there a scientist in your family who also loves to be in the kitchen? You’re in luck, then: wrapping up “Science and Cooking” by Michael Brenner, Pia Sorensen, and David Weitz is a no-brainer gift to give. It includes recipes. How can you go wrong? Wrap it up with “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” by Marcus Samuelsson with Osayi Endolyn, Yewande Komolafe and Tamie Cook, photos by Angie Mosier. It’s a look at Black cooks, heritage, and soul food. Be sure to volunteer to be the taste-tester.

For the giftee who is addicted to TV, “Sunny Days” by David Kamp is just right. It’s a look back at children’s TV in the 1970s, but not of the cartoon-types; think Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Nostalgia + TV = a great gift.

There’s someone on your list who loves gardening, and will love to see “The Language of Butterflies” by Wendy Williams under the tree. It’s the story of butterflies, why we love them, what scientists are learning about them, and how the world would be the lesser without them. Pair it with “Naturalist” by Edward O. Wilson, adapted by Jim Ottaviani & C.M. Butzer, a graphic-novel-type biography about Wilson, who is a science-expert on ants and bugs.

The giftee who looks toward the future, always, will love to unwrap “A Woman’s Influence” by Sheri Gaskins and Tony A. Gaskins, Jr. It’s a book for women who want to take better control at work, at home, and in their relationships. Wrap it up with “Ready for Anything” by Kathi Lipp, a book about resilience amid crises of any size.

Is your political animal a little sorry to see the election over? Then wrap up “Fight House” by Tevi Troy, a book about the back-stabbing, fang-baring tumultuousness and rivalries inside the White House in the last century or so. Pair it with another great history book: “Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood” by Colin Woodard.

For the writer on your gift list, you want to choose right … so choose “Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel” by Elizabeth George. You may know George as a novelist — and if you do, you know the advice in this book is solid.

Wanna see your scientist smile? Here: wrap up “The Next Great Migration” by Sonia Shah. It’s a sweeping, vast look at us: where we’ve been, where we went, when we left, and how we got to where we are. For your armchair biologist, this is a no-brainer. Pair it with “The Sum of the People” by Andrew Whitby, a book about why countries take a census and how it’s shaped the world.

And if you’ve got a science-minded someone you’re looking to gift, look for “Exploring the Elements: A Complete Guide to the Periodic Table” by Isabel Thomas, pictures by Sara Gillingham. It’s seriously lighthearted and makes this branch of science easy and fun to understand. Wrap it with “Can People Just Burst into Flames?” by Larry Scheckel, a great book of science trivia, questions and answers for any scientist (or anyone who’s curious), ages 12 and up.

(Editor’s note: Due to length, Part 2 will be published Dec. 6 and includes Sports, Memoirs, Business, Health, Children’s and more.)

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