Given the global supply chain crisis, retailers are urging us to shop early for holiday gifts this year — and that includes books. If you’re looking for the kind of literature that melts you into your reading chair, you may want to check out our best books of 2020, or the more recent list of most anticipated fall titles from this year. But for glitzier, giftier books — something for every kind of reader, and anybody’s coffee table — you’re in the right place.
For the globe-trotting foodie in your life, this year’s offerings include a bumper crop of tasty cookbooks and the like. “The Kitchen Without Borders: Recipes and Stories From Refugee and Immigrant Chefs” (Workman) is a collaborative effort led by Manal and Wissam Kahi, sibling founders of Eat Offbeat, a catering company that was inspired by their Syrian grandmother’s hummus recipe. Its pages are filled with recipes from Africa, Asia, the Middle East — mouthwatering dishes from chefs with a truly global perspective.
A truly encyclopedic approach to foodways can be found in “Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide” (Workman), curated by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras and drawing from hundreds of entries in the Atlas Obscura universe, including entries ranging from the world’s largest underwater restaurant (Norway) to Pizza Pi, the beloved Caribbean pizza boat (St. Thomas).
Who doesn’t love Stanley Tucci? Nobody, that’s who. In “Taste: My Life Through Food” (Gallery Books) the actor blends memoir with food writing and plenty of recipes to create a passionate, charming book that will have you salivating.
For the music lover, this season’s biggest gift — in every way — has to be Paul McCartney’s “The Lyrics” (Liveright), a two-volume boxed set that includes not only, as promised, lyrics to most every song McCartney ever wrote, but also scads of photographs, scraps of handwritten notes, and stories behind the songs (as told to the poet Paul Muldoon, who also provides a lovely introduction). A treasure trove for the Beatles fan in your life, or really for anyone interested in the creative process.
If your recipient’s musical taste runs more to punk rock, there is a smaller but no less revealing memoir from the Buzzcocks’ lead singer Pete Shelley. “Ever Fallen In Love: The Lost Buzzcocks Tapes” (Cassell) is drawn from previously unsurfaced phone interviews with Shelley about the band’s history, its most famous songs, and his own progress through punk stardom.
For readers who love it all, there’s Kelefa Sanneh’s “Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres” (Penguin Press), which covers everything from disco to pop to rap music, all explored with sparkling wit and enthusiasm. Sanneh, a staff writer for the New Yorker, is not only on the music beat, but he’s an active fan (his essay there recently about growing up punk is not to be missed) and it shows in this immensely engaging book.
For the beauty, fashion, and design buff, there are always a cavalcade of gorgeous coffee table books; we only mention three of the most enchanting. One charmer this year is “A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women” (Thames and Hudson) by Robyn Lea. If your aspirations include inhabiting a European villa you hand-decorated with no thought to budget, this is the book of your dreams, with lavish photo spreads of some of the most beautiful houses we’ve ever seen.
Another stunner is Catherine E. McKinley’s “The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women” (Bloomsbury). McKinley’s mission is to replace the often-insulting anthropological view of African women with images they themselves participated in, demonstrating a new and more sophisticated view of fashion and beauty on the continent. Blending photographs and text, curator McKinley frees African women from the colonial gaze.
“The Art of Bob Mackie” (Simon & Schuster), by Frank Vlastnik and Laura Ross, is as over-the-top and colorful as the designer it celebrates. Lavishly illustrated with photographs and sketches, the book traces a career that saw Mackie interact with everyone from Edith Head to Elton John to Diana Ross to Cher. A must-have for the fan of glitz and glamour.
For the reader in touch with their inner child, three titles stand out this year. Sometimes the best way to understand adult life is to see it through the lens of a beloved children’s book. In the parody title “Frog and Toad Are Doing Their Best: Bedtime Stories for Trying Times” (Running Press), Jennie Egerdie recasts pandemic life in all its virtual messiness by reimagining Arnold Lobel’s enchanting amphibians working from home, futzing with their FitBits, and donning sheet masks in an attempt at proper self-care. The illustrations by Ellie Hajdu are spot on, as is the understated prose.
Creativity is the hallmark of childhood, and parents — if we are lucky — can come along for the ride. In “Creative Acts for Curious People” (Ten Speed Press), Sarah Stein Greenberg curates a series of exercises used at Stanford’s d. School to help students hone their skills at design, creativity, and leadership. Whether it’s drawing, exploring the neighborhood, or playing games, this book will spark not only joy but lasting learning.
Finally, “Dear Highlights” (Highlights) presents 75 years of letters written to the children’s magazine by kids themselves, along with thoughtful and gentle responses by the current editor in chief, Christine French Cully. There’s whimsy here but also problems both minor (a child worries about “cussing”) and grave (“my dad gets drunk and hits me”). A section on COVID-19 reveals how much stress our children really have been feeling as we all navigate this difficult time together — as this book reminds us, talking it through can really help.