FOR THE DESIGNER
Once you start thinking and learning about design, it changes the way you see everything. Coffee Lids: Peel, Pinch, Pucker, Puncture by Louise Harpman and Scott Specht is the perfect encapsulation of this, full of close-up photographs and patent drawings that show how this everyday object is a true work of functional art. For a broader look at product design, there’s Iconix by Wolfgang Joensson — a guidebook of more than 100 products from around the world, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the present.
For those more interested in graphic design, there’s Don’t Sleep: The Urgent Messages of Oliver Munday by Oliver Munday, which collects some of Munday’s most provocative political work; for a dive back in history, W. E. B. Du Bois's Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America showcases the charts, graphs, and maps Du Bois presented at the 1900 Paris Exposition, offering a visual representation of the black experience in the US.
Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey shifts the focus to pop culture, exploring the use of typography and graphic design to represent the future in classic science sci-fi movies.
And for the designer eager to play around with their own creativity, there’s 99 Stories I Could Tell by former BuzzFeed staffer Nathan Pyle — a playful doodle book with encouraging prompts and plenty of space to freestyle.
FOR THE ATHLETE
Dedicated runners will relate to Peter Sagal’s hilarious and poignant memoir, The Incomplete Book of Running, about his adventures in running for over a decade, and how it started as a physical hobby and became a method of personal survival.
Alex Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance focuses on running as well, but its exploration of the interplay between the mind and body in terms of endurance will be relevant to anyone who’s pushed their body to the limit. The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius by Zach Schonbrun dives even further into the brain’s role in athletic performance, investigating the new theories and innovative technology changing the way experts (and scouts) are looking at extraordinary talent.
For a more sports history lesson, there’s Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era of Women’s Bicycle Racing by Roger Gilles, which looks at the cultural craze of women’s bicycle racing at the turn of the 19th century in the US. Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man by Thomas Page McBee looks at gender in sports as well, focusing on McBee’s experience training as the first trans man to box at Madison Square Garden.
For a short and sweet (and cute!) instructional book, there’s The Little Book of Goat Yoga by Lainey Morse, which tells the story of Morse unintentionally sparking an exercise craze — yoga with goats — and offers a yoga routine you can do at home, with or without goats.
FOR THE PERSON WHO CAN ALWAYS FIND THE BRIGHT SIDE
Who doesn’t need some posi vibes right now? The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King is the first full-length biography of the beloved Mr. Rogers, and will make anyone believe in the power of good people. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun — two other kings of spreading support and positivity — join forces in Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You, an illustrated collection of Miranda’s tweets that function as original aphorisms and tiny poetry.
For those who struggle with anxiety, there’s Meera Patel’s My Friend Fear, a beautifully illustrated account of Patel’s journey toward acceptance of fear, and thriving within it; Haemin Sunim’s Love for Imperfect Things is an argument for self-acceptance and compassion for others, and tips to integrate both into your life.
The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl is an ode to simple joy, part memoir and part interrogation of leisure time and its value.
And for fiction that will renew the reader’s sense of hope, there’s The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller — a story about two sisters who end up inheriting a large piece of land in their small town and have to face the responsibility that comes with it.
FOR THE ACTIVIST
There’s no shortage of reasons to be angry and energized, and these books delve into just a few of these pressing issues.
In The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, Tim Wu calls out those huge firms holding most of the power in tech, banks, medicine, and more, and explains the real danger of such excessive corporate power.
Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health by Ernest Drucker explores some of the most promising strategies for criminal justice reform in the US — and explains why we so desperately need it. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble exposes the ways in which biases in coding lead to search engines skew results to privilege whiteness.
Jose Antonio Vargas’s Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen is an impassioned, deeply personal memoir about the psychological toll of immigration on an immigrant’s sense of home, identity, and place in the world.
The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark is a captivating account of the Flint activists who fought for over a year — while residents were dying — to get the state to admit Flint’s water was poisonous as a result of poor infrastructure. Broadly, it’s a look at the ways in which certain cities (especially those which are majority nonwhite) are set up to fail.
And in When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir writers Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele describe what it’s like to fight for rights of others when your own rights are being trampled.
FOR THE PERSON WHO’S GETTING THAT BREAD
Those with an ~entrepreneurial~ spirit can get a behind-the-scenes look at being a business owner in Minding the Store: A Big Story About a Small Business by Julie Gaines and Ben Lenovitz — a graphic memoir about Fishs Eddy, the store which has become a beloved New York institution — or The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, a memoir about the adventures of taking over a beloved bookshop.
For those interested in inquiries into modern (and future) work, there’s Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work by Sarah Kessler, an analysis of the gig economy; The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change by Ellen Ruppel Shell, a comprehensive look at what “work” means in relation to our identities as individuals and as a society; and Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary by Louis Hyman, which looks at the history and future of job security.
And for something more actionable (and voyeuristic), there’s Refinery29 Money Diaries: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Your Finances... and Everyone Else's by Lindsey Stanberry.
FOR THE CRAFTER
Two exquisite beginner-friendly guides this year are Tomoko Fuse’s Origami Boxes, which walks you through 30 box projects, from beautifully simple to intricate; and Anne Weil’s Weaving Within Reach, with designs for woven baskets, boxes, and totes — with or without a loom.
The Complete Pattern Directory by Elizabeth Wilhide is a comprehensive resource, comprising 1,500 illustrations of patterns across time and cultures, divided into flora, fauna, pictorial, geometric, and abstract designs. For those who live among their creations, Anna Starmer’s Love Color is an accessible guide to navigating colors (and color combinations) to create the right vibe in your home.
For those who love nesting and reading, there’s Decorating a Room of One’s Own by Susan Harlan and Becca Stadtlander, which imagines interviews about interior design with classic literary characters Miss Havisham and Jay Gatsby; and former BuzzFeed staffer Alanna Okun’s The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater — a cozy, heartfelt essay collection about love and knitting.
FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES THE CLASSICS
It was a good year for revisiting mythology.
Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls tackles The Iliad, focusing on Briseis — former Queen turned concubine to Achilles — and all the many women who live through the war and are lost to history. Madeline Miller’s Circe is a spellbinding reimagining of the immortal witch’s life, adding real dimension to her loss and longing.
A. G. Lombardo’s Graffiti Palace is a retelling of The Odyssey through the lens of the underground world of 1965 Los Angeles. Daphne by Will Boast spins the myth of Daphne and Apollo and focuses on two modern (mortal) characters — Daphne, born with a rare condition in which her body responds to intense emotion with temporary paralysis; and Ollie, the young man so charming he’s made Daphne consider leaving her comfort zone.
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley also shifts old stories to new settings, this time exploring Beowulf — the power dynamics, the hero and villain — in American suburbia. And though it isn’t a retelling, Yasmine Seale’s translation of Aladdin breathes new life into this dark and elegant classic tale.
FOR THE LOVABLE ODDBALL
Celebrate the person who stands out from the crowd with memoirs from self-described outsiders: Liana Finck’s graphic memoir Passing for Human, about her search for the “shadow” — that thing that sets her apart from those around her — which she lost in childhood, or Maeve in America, Maeve Higgins’ hilarious essay collection about leaving Ireland in her thirties, and finding herself in New York.
For fiction fans, there’s Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, a heartwarming story about an Iranian American boy who finds he doesn’t quite fit in in either of his homes; Mark Leidner’s short story collection Under the Sea is both poetic and extraordinarily strange, telling stories about a violent nun, an insect civil war, an interdimensional void, and more.
For those comfortable with something a bit darker, Cecilia Ruiz’s The Book of Extraordinary Deaths is a beautifully illustrated collection of strange and unlikely deaths in history (see some examples here); and Penguins by Nick Thorburn is a collection of comic strips that, with few (if any) words, delves into the messy, complicated, abstract nature of the human condition.
FOR THE MESSY BITCH WHO LIVES FOR DRAMA
It was the year of the scammer: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou puts the spotlight on Elizabeth Holmes, CEO and founder of Theranos — the multibillion-dollar biotech startup that didn’t actually have the revolutionary tech it promised; in A Deal With the Devil: The Dark and Twisted True Story of One of the Biggest Cons in History, journalists Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken investigate an elusive French psychic who seems to have raked in more than $200 million from mostly elderly Americans; and The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson follows the 20-year-old flutist who broke into the British Museum of Natural History and left with a stash of 150-year-old bird specimens to sell on the fly-fishing black market.
The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman reads like juicy historical gossip, looking at the ways royals throughout history have been poisoned — not only by others, but often, unwittingly, by themselves. Speaking of gossip: Reading the modern epistolary novel Hey Ladies! by Caroline Moss and Michelle Markowitz is like being on an email thread with the most passive-aggressive mean girls who are trying and often failing to plan the perfect wedding.
And if you’re looking for something more aggressive-aggressive, there’s Hannah Versus the Tree by Leland de la Durantaye, a novel that’s part epic poem and part thriller, about a young women’s meticulously plotted revenge against her corrupt family.
FOR THE MODERN RIOT GRRRL
Michelle Tea's Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms is a collection of texts — brilliant, irreverent, optimistic, abrasive — about queerness, gender, humanity, and belief. Both Fade Into You by Nikki Darling and Night Moves by Jessica Hopper are books that explore the intersections of music, counterculture, gender, and identity — the former about being a Mexican American teen in 1990s Los Angeles; the latter about struggling to make it in early-aughts Chicago.
In Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism, Nadya Tolokonnikova (of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot) creates something that's part memoir and part how-to guide to political revolution. The girls of Babymetal — the preteen Japanese "kawaii metal" band — know how to rage, and their graphic novel Apocrypha: The Legend Of Babymetal (written by "the prophet of the Fox God") offers a very fun origin story full of shape-shifting, time travel, and fighting evil.
And they might not be punks (or even musicians), but the women in Kirsty Stonell Walker's Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang: Fifty Makers, Shakers and Heartbreakers From the Victorian Era are still revolutionary.
FOR THE PERSON WHO LIVES FOR REALITY TV
If it's a critical eye you're looking for, Amy Kaufman's Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure offers a cultural history of the monster hit that is the Bachelor franchise. In Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV, Lucas Mann blends analysis of some of his favorite reality shows — Real Housewives, Keeping Up With the Kardashians — with reflections on the role of these shows in his life and marriage.
Anyone who's watched Chelsea Lately will recognize comedian Guy Branum, whose essay collection My Life As a Goddess: A Memoir Through (Un)Popular Culture is as funny as it is poignant, showing his journey from a stifling farm town to show business. And anyone who's watched RuPaul's Drag Race will be familiar with drag queen Bianca Del Rio, whose book Blame It on Bianca Del Rio: The Expert on Nothing With an Opinion on Everything is more rant than advice, but perfectly on brand.
And for those who like fiction, there's Meghan MacLean Weir's The Book of Essie, about a fundamentalist Christian family who star in their own reality TV show — and the youngest daughter who threatens their empire by getting pregnant; or Jessica Knoll's The Favorite Sister, about a murder on the set of Goal Diggers — a reality show set up to pit hyper-successful women against each other.
FOR THE NATURE LOVER
Those who spend a lot of time in nature should probably know how to survive it. Rachel Levin's Look Big: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds is a hilarious but genuinely helpful guide to outwitting various wild animals and using proper wildlife etiquette.
Dr. Qing Li's Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness is the definitive guide to a Japanese therapy that says that mindful, intentional time spent around trees can reduce stress levels, boost mood and creativity, and even help you live longer. The Illustrated Herbiary: Guidance and Rituals From 36 Bewitching Botanicals by Maia Toll guides the reader through plant symbolism across time, cultures, and belief systems, showing how different herbs, fruits, and flowers hold power for healing and reflection.
Richard Powers' novel The Overstory believes strongly in the power of nature — trees specifically — which is clear in the way its characters are all propelled through interlocking narratives by the trees which have profoundly affected their lives. Similarly, one tree guides scientist Lauren E. Oakes in her book In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World, which chronicles Oakes's research of the dying yellow cedar tree and comes out on the side of hope.
And The Environment: A History of the Idea by Paul Warde, Libby Robin, and Sverker Sörlin, traces the very concept of "the environment" to its emergence following World War II, showing how our understanding of human impact on the natural world — and our anxieties about its future — links to the vocabulary with which we describe it.
FOR THE MOVIE BUFF
For those who love getting behind the scenes, there's Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood by Karina Longworth, which exposes how the millionaire mogul used his power to manipulate women looking to make it in Hollywood; or Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018, edited by David Kipen, which gathers writings from people like Marilyn Monroe, Susan Sontag, Zora Neale Hurston, and more, giving an expansive, insider's look at the city.
For cultural analysis, there's The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies by Ben Fritz, which chronicles the evolution of Hollywood and the movie industry in the past decade and argues that a new film heyday might be coming. The Complete Matinee Junkie: Five Years at the Movies collects the entire run of Jordan Jeffries' movie-obsessed comic strip, which is part memoir and part criticism.
For fiction fans, there's Joshua Mattson's A Short Film About Disappointment, an inventive novel told completely through one man's film reviews uploaded into a content aggregator in near-future America; or Nisha Sharma's My So-Called Bollywood Life, the endearing story of a teenage movie buff who deals with heartbreak by fitting it into the Bollywood storylines she knows so well.
FOR THE BOOZE CONNOISSEUR
For an in-depth exploration of a favorite drink, there's Kevin Begos's Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor and the Search for the Origins of Wine — the fascinating culmination of 10 years of research into the birth of wine, and the uncovering of all sorts of forgotten grapes.
For something more literary, there's A Sidecar Named Desire: Great Writers and the Booze That Stirred Them by Greg Clarke and Monte Beauchamp, which offers a thorough illustrated history of the rocky relationship between drinking and writing. In Wine Reads: A Literary Anthology of Wine Writing, Jay McInerney collects excerpts from novels, memoirs, and literary nonfiction about all things fine wine.
Finding Mezcal: A Journey into the Liquid Soul of Mexico, With 40 Cocktails by Ron Cooper and Chantal Martineau is a blend of memoir, history, and recipes, exploring Cooper's love of and respect for the beloved spirit, as well as the effects of its growing popularity in the US. Blotto Botany: A Lesson in Healing Cordials and Plant Magic by Spencre L.R. McGowan is a blend of recipes and herbalism, walking the reader through tonics that might offer some healing and definitely taste delicious.
And for the traveler, there's Maurizio Maestrelli's Speakeasy: Secret Bars Around the World — a guide to the trendy bars that are not so easy to find.
FOR THE CASUAL LINGUIST
Lovers of language will appreciate Gaston Dorren's Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages, a global exploration of the 20 languages Dorren decided a person would have to know if they wanted to speak fluently with half of the world's population. What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards and Luisa Uribe is technically a children's book but anyone can appreciate its contents: a collection of words from around the world that have no English translations.
For an investigation of the English language, there's Mark Abley's Watch Your Tongue: What Our Everyday Sayings and Idioms Figuratively Mean, a journey through the meanings and histories of common sayings; Lynne Murphy's The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English, an investigation of the stereotypes, biases, and histories that shape the way English speakers feel about their English.
For something scientific, there's Emma Byrne's Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language, which examines the latest research on the ability of swearing to reduce anxiety and physical pain, and to encourage cooperation. And for the animal lovers, there's Stephen Moss's Mrs Moreau's Warblers: How Birds Got Their Names — an illuminating trek through the people and encounters that led to some of the most unique names in the animal kingdom.
FOR THE HISTORIAN
For books that zoom into one moment or era, there's Priya Satia's Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution, a new perspective on the Industrial Revolution that places Britain's gun trade at the center; Edward J. Larson's To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration, a suspenseful journey through the one momentous year when explorers from the US, the UK, Italy, and Australia set off on dangerous expeditions to the unclaimed poles; and Keisha N. Blain's Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, a meticulous examination of the black women in the mid–20th century who created alliances with people of color around the world to work for the liberation of black communities in the US.
For fans of microhistories, there's Merve Emre's The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, which tracks the birth and widespread effects of the most popular personality test in the world; in the insightful Hard to Do: The Surprising, Feminist History of Breaking Up, Kelli María Korducki uses divorce legislation and courtship rituals to argue that a woman ending a relationship is a radical act.
And for a stunning visual journey through history, there's History as They Saw It: Iconic Moments From the Past in Color by Wolfgang Wild and Jordan Lloyd — 120 historic photos restored in vibrant color.
FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES A GOOD SCARE
If you're looking for something supernatural, check out Riddance by Shelley Jackson, about a child who goes missing from a school for people with the ability to channel ghosts looking to communicate with the living world. In We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix, the washed-up former guitarist of a ’90s heavy metal band begins to suspect her failures are due to a sinister, mysterious force.
Alma Katsu's bone-chilling The Hunger reimagines the gruesome story of the Donner Party with a supernatural explanation; Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi places the undead monster in US-occupied Baghdad, made from strewn body parts collected by one eccentric local.
The Winters by Lisa Gabriele hints at hauntings; a woman moves into her fiancé's mansion expecting a life of luxury but instead finds the place plagued by the ghost of his late wife (and his daughter, who wants to make her life hell). And Paul Tremblay's The Cabin at the End of the World is a classic, keep-you-up-all-night horror story about a family whose vacation at a remote cabin goes very, very, very wrong.
FOR THE NOSTALGIA-OBSESSED
If it's the ’80s you're thinking about, there's 8-Bit Apocalypse: The Untold Story of Atari's Missile Command by Alex Rubens, which traces the complicated history of this groundbreaking game. Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss is a love letter to and analysis of the books that an entire generation read voraciously.
The ’90s nostalgia continues in Kelsey Miller's I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends, a deep dive into the history, lore, and impact of the massively successful sitcom. For those interested in revisiting the early ’00s, there's The Burn Cookbook: An Unofficial Unauthorized Cookbook for Mean Girls Fans by none other than Jonathan Bennett (aka Aaron Samuels) and celebrity chef Nikki Martin.
Anyone who grew up reading or watching Anne of Green Gables will be happy to spend time with her guardian Marilla Cuthbert in Sarah McCoy's novel Marilla of Green Gables — a new perspective of the stoic character as a plucky young teen.
And Allie Rowbottom's Jell-O Girls: A Family History is a stirring, powerful memoir about her ancestor's purchase of the Jell-O patent and the research his mother with a terminal illness did into the company that brought their family not only immense profit, but, in her mother's view, a cursed string of tragedies. It's an illuminating account of one of America's most potent symbols of culinary nostalgia.
FOR THE ANIMAL LOVER
Looking for something super cute? Crusoe, the Worldly Wiener Dog: Further Adventures With the Celebrity Dachshund by Ryan Beauchesne is straight-up a bunch of pictures of an adorable dachshund dressed up like a world traveler. Similarly uplifting (though with many more words) is Happily Ever Esther: Two Men, a Wonder Pig, and Their Life-Changing Mission to Give Animals a Home by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, and Caprice Crane, which tells the story of how Steve's and Derek's lives were turned upside down after adopting a pig.
For cat lovers, there's Susanne Schötz's The Secret Language of Cats: How to Understand Your Cat for a Better, Happier Relationship — a crash course in translating cat sounds.
And for the more science-minded there's The Re-Origin of Species: A Second Chance for Extinct Animals by Torill Kornfeldt, which explores the cutting-edge technology working toward bringing extinct animals new life; Innumerable Insects: The Story of the Most Diverse and Myriad Animals on Earth by Michael S. Engel, which explores the lives, languages, and habits of our planet's most numerous inhabitants; and Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures by Nick Pyenson, which chronicles Pyenson's research, traveling the world in pursuit of a better understanding of these awesome, enigmatic creatures.
FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES MEETING NEW PEOPLE
For that person who's always asking questions, endlessly curious about other people's lives and perspectives, what could be better than a memoir?
In the tender and insightful First Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical American Love Story, Huda Al-Marashi writes about reconciling her expectations for a grand romance with her arranged marriage. Many Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s) by Sophie Lucido Johnson explores love and sexuality in polyamory.
In Patient Care: Death and Life in the Emergency Room, Dr. Paul Seward walks the reader through the ER, recounting extraordinary cases and raising ethical questions about what it means to care for one another. In Not a Poster Child: Living Well With a Disability, Francine Falk-Allen writes about contracting polio at 3 years old and dealing with the consequences for the rest of her life.
For poetry fans, there's the stunning Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen, which touches on Nguyen's anxieties as a queer Vietnamese American man. And for foodies, there's You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another, edited by Chris Ying — not a single memoir, but instead a collection of captivating essays and stories that show the subtle links among culinary cultures around the world.
Illustrations by Lixia Guo / BuzzFeed News
Nikki Darling's Fade Into You is a work of fiction. A previous version of this post miscategorized it.