For the pop culture–obsessed
Maybe you’re an aspiring TV writer, or maybe you’re just a TV fan who binge-watched all of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brilliant Emmy award–winning dark comedy Fleabag. If that’s the case, Fleabag: The Scriptures is just for you; it contains all filming scripts for the show’s two seasons, plus behind-the-scenes commentary from Waller-Bridge.
Speaking of iconic TV shows, Sex and the City fans might want to consider We Should All Be Mirandas: Life Lessons from Sex and the City’s Most Underrated Character. Written by Chelsea Fairless and Lauren Garroni, the creators of the hit Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc, We Should is a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of the famous redhead, complete with fun illustrations and how-to guides on how to be a boss like Miranda.
But perhaps you’re more of a Friends fanatic, unfazed by recent divisive (but ultimately correct) retrospectives. In that case, Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era by pop culture historian Saul Austerlitz should hit the spot; it features new interviews with the show’s creators and tells the story of how this sitcom came to be. If you’d rather see glossy pictures with your Friends trivia, consider Friends Forever: The One About the Episodes by Gary Susman, Jeannine Dillon, and Bryan Cairns, which not only offers behind-the-scenes info (did you know Marta Kauffman and David Crane wrote Monica Geller for Janeane Garofalo?), but also has tons of photographs and will look pretty sitting on your coffee table.
Maybe you really just want some irreverent commentary on some of the biggest movies of the past 25 years. If so, you should seek out Shea Serrano’s Movies (And Other Things), an illustrated compendium that asks the tough questions like: Is this movie better, the same, or worse with the Rock in it? And which race was white-saviored the best by Kevin Costner?
Or perhaps you like your pop culture talk a little more highbrow and academic. Lauren Michele Jackson’s White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue...and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation, a look at how black culture has been appropriated by everyone from the Kardashians to Christina Aguilera, is well worth a read.
For your slightly woo-woo friend
The poets behind the popular astrology Twitter account @poetastrologers, Alex Dimitrov and Dorothea Lasky, have finally written a book, Astro Poets: Your Guides to the Zodiac, perfect for both novices (it comes with definitions of basic terms) and experts who will revel in all the intra–sun sign snark: (“Arguably, the number-one reason people want to learn about astrology is because they have been in love with a Scorpio.”). Ugh, guilty.
If your woo-woo tendencies run a little more reflective, check out Mira Ptacin’s The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna, an engaging first-person account of the time the author spent at a remote Maine camp where people commune with the dead. (Read an excerpt here; also, the book’s cover glows in the dark!) Initiated: Memoirs of a Witch by Amanda Yates Garcia looks at how the author has found solace in witchcraft. And Leila Taylor’s Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul is a personal reflection on the black American goth.
If you’re searching for some good old-fashioned horror, Stephen King’s latest, The Institute, should do the trick with its timely theme of children being detained. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t name-check Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters (King-endorsed!) and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein, an intriguingly queer reenvisioning of the famous Mary Shelley novel.
For your dad*(*any person in your life who likes wholesome books geared toward middle-aged straight men)
Frustrated with the mundane homogeneity of life in their DC suburb, Dan Kois, a senior editor for Slate and his lawyer wife, Aliya, decided to take their two adolescent daughters on a sabbatical of sorts, living in three different countries over the course of a year. The result is How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together, an account of what that year was like, perfect for stressed-out parents who daydream of doing the same thing.
If poetry is more your speed, you can’t go wrong with Matthew Zapruder’s meditative Father’s Day, a collection of poems that explore parenting with equal parts wonder and grace. Then there’s Nathan Englander’s Kaddish.com, an irreverent look at what sons owe their fathers, and fathers their sons, in an Orthodox Jewish community.
And if the dads in your life prefer explanatory nonfiction, there’s always Malcolm Gladwell, patron saint of the dad book, with his latest tome: Talking to Strangers.
For the foodie
James Beard Award–winning food writer Toni Tipton-Martin really put her foot into Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking, which includes 100 recipes, from buttermilk fried biscuits to coconut lemon layer cake (yum!). Along with the its gorgeous photography, Tipton-Martin gives incredibly informative historical context for each recipe. A worthy addition to any home cook’s bookshelf. Alison Roman, food columnist for the New York Times, just published her second cookbook, Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over, which is as useful as it sounds.
If you’re very into sushi, you might want to preorder Stuff Every Sushi Lover Should Know, a charmingly illustrated pocket guide by Marc Luber and Brett Cohen. It’s brave for two white men to write about sushi from a place of authority in 2019, but fortunately these guys appear to have done their homework.
If you like beautiful writing about food, consider purchasing Iliana Regan’s Burn the Place; the first memoir by a chef to be long-listed for a National Book Award, it’s a moving account of Regan’s ascent from Midwestern farm child to owner of the Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant Elizabeth. Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food From 31 Celebrated Writers is another great get in this regard, featuring searing personal essays from writers as disparate as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Claire Messud. Plus, it comes with recipes! (Read an excerpt here.)
For the activist who wants to be more informed
The case for ending mass incarceration continues to pick up steam throughout the country. In Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration, Emily Bazelon, a New York Times Magazine staff writer and a lawyer by training, reveals how the criminal justice system is weighted in favor of the prosecutor. For a more immediate yet lyrical look at the effects of mass incarceration, consider Reginald Dwayne Betts’s poetry collection Felon.
If you need to motivate the people in your life to take climate change more seriously Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, a collection of the Swedish activist’s speeches is a great gift for anyone looking to get galvanized.
If you’re the kind of person who jokes about the downfall of capitalism all the time, consider preordering Why You Should Be a Socialist by Current Affairs Editor-in-Chief Nathan J. Robinson, a helpful primer on what socialism actually means.
For the comedy buff
Always Be My Maybe star and stand-up comic Ali Wong has written Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life, a book addressed to her two young daughters. The gag is, they are way too young to read this delightfully raunchy memoir that begins with an explicit description of how Wong’s “White Walker” hands made guys’ penises go soft. If you’re looking for something a little more genteel, consider comic Josh Gondelman’s Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results. (Read an excerpt here.) For a more ruminative and eccentric read, pick up Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds, which is just like the name — an eclectic mix of observations filtered through Slate’s distinct narrative voice.
For the doodler
Mira Jacob’s Good Talk is an illustrated memoir that focuses on conversations she has with her young son, who is of both Indian and Jewish heritage. Jacob intersperses the conversations with scenes from her own life; the result is an engaging look at a modern American family. Liana Finck’s Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Notes to Self is a fun collection of doodles the New Yorker cartoonist. And former BuzzFeeder Nathan W. Pyle’s Strange Planet is a perfect match for anyone who likes their comics weird and extraterrestrial.
For the news junkie
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement is a stunning feat of investigative journalism that documents how the two New York Times reporters were able to unearth the Harvey Weinstein story. If you’re going to read that, you might as well get Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow, who was equally responsible for unearthing a lot of the initial explosive #MeToo reporting.
Ben Westhoff’s Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic offers a comprehensive account of how fentanyl went from being cooked up in a science lab in 1959 to becoming one of the most lethal street drugs out there.
If you like to keep on international affairs, consider former BuzzFeed News reporter Mike Giglio’s Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate, which is based on his reporting in the Middle East and tracks the rise of ISIS. (Read an excerpt here.) And for a case of chilling intrigue, buy From Russia With Blood: The Kremlin's Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin's Secret War on the West by BuzzFeed News’ global investigations editor, Heidi Blake, based on BuzzFeed News’ 2017 reporting about the mysterious deaths of Russians on British soil that nabbed a 2018 Pulitzer nom. (Read an excerpt here.)
For music mavens
Before Prince died, he anointed journalist Dan Piepenbring as the official chronicler of his life story. The Beautiful Ones is the end result, and it’s as revealing, heartwarming, and genuinely strange as the artist himself was — full of never-before-seen family photos, handwritten notes and lyrics, and stories of Prince’s sui generis genius. A must-have for fans of the Purple One.
For a memoir of a different tack, try Tegan and Sara’s High School. The identical twin duo have mined their formative high school years in Calgary, Alberta, for this unorthodox memoir, which comes on the heels of a new album of remixed songs they wrote in high school. (Check out our review here.)
For ’70s rock fans, you can’t go wrong with Debbie Harry’s autobiography, Face It, which offers a front-row seat into the life of the pioneering Blondie lead singer. And then there’s Janis: Her Life and Music by Holly George-Warren, considered the definitive biography of the rocker.
If you’re a hip-hop head, you’ve got to get Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest; — it’s a beautiful meditation on the pioneering rap group and one of the rare books about hip-hop to be long-listed for a National Book Award. Kathy Iandoli’s God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop is another hip-hop must — chronicling the oft-overlooked contributions of women MCs like Roxanne Shanté and Missy Elliott to, yes, Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks.
For young adults (the literal ones and the ones at heart)
In Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet, an allegorical YA debut that was long-listed for a National Book Award, monsters aren’t supposed to exist in the city of Lucille — but when one appears, a young trans girl named Jam has to figure out how to get rid of it. Also on that National Book Award list: Jason Reynolds’ Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, a collection of short stories, each centering around a different kid in middle school.
If you like YA romance, then you’ll want to cop Mary H.K. Choi’s Permanent Record, about a debt-riddled college dropout who works at a bodega and ends up falling for a social media influencer. David Yoon’s Frankly in Love is another great get on the romance front. When Frank Li falls in love with a white girl, he concocts a hilarious scheme to fool his conservative Korean parents. (Read an excerpt here.)
For fans of The Crown
Queen Elizabeth’s personal dresser, Angela Kelly, has written a memoir, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe about her 25-year relationship with Her Majesty that comes with never-before-seen photos of the Queen and some of her more memorable outfits. Anglophiles, unite! If you prefer a more fantastical, romantic bent to your Anglophilia, get Jasmine Guillory’s Royal Holiday, which tells the story of a woman falling in love with the Queen’s private secretary. If you watch The Crown but wish it were 10,000% gayer, cop Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, in which the son of an American president and the son of a British royal have a will-they-won’t-they affair.
For folks who are feeling burned out
Burnout is real, y’all. In How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, art critic Jenny Odell encourages us to radically reconsider our attitudes toward work and demonstrates how capitalism intentionally alienates us from each other and perpetuates overworking.
If you’re more on a mental health tip, check out The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care, by former BuzzFeeder Anna Borges.’ It’s an alphabetical guide that doles out advice on everything from how to set proper boundaries to how to find a therapist. Molly Burford’s The No Worries Workbook is a good get too, with 124 different prompts for dealing with anxiety — including an adult coloring book section if that’s your jam.
For ravenous romance fans
Helen Hoang, whose 2018 novel The Kiss Quotient was a breakout hit, is back with The Bride Test, about a young Vietnamese American man who has trouble expressing his emotions and the mixed-race Vietnamese woman who’s determined to help him love again. James Gregor’s Going Dutch is another fun romp, a very millennial take on modern dating for a young gay grad student named Richard living in New York. For a slightly grimmer portrayal of the dating scene — we’re talking postdivorce and middle-aged — check out Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s biting, hilarious Fleishman Is in Trouble.
And if you loved last year’s Conversations With Friends, you’ll love Sally Rooney’s latest novel, Normal People, (also set to be a series on Hulu) about two childhood friends, Marianne and Connell, who end up at the prestigious Trinity College in Dublin and are clearly into each other, though hijinks ensue.
For long plane rides
Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift is an epic page-turner that fuses magical realism and sci-fi together for an utterly engrossing, centuries-spanning Zambian epic. Other solid page-turners: Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale sequel, The Testaments, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s debut novel, The Water Dancer. And if you want to win, like, an Olympic medal for long reads, check out Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, which clocks in at a whopping 1,000 pages and has been dubbed the Infinite Jest of our age.
Something super short
The good folks at Canadian-based publisher Biblioasis have whipped up some adorably cute classic Christmas ghost stories with signature illustrations. Read Daphne du Maurier’s The Apple Tree or Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story as if they’re brand new. Morgan Parker’s Magical Negro is another good buy. Her funny, moving poems are a wonderful ode to black womanhood. Also to consider: Imani Perry’s Breathe: A Letter to My Sons — a great addition to the epistolary memoir. Changing tacks, somewhat, you might also want to get Avidly Reads Board Games by Eric Thurm, a short little ditty put out by New York University Press that looks at the history of board games. And Mary Gaitskill’s novella, This Is Pleasure — a trenchant, nuanced take on #MeToo that was first published in the New Yorker — is worth acquiring too.
For people who really, really love Keanu Reeves (which is to say, all of us)
Illustrations by Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News