What Book People Give When They Give Books: Our Ultimate Holiday Guide


The best thing about Parnassus Books staff: They’re real people. They love to read and talk about books, and they also have a wide range of other interests. They have cool hobbies, nerdy obsessions, favorite bands, beloved pets (see: Sparky, above, getting into the holiday spirit), friends and families. Many of them have fascinating past careers and world travels. Some of them are writers or have worked in publishing. And all of them have holiday parties to go to and gifts to give, which means that just like everyone else, they’ve been making shopping lists. So when a group of professional book-people with diverse interests give presents, what do they pick? We asked our booksellers to share their lists.

(For easy shopping, just click the orange title of any book!)

 For the party host, a better gift than a bottle of wine:

Want to be a genius gift giver? Give this book, just be sure to buy a copy for yourself as well or you’ll never be able to part with it. We live in Nashville. We know songwriters. From “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” to “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” there isn’t a cooler book than this. – Ann Patchett

 For the history buff, adventure lover, wannabe explorer, or survival enthusiast:

One of my favorite books of all time, this book covers so many bases. I normally don’t fall into any of the above categories, but the true story of the polar expedition of the USS Jeannette is so well told that I would put it on my list for any lover of a thrilling novel, too. It is that good. – Catherine Bock

 For anyone who’s been looking for a book as good as Unbroken:

The story is a gut wrenching cliff hanger even though we know exactly how it’s going to end. The writing is clear and spare and endlessly beautiful even though there is no beauty to relate. Tobar takes on all the big issues — the value of a human life, the tests of character, the persistent hopes for God. Simply put, this is my favorite book of the year. – Ann Patchett

Roz Chast’s graphic novel was nominated for a National Book Award and has shown up on just about every best book of the year list I’ve seen. Chast is a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker and you’ll recognize her work as soon as you see it. She uses her humor and funny little drawings to talk about matters that are so impossible I don’t have words for them. I feel like she’s done a national service by getting the trials of aging down on paper. – Ann Patchett

 For the person who yearns to get away from it all:

This book is the follow-up to last year’s hit book, Rock the Shack. Both are perfect dream books for people who are yearning for a hideaway set in nature.  Also a great gift for lovers of architecture, as the designs of these cabins and shelters are endlessly inventive. – Karen Hayes

If you’ve ever wanted to run away, here’s your ticket. We can dream, can’t we? For everyone but the strictly-pavement set. Then, again, they probably need it most. – Miriam Mimms

 For the picky, discriminating book addict who has already read everything on earth:

Take a look. Read the first paragraph. Like any good book, the plot description doesn’t do it justice. Faber, I believe, is one of our best living writers. This is his first long novel since The Crimson Petal and the White. He says this will be his last book, but I pray he does not mean it.- Margy Roark

 For the fashion lover who usually prefers magazines to books:

Here’s a coffee table book you won’t be able to leave on your coffee table, because you’ll keep picking it up to wonder at the gorgeous photography and fascinating subject matter. The exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute — from 2005’s Chanel, to 2011’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, to 2013’s Punk — always dazzle the hundreds of thousands of visitors who line up to see them. The exhibition’s opening-night gala, a collaboration with Vogue magazine, is known as the “Party of the Year” in fashion circles and attracts the biggest celebrities of the moment.  – Karen Hayes

Vogue‘s Hamish Bowles pulls together photographs from the Met’s fashion exhibitions and galas, as well as the Vogue shoots inspired by their themes. Chloe Malle contributes editorial talent; the Met’s director, Thomas P. Campbell, provides a foreword; and the one-and-only Anna Wintour pens the introduction. How’s that for star power? – Mary Laura Philpott

 For women and girls of all shapes and sizes and for anyone interested in art and sociology:

A dazzling project that will make you feel like you’re walking through an art exhibit. Told through over 600 voices, including some women whose work you may already know and love, this book weaves photo series, interviews, and essays together to explore various facets of being a woman. The topics range from the more serious considerations of mother-daughter relationships to advice on what to wear to a party. – Mythili Sanikommu

 For artsy types, book nerds, and armchair psychologists:

Do you ever judge a book by its cover? I do. All day, every day. This arresting coffee table book — along with its companion paperback, How We Read Things — helps me understand why. Mendelsund taught himself design and became renowned for such book jackets as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. – Miriam Mimms

 For anyone who loved Marilynne Robinson’s other Gilead novels and has been waiting for more:

A powerful meditation on how faith can provide hope, engender trust and counteract the bewildering effects of loneliness. This is a book you will want to read slowly and savor deeply.  – Nathan Spoon

 For someone who loves stories about the Civil War and might like one that’s a little different:

The story of a young woman who goes off to join the Union Army instead of her husband because, she says, “he was made out of wool and I was made out of wire.” Her distinctive voice and unforgettable experiences will remain with you for a long time. Perfect for the reader who likes novels about strong women. – Kathy Schultenover

 For the reader who takes pride in stocking their personal library:

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature was presented to Munro with this speech: “Reading one of Alice Munro’s texts is like watching a cat walk across a laid dinner table. A brief short story can often cover decades, summarizing a life, as she moves deftly between different periods. No wonder Alice Munro is often able to say more in thirty pages than an ordinary novelist is capable of in three hundred.” In this companion volume to Selected Stories (1968-1994), we are given a selection of 24 more of her most brilliant short stories, chosen from her collections published between 1995-2014. Every home library must include this book.- Karen Hayes

 For someone over 40 who wants to read about a protagonist who gets middle age:

Frank Bascombe is a regular guy whose reactions to work, relationships, and the lives and events going on around him feel familiar to all of us. Sometimes his observations are deeply profound; other times, they’re fumbling, profane, or downright hilarious. Bascombe is the protagonist of Richard Ford’s three terrific novels — The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land — and now a fourth, Let Me Be Frank with You. This time, Bascombe’s making his way through life in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Ford has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and with this latest production, we can see why he is recognized as a master of modern fiction. – Karen Hayes

 For all the female people on your list:

This was first published in the UK in 1982 and is only just now making it to the States. Why did we have to wait so long? The story of a young woman with too much beauty and too little self-esteem, it’s funny and smart and dirty and sad. Marie Semple, of Where’d You Go Bernadette fame, writes the introduction. – Ann Patchett

 For high school students making their first forays into “grownup” literature:

I loved every single one of these stories and how they spoke to our various relationships throughout our lives. Poissant has an amazing way of capturing the nuances of how people interact in a heartbreaking yet uplifting way. This collection makes a great gift for people on the lookout for new literary talents, English majors, or just anyone who likes reading amazing stories about everyday people.- Catherine Bock

 For anyone whose soul is not made of ice and rocks:

The only thing better than Underwater Dogs is Underwater Puppies! I don’t even need to pitch this to you, just open the book and lose yourself in the immeasurable cuteness of these puppies. This book is perfect for anyone who loves puppies. So… everyone. – Ashton Hickey

 For the person who thinks they don’t like “apocalyptic novels,” a stunning book to prove them wrong:

A beautiful, elegant novel examining the persistence of both art and cultural memory through catastrophe. The catastrophe, in this case, is a chilling, world-ending epidemic. – Tristan Charles

 For someone who wants to understand a bit more about the modern Middle East:

A must-read from one of America’s greatest journalists, Thirteen Days explores the crucial meeting President Jimmy Carter arranged so that Egypt and Israel could find a long-sought peace. As the following decades have shown, that peace is all but certain; however, the accomplishments of the Camp David Accords are still among the greatest diplomatic feats of the 20th century.  – Tristan Charles

 For elementary or middle schoolers who love a classic:

The first book in Arthur Ransome’s classic series that came out in the 1930s. Having delighted in this as a 9 or 10 year old, I still read it every few years to get transported back to the camp on Wild Cat Island, learning about independence and suggesting “great ideas” to my friends in boarding school! – Bill Long-Innes

 For music lovers:

Rick Bragg spent two years working on this book with Jerry Lee Lewis. If it had been any other writer, I probably never would have considered picking it up, but I could not resist this combination of writer and subject. They both came from the rural South, from dirt poor families, and each made a name for himself. Bragg is one of the best storytellers around, and he brings this complex man’s story to life like no other writer could. If you are a fan of either man, or just a music lover in general, you will not regret picking this book up. – Karen Hayes

 For aspiring actors and anyone with a bit of a Hollywood obsession:

Anjelica Huston was 29, still trying to carve out a career as an actress, when the director Tony Richardson said to her: “Poor little you. So much talent and so little to show for it. You’re never going to do anything with your life.” As Huston writes: “Tony had a singsong voice, like one of his own parrots, but there was no mistaking the edge. ‘Perhaps you’re right,’ I answered. Inside I was thinking, Watch me.” This autobiography picks up where Huston’s first memoir, A Story Lately Told, left off. Here, we get to experience colorful remembrances of her adventures in Hollywood, her career decisions, and the acting advice she gained from working alongside many of the most legendary actors and directors of our time. She writes candidly about her high profile 17-year relationship with Jack Nicholson, as well as her marriage to the sculptor Robert Graham. Huston proves again to be wonderful storyteller, capable of delivering a delicious read. – Karen Hayes

 For people who loved the documentary series on PBS or anyone who wishes Jon Meacham or Doris Kearns Goodwin would hurry up and write another book:

I did someone I didn’t know a favor, and they went to Parnassus and bought me this book as a thank you gift. It’s pretty bold to buy a gift book for a writer who owns a bookstore but nothing could have pleased me more. I didn’t see the Ken Burns PBS series and my vast enjoyment of this companion volume was in no way hampered. The book is full of wonderful photographs and short articles that create a vivid timeline for the lives of our three favorite Roosevelts: Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor. It looks pretty on the coffee table and is an endless source of entertainment. – Ann Patchett

As book lovers we know that when it comes to fiction, the book is almost always better than the movie. That’s not necessarily true when a companion book is produced to complement a TV show or series, but in this case it is. Filled with nearly 800 photographs and very thoughtfully written, this book beautifully illustrates this incredible American family. – Andy Brennan

Why is my picture not on this book? – shop dog Eleanor Roosevelt

If history and biography are your thing, check these out, too:

 For anyone who loves hummingbirds. (And who doesn’t love hummingbirds?)

Unless you buy this book there’s a really good chance you’re never going to see the lavishly decorated Garnet-throated Hummingbird or the poorly designed Buff-tailed Sicklebill. I’m glad to have a life-sized picture of every last one of these tiny marvels. I’m going to get a copy for my neighbor Carol* who keeps her hummingbird feeders full of red syrup, which means that hummingbirds are always zipping past my window on their way to her house. – Ann Patchett

[Ed. note: Nobody tell Carol.]

 For when you really need to pull out all the stops with a gift:

It’s big, it’s expensive, it’s luxurious and deluxe, full of pictures of famous gardens from around the world, a book that would fill up your days with endless dreaming or serious planning. I love big, beautiful books for the holidays and this one seems the biggest and most beautiful of all. – Ann Patchett

 For holiday houseguests and fans of the essay format:

I like to leave a few books out in our guest room for people who come to stay with us — things they can pick up and put down. I’ll be adding Meghan Daum’s smart new essays to the stack by our guests’ bedside. It’s just right for reading one essay at a time and makes a nice contrast to some of the more sentimental fare that’s popular this time of year. Daum tells it like it really is — at least how it really is for her — with honesty and humor. – Mary Laura Philpott

 For anyone who loves beauty:

This is a masterpiece, a gift in every sense. I’ve already ordered 10 copies and I’m going to need more because I can think of so many people to give it to. While the book is nominally about a show Kalman curated at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, it’s really about things she loves, balanced out with some things she doesn’t love. It isn’t a story, it’s an experience. More like life and less like a book. – Ann Patchett

 For someone who wants a change of pace from all that holiday stuff:

Looking for something different? This is the book for you! Quirky, original, enthralling, it’s a voice new to American readers but an award-winning Icelandic author whose work has been translated into 22 languages. It involves a mute 4-year-old boy in the backseat of a car driven by a 30-year-old woman with a dead goose in the trunk of her car; a whimsical journey along the Ring Road during the darkest month in Iceland – all to escape a very bad day. And, yes, there are butterflies, which give the story a magical realism tone, but readers can also envision every zany character and occurrence actually happening. Fun fact: Iceland has the most writers, readers, and books published per capita of any country! – Mary Grey James

 For the mature middle grade or young adult reader who likes harrowing true stories:

Four words: This book is awesome. It’s about a young boy who becomes a very good runner. He gets to be in the 1936 Berlin Olympics but then he doesn’t get another chance to be in the Olympics again, because he goes to World War II. He is in a plane crash and gets captured by the Japanese and taken to a prison camp. This is a good book for people who like history. It also has a teeny bit of humor. – Cameron Philpott (junior staffer, age 11)

More great middle grade books, recommended by Sissy Gardner:

 For the very-youngster with excellent taste in board books:

Finally back in stock! This is my favorite kids’ book of the year. If you have a baby or know a baby, get them this. – Niki Coffman

For the kid (or adult) who can watch sloth videos for hours: 

I love Sparky. – Sissy Gardner

 For parents and little ones who enjoy Goodnight, Moon:

Local illustrator Susan Eaddy’s luscious clay illustrations pair beautifully with author Julie Hedlund’s gentle rhymes. This is the perfect book for bedtime. – Stephanie Appell

 For anyone named Emily, plus those who love poetry and beautiful things:

If you can recite even a single line of Emily Dickinson, you are bound to love this book. It’s a sugar-spun confection of her “envelope poems,” mirrored by transcriptions. To leaf through its pages is to catch a glimpse of genius at work. – Miriam Mimms

 For the tightly-wound doctor, lawyer, or businessperson:

Have an uptight, overly efficient medical student or Wharton School grad in your life? Get them this book for the holidays. They need the heart and soul in here. They need to be moved. As William Carlos Williams wrote: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack of what is found there.” – Margy Roark

 For the novel-lover who only takes breaks from reading novels to read about novels:

Mr. Schmidt, a fine editor, critic, poet, and scholar, has written the perfect companion to his Lives of the Poets with this delightfully ambitious and comprehensive book, chronicling the history of novels and their relevance. – Nathan Spoon

 For fans of The Great Gatsby:

By Fresh Air book reviewer Maureen Corrigan

I’m a devoted re-reader of The Great Gatsby so a book about how Gatsby was made and what it means with tidbits about Fitzgerald’s life was heaven for me. Attention all book clubs — read this one alongside Gatsby and have your smartest conversation ever. – Ann Patchett

 For the friend who can’t resist a witty comeback or terrible pun:

If I could have only one recommendation for the rest of my bookselling career this book would be it! Fforde weaves a clever literary mystery with his unforgettable main character Thursday Next. From a slightly altered England to the pages of Jane Eyre itself, the rich writing and fast paced plot would be a delight for any reader. A definite must-have for the avid reader who thinks they have everything.- Grace Wright

 For those who like a little extra kick in their cooking:

A fantastic gift for anyone from the consummate entertainer to the whimsical baker, this book is a must have for any booze-friendly kitchen. With recipes that range from “Lightweight” to “Totally Tipsy,” the wide range of boozy treats is great for any taste. With clear instructions and great new takes on classic cocktails, this is the perfect Christmas gift just in time for the celebratory New Year season. – Grace Wright

Booze Cakes would be a great stage name. Karen, may I have a Booze Cakes nametag? – Mary Laura Philpott

 No. – Karen Hayes

 For that coworker who’s always baking delicious treats and bringing them into work to share:

I’ve recently discovered a passionate love of baking, and I can’t get enough well-constructed, easy to follow recipes. Joy Wilson, aka Joy the Baker, has compiled a delectable assortment of desserts I’m having a lot of fun trying out.  – Niki Coffman

 A few more crowd favorites in the cooking category:

indienextAlso: We stand by all our monthly Staff Picks books from this year. And if you enjoy our staff’s selections, you might also like the IndieNext book list. It’s a short list, released monthly, of titles that come highly recommended by staff at indie bookstores around the country. We love the choices for December — one of which comes from us!

And finally, we hope you’ll check out all the books in our 2014 Authors in Real Life interview series — every single one of which belongs on this best-of-the-year list.

Sue Monk Kidd · Jeff Kinney · Anna Quindlen · Matthew Quick · Claire Cameron · Meg Wolitzer · Karen Joy Fowler · Jovan Haye · Emma Straub · Michael Pollan · Elizabeth McCracken · Willie Geist · David Sedaris · Tracy Barrett · Smith Henderson · Anton DiSclafani · Jojo Moyes · Edan Lepucki · Hampton Sides · Jon Scieszka · Tony Earley · Kim Teter · Seth Casteel · Kirsten Gillibrand · Connie Britton · Jonathan Tropper · Martina McBride · Jodi Picoult · Héctor Tobar · Sharon Draper · Sean Brock · Mallory Ortberg · Megan Amram · Scott Turow · Grace Helbig · Andrew Maraniss · Garth Stein


All our orders are taken by real-live people and packed with care. Need gift wrap? Just let us know!


So, what books are YOU giving this year? Share your suggestions with fellow readers by joining the conversation on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or Instagram!

PS: Know a book lover but have no clue what they’ve read already? Consider helping them build their library by giving a pre-paid subscription to our Signed First Editions Club or Young Adult Signed First Editions Club! The books we’ve selected have gone on to win honors including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award! (Join the YA First Editions Club by December 24 — or give a membership — and your subscription will be eligible to win an extension of 3 FREE extra months!) Who wouldn’t love a bookish surprise landing on the doorstep every month?