Last week, we offered up our best book-gifting recommendations for children. This week, we’re turning our attention to the 18+ crowd. We’ve asked our editors to give us their favorite books to gift to friends and family—from recent 2017 releases to longtime literary loves.
And, thrill any and all readers on your list with a Rumpus gift subscription—we have 6-month and 12-month subscriptions to our incredible Book Club, and 6-month and 12-month subscriptions to the equally awesome Poetry Book Club! (And if you’re really out to impress a reader in your life, sign ‘em for both clubs here.) We also offer 6-month holiday gift subscriptions to Letters in the Mail! All subscriptions come with a PDF you can print out and slip under the tree, so these also make a great last-minute gift. Give a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year, then package it up with one or two of the terrific selections below!
The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra
Megan Stielstra tells stories to ward off fears both personal and universal as she grapples toward a better way to live. Whether she’s imagining the implications of open-carry laws on college campuses, recounting the story of going underwater on the mortgage of her first home, or revealing the unexpected pains and joys of marriage and motherhood, Stielstra’s work informs, impels, enlightens, and embraces us all. The result is something beautiful—this story, her courage, and, potentially, our own.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
A hilarious collection that touches on life’s big and small moments with equal empathy and wit. The essays in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life span topics as varied as living on a budget, explaining why Irby should be the next Bachelorette, a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, and advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms. What makes her writing so damn good is that despite all the ways that Samantha Irby may (or may not) be different from you, she knows how to relate.
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
With bracing candor, vulnerability, and power, Gay explores what it means to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.
All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey
A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, All the Lives I Want is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard. But it is, above all, a paean to the celebrities who have shaped a generation of women–from Scarlett Johansson to Amber Rose, Lil’ Kim, Anjelica Huston, Lana Del Rey, Anna Nicole Smith and many more. These reflections aim to reimagine these women’s legacies, and in the process, teach us new ways of forgiving ourselves.
Nasty Women edited by Kate Harding and Samhita Mukhopadhyay
When fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and ninety-four percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
Scaachi Koul deploys her razor-sharp humor to share all the fears, outrages, and mortifying moments of her life. Alongside personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color: where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision, or outright scorn; where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, leaving little room for a woman not solely focused on marriage and children to have a career (and a life) for herself.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Lockwood interweaves emblematic moments from her childhood and adolescence with scenes that chronicle the eight-month adventure she and her husband had in her parents’ household after a decade of living on their own.
Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Startlingly original and shining with quiet wisdom, this is a luminous account of a life lived with books. Written over two years while the author battled suicidal depression, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a painful and yet richly affirming examination of what makes life worth living. Interweaving personal experiences with a wide-ranging homage to her most cherished literary influences, Li confronts the two most essential questions of her identity: Why write? And why live?
Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on New Year’s Eve 2006. By that afternoon, she saw the world—quite literally—upside down. By New Year’s Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, she learned that she had had a stroke. For months, Lee outsourced her memories to her notebook. It is from these memories that she has constructed this frank and compelling memoir.
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts
He was known simply as the Blind Traveler. A solitary, sightless adventurer, James Holman (1786–1857) fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, helped chart the Australian outback—and, astonishingly, circumnavigated the globe, becoming one of the greatest wonders of the world he so sagaciously explored.
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”
The Brand New Catastrophe by Mike Scalise
After a ruptured pituitary tumor leaves Mike Scalise with the hormone disorder acromegaly at age twenty-four, he must navigate a new, alien world of illness maintenance.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson’s gorgeous exploration of the color blue renders the pain of being human into something meaningful. A book that reminds us to look carefully and thoughtfully at the world.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
Morgan Parker stands at the intersections of vulnerability and performance, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence. Unrelentingly feminist, tender, ruthless, and sequined, these poems are an altar to the complexities of black American womanhood in an age of non-indictments and déjà vu, and a time of wars over bodies and power.
Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar
This debut collection boldly confronts addiction and courses the strenuous path of recovery, beginning in the wilds of the mind. Poems confront craving, control, the constant battle of alcoholism and sobriety, and the questioning of the self and its instincts within the context of this never-ending fight.
Electric Arches by Eve Ewing
Electric Arches is an imaginative exploration of black girlhood and womanhood through poetry, visual art, and narrative prose. Blending stark realism with the fantastical, Ewing takes us from the streets of Chicago to an alien arrival in an unspecified future, deftly navigating boundaries of space, time, and reality with delight and flexibility.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. An astonishing collection, one that confronts America where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
These poems stare down darkness while cultivating and sustaining possibility and addressing a larger world.
Nature Poem by Tommy Pico
A book-length poem about how an American Indian (or NDN) writer can’t bring himself to write about nature, but is forced to reckon with colonial-white stereotypes, manifest destiny, and his own identity as an young, queer, urban-dwelling poet.
Madness by sam sax
These brave, formally dexterous poems examine antiquated diagnoses and procedures from hysteria to lobotomy; offer meditations on risky sex; and take up the poet’s personal and family histories as mental health patients and practitioners. Madness attempts to build a queer lineage out of inherited language and cultural artifacts; these poems trouble the static categories of sanity, heterosexuality, masculinity, normality, and health. sax’s innovative collection embodies the strange and disjunctive workings of the mind as it grapples to make sense of the world around it.
Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows by Eugenia Leigh
“Everyone warns us off the rocks. / But what will keep us from the river?” Leigh asks in her debut collection, which pieces together a kind of mythology in which the surreal and celestial coexist with the realities of childhood abuse as an adult speaker grapples with its lasting emotional trauma. Rooted in a place of deep faith and bottomless compassion, Leigh’s speaker struggles to remember, and to remind us all, “that to worship is to survive is to be / wholly human.”
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
Carson reinvents a genre in a stunning work that is both a novel and a poem, both an unconventional re-creation of an ancient Greek myth and a wholly original coming-of-age story set in the present.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. And in the novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls-with-bells-for-eyes. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
Narrated by the daughters of Chinese immigrants who fled imperiled lives as artists back home only to struggle to stay afloat—dumpster diving for food and scamming Atlantic City casino buses to make a buck—these seven stories showcase Zhang’s compassion, moral courage, and a perverse sense of humor reminiscent of Portnoy’s Complaint. A darkly funny and intimate rendering of girlhood, Sour Heart examines what it means to belong to a family, to find your home, leave it, reject it, and return again.
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand—one that asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Written in startlingly beautiful prose, Harmless Like You is set across New York, Connecticut, and Berlin, following Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and Yuki’s son Jay who, as an adult in the present day, is forced to confront his mother’s abandonment of him when he was only two years old. Harmless Like You is a suspenseful novel about the complexities of identity, art, adolescent friendships, and familial bonds that asks―and ultimately answers―how does a mother desert her son?
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Ng’s novel traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
Florence in Ecstasy by Jessie Chaffee
A young American woman arrives in Florence from Boston, knowing no one and speaking little Italian. But Hannah is isolated in a more profound way, estranged from her own identity after a bout with starvation that has left her life and body in ruins. She is determined to recover in Florence, a city saturated with beauty, vitality, and food—as well as a dangerous history of sainthood for women who starved themselves for God. A vivid, visceral debut, Florence in Ecstasy gives us an arresting new vision of a woman’s attempt to find meaning—and find herself—in an unstable world.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
This isn’t technically a dystopia, but the social experiment at the heart of Greenidge’s novel calls the horrifying Tuskegee Institute to mind—and this smart book asks us to look honestly at how sneaky and pervasive racism in our country can be.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters—strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis—survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. A majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
Jarrar’s stories grapple with love, loss, displacement, and survival in a collection that moves seamlessly between realism and fable, history and the present. With humor, irony, and boundless imagination, Jarrar brings to life a memorable cast of characters, many of them “accidental transients”—a term for migratory birds who have gone astray—seeking their circuitous routes back home.
Shelter by Jung Yun
Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent—from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war. It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love—and by hope.
My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One by Elena Ferrante
Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat
Echoing Samin’s own journey from culinary novice to award-winning chef, Salt, Fat Acid, Heat bridges the gap between home and professional kitchens. With charming narrative, illustrated walkthroughs, and a lighthearted approach to kitchen science, Samin demystifies the four elements of good cooking for everyone. Featuring 150 illustrations and infographics that reveal an atlas to the world of flavor by illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will be your compass in the kitchen.
Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat by Chrissy Teigen
Maybe she’s on a photo shoot in Zanzibar. Maybe she’s making people laugh on TV. But all Chrissy Teigen really wants to do is talk about dinner. Or breakfast. Lunch gets some love, too. For years, she’s been collecting, cooking, and Instagramming her favorite recipes, and here they are: from breakfast all day to John [Legend]’s famous fried chicken with spicy honey butter to her mom’s Thai classics.
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman
Deb thinks that cooking should be an escape from drudgery. Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites presents more than one hundred impossible-to-resist recipes—almost all of them brand-new, plus a few favorites from her website—that will make you want to stop what you’re doing right now and cook.