What to Read When: A Holiday Book-Gifting Guide

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Last week, Aubrey Nolan offered up illustrated 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 2018 releases to longtime literary loves.

And, thrill readers on your holiday shopping 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!

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All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
What does it mean to lose your roots―within your culture, within your family―and what happens when you find them? With the same warmth, candor, and startling insight that has made her a beloved voice, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets―vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong

 

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of PTSD and Bipolar II; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father—an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame

 

Monument: Poems New and Selected by Natasha Trethewey
Layering joy and urgent defiance—against physical and cultural erasure, against white supremacy both intangible or graven in stone—Trethewey’s work gives pedestal and voice to unsung icons. Monument, Trethewey’s first retrospective, casts new light on the trauma of our national wounds, our shared history. This is a poet’s remarkable labor to source evidence, persistence, and strength from the past in order to change the very foundation of the vocabulary we use to speak about race, gender, and our collective future.

 

Idiophone by Amy Fusselman
Leaping from ballet to quilt-making, from the The Nutcracker to an Annie-B Parson interview, Idiophone is a strikingly original meditation on risk-taking and provocation in art and an unabashedly honest, funny, and intimate consideration of art-making in the context of motherhood, and motherhood in the context of addiction. Amy Fusselman’s compact, beautifully digressive essay feels both surprising and effortless, fueled by broad-ranging curiosity, and, fundamentally, joy.

 

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun
Teenage Joon is a Korean immigrant living in the Bronx of the 1980s. Her parents have crumbled under the weight of her father’s infidelity; he has left the family, and mental illness has rendered her mother nearly catatonic. So Joon, at the age of thirteen, decides she would be better off on her own, a choice that commences a harrowing and often tragic journey that exposes the painful difficulties of a life lived on the margins. Joon’s adolescent years take her from a homeless shelter to an escort club, through struggles with addiction, to jobs selling newspapers and cosmetics, committing petty crimes, and finally toward something resembling hope.

 

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
Here is Chee’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump. By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.

 

Good Bones by Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith writes out of the experience of motherhood, inspired by watching her own children read the world like a book they’ve just opened, knowing nothing of the characters or plot. These poems stare down darkness while cultivating and sustaining possibility and addressing a larger world.

 

Eats of Eden by Tabitha Blankenbiller
Memoir and essays of food, writing, coming-of-age, family, sex, self-esteem, and above all, overcoming personal odds to live your best life—complete with recipes that will change your relationship with food forever.

 

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott
In this profound and funny book, Lamott calls for each of us to rediscover the nuggets of hope and wisdom that are buried within us that can make life sweeter than we ever imagined. Divided into short chapters that explore life’s essential truths, Almost Everything pinpoints these moments of insight as it shines an encouraging light forward.

 

Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America edited by María Isabel Alvarez and Dante Di Stefano
The poets anthologized here bear witness to, rage against, and defy the misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and authoritarian impulses that have always surrounded us, but that are incarnated in the forty-fifth president. At a time when large swaths of the nation, and of the world, have succumbed to a reality television ontology, the poems collected in this volume offer the terra firma of imaginative empathy only available to us through poetry. This anthology contains work from a variety of aesthetic stances, from poets whose personal backgrounds reflect the vibrant multiplicity of our democratic vistas at their most resplendent. These voices counter alternative facts and fake news with the earned communion and the restorative utterance of the lyric and of the narrative.

 

The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin: A Library of America Special Publication edited by Lisa Yaszek
Science fiction expert Lisa Yaszek presents the biggest and best survey of the female tradition in American science fiction ever published, a thrilling collection of twenty-five classic tales. From Pulp Era pioneers to New Wave experimentalists, here are over two dozen brilliant writers ripe for discovery and rediscovery. Imagining strange worlds and unexpected futures, looking into and beyond new technologies and scientific discoveries, in utopian fantasies and tales of cosmic horror, these women created and shaped speculative fiction as surely as their male counterparts. Their provocative, mind-blowing stories combine to form a thrilling multidimensional voyage of literary-feminist exploration and recovery.

 

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Adapted from the beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, The Merry Spinster takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of The Toast. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.

 

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver
Carefully curated, these two hundred plus poems feature Oliver’s work from her very first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems, published in 1963 at the age of twenty-eight, through her most recent collection, Felicity, published in 2015. This timeless volume, arranged by Oliver herself, showcases the beloved poet at her edifying best. Within these pages, she provides us with an extraordinary and invaluable collection of her passionate, perceptive, and much-treasured observations of the natural world.

 

Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez
In this stunning debut, José Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. Combining wry humor with potent emotional force, Olivarez takes on complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration using an everyday language that invites the reader in.

 

Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty by Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh
In this groundbreaking highly visual book, world-renowned designers Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh set out on a mission: to find out what beauty is and the many ways that it impacts our lives. They turn to philosophy, history, and science to understand why we are drawn to beauty and how it influences the way we feel and behave. Determined to translate their findings into action, Sagmeister & Walsh show us how beauty can improve the world.

 

Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams
Revolutionary Mothering places marginalized mothers of color at the center of a world of necessary transformation. The challenges we face as movements working for racial, economic, reproductive, gender, and food justice, as well as anti-violence, anti-imperialist, and queer liberation, are the same challenges that many mothers face every day. Oppressed mothers create a generous space for life in the face of life-threatening limits, activate a powerful vision of the future while navigating tangible concerns in the present, move beyond individual narratives of choice toward collective solutions, live for more than ourselves, and remain accountable to a future that we cannot always see.

 

Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process edited by Joe Fassler
What inspires you? That’s the simple, but profound question posed to forty-six renowned authors in Light the Dark. Each writer begins with a favorite passage from a novel, a song, a poem—something that gets them started and keeps them going with the creative work they love. From there, incredible lessons and stories of life-changing encounters with art emerge. Light the Dark collects the best of the Atlantic‘s much-acclaimed “By Heart” series edited by Joe Fassler and adds brand-new pieces, each one paired with a striking illustration. Here is a guide to creative living and writing for anyone who wants to learn how great writers find inspiration—and to find some of your own.

 

If They Come for Us by Fatima Asghar
Orphaned as a child, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while also exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people’s histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging.

 

Season: Big Flavors Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma
Season by Nik Sharma features delicious and intriguing recipes plus two-hundred and seventy of the most beautiful photographs ever seen in a cookbook. The bold flavors of Indian cooking combine with familiar ingredients and recipes of the American South and California in fresh ways. Season introduces home cooks to a new way to cook and think about flavor.

 

Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed
In these poems, Justin Phillip Reed experiments with language to explore inequity and injustice and to critique and lament the culture of white supremacy and the dominant social order. Political and personal, tender, daring, and insightful―the author unpacks his intimacies, weaponizing poetry to take on masculinity, sexuality, exploitation, and the prison industrial complex and unmask all the failures of the structures into which society sorts us.

 

Those Who Knew by Idra Novey
On an unnamed island country ten years after the collapse of a US-supported regime, Lena suspects the powerful senator she was involved with back in her student activist days is taking advantage of a young woman who’s been introducing him at rallies. When the young woman ends up dead, Lena revisits her own fraught history with the senator and the violent incident that ended their relationship. What follows is a riveting exploration of the cost of staying silent and the mixed rewards of speaking up in a profoundly divided country.

 

My Mother was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet
My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is poet Aja Monet’s ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world. Textured with the sights and sounds of growing up in East New York in the nineties, to school on the South Side of Chicago, all the way to the olive groves of Palestine, these stunning poems tackle racism, sexism, genocide, displacement, heartbreak, and grief, but also love, motherhood, spirituality, and Black joy.

 

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.

 

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua
A River of Stars is an entertaining, wildly unpredictable adventure, told with empathy and wit. It’s a vivid examination of home and belonging, and a moving portrayal of a woman determined to build her own future.

 

Everyday People: The Color of Life edited by Jennifer Baker
This gorgeously wrought anthology represents a wide range of styles, themes, and perspectives on a variety of topics. The carefully selected stories depict moments that linger—moments of doubt, crossroads to be chosen, relationships, epiphanies, moments of loss and moments of discovery. Contributors include Mia Alvar, Carleigh Baker, Nana Brew-Hammond, Glendaliz Camacho, Alexander Chee, Mitchell S. Jackson, Yiyun Li, Allison Mills, Courttia Newland, Dennis Norris II, Jason Reynolds, Nelly Rosario, Hasanthika Sirisena, and Brandon Taylor.

 

Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance edited by Sandra Beasley, illustrated by Julie Sola
Yes, there is barbecue, but that’s just one course of the meal. With Vinegar and Char the Southern Foodways Alliance celebrates twenty years of symposia by offering a collection of poems that are by turns as sophisticated and complex, as vivid and funny, and as buoyant and poignant as any SFA gathering. The included poets represent past, current, and future conversations about what it means to be Southern. Throughout the anthology, region is layered with race, class, sexuality, and other shaping identities. With an introduction by Sandra Beasley, a thought-provoking foreword by W. Ralph Eubanks, and luminous original artwork by Julie Sola, this collection is an ideal gift.

 

Eye Level by Jenny Xie
Jenny Xie’s award-winning debut takes us far and near, to Phnom Penh, Corfu, Hanoi, New York, and elsewhere, as we travel closer and closer to the acutely felt solitude that centers this searching, moving collection. Animated by a restless inner questioning, these poems meditate on the forces that moor the self and set it in motion, from immigration to travel to estranging losses and departures. The sensual worlds here—colors, smells, tastes, and changing landscapes—bring to life questions about the self as seer and the self as seen.

 

The Street by Ann Petry
Recently praised by Tayari Jones, The Street tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, and its haunting tale still resonates today.

 

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.

 

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.

 

Virgin by Analicia Sotelo
Sotelo walks the line between autobiography and mythmaking, offering up identities like dishes at a feast. These poems devour and complicate tropes of femininity―of naiveté, of careless abandon―before sharply exploring the intelligence and fortitude of women, how “far & wide, / how dark & deep / this frigid female mind can go.”

 

Radical Wholeness by Philip Shepherd
Drawing from neuroscience, anthropology, physics, the arts, myth, personal stories and his experiences helping people around the world to experience wholeness, Philip Shepherd illuminates what true wholeness means and offers practices designed to help readers soften into the intelligence of the body. Radical Wholeness is a call to action: to recover wholeness and experience a new way of being.

 

100 Demon Dialogues by Lucy Bellwood
Cartoonist Lucy Bellwood is beset by a tiny, petulant demon who embodies workaholism, imposter syndrome, and fear of missing out. Fed up with its constant nagging, she sets out to defang and humanize her inner critic in a series of conversational comics. From overcoming self-doubt to prioritizing self-care, Bellwood and her demon embody a hilarious and relatable partnership that will resonate with people from all walks of life.

 

Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, and Yona Harvey, illustrated by  Alitha Martinez and Afua Richardson
The world building of Wakanda continues in a love story where tenderness is matched only by brutality. You know them now as the Midnight Angels, but in this story they are just Ayo and Aneka, young women recruited to become Dora Milaje, an elite task force trained to protect the crown of Wakanda at all costs. Their first assignment will be to protect Queen Shuri… but what happens when your nation needs your hearts and minds, but you already gave them to each other? Meanwhile, former king T’Challa lies with bedfellows so dark, disgrace is inevitable. Plus, explore the true origins of the People’s mysterious leader, Zenzi. Black Panther thinks he knows who Zenzi is and how she got her powers—but he only knows part of the story.

 

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.