20 Best Books to Give the Person Who’s Read Everything
Not sure which read to pick up for your favorite bookworm? These under-the-radar gems are bound to brighten every kind of fiction (and nonfiction) fan’s day.
For a midlife crisis-sufferer or a post-grad
Berg, the main character in The Boatbuilder by Daniel Gumbiner, is a smart, sensitive young man who has fallen into a powerful addiction to prescription drugs after suffering a concussion. His case seems hopeless until he becomes an apprentice boatbuilder in coastal California, discovering the ability to get out of his own head and live one day at a time while crafting custom-built boats. This spare, beautifully written book brilliantly conveys the redemptive power of working with one’s hands. It’s not a family saga, no one is saving the world, yet the main character makes meaningful changes one small decision at a time. Find out the top 10 books everyone lies about reading.
For the tea-sipping Anglophile
To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump At Last, an award-winning screwball comedy by Connie Willis, features time-traveling academics from Oxford University in the future. They must keep returning to Coventry Cathedral before it was destroyed in World War II, so they can retrieve hideous little artifacts that will allow them to recreate it in perfect detail. If you appreciate that the academics keep returning despite the danger because they’re all so terrified of the bossy benefactor funding the project who is, gloriously, named Lady Schrapnell, you’ll love this novel.
For the legal eagle in your life
Brothers Teddy and Leo, the protagonists of Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith, have taken care of each other ever since their father murdered their mother in this contemporary thriller set in San Francisco. Teddy is now a top criminal lawyer: Colorful, cocky, and suspiciously successful. Leo has just been admitted to the bar. When Teddy is shot, putting him into a coma, Leo has to step into his older brother’s shoes, take on a high stakes criminal case, and wade through the wreckage of Teddy’s life trying to figure out who would try to kill him and why. Bonus points: It’s the start of a series. Don’t miss our list of the best thrillers of all time.
For your friend who’s still mad at J.K. Rowling for not writing an eighth Harry Potter novel
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan stars Elliot, the crankiest boy in the Borderlands. Much to his dismay, there are no video games across the magical wall, and boring javelin-throwing golden-haired warriors are greatly admired. But who could possibly leave when there’s a chance to meet elves, mermaids, harpies, trolls, and other magical beings? Though Brennan is a well-liked young adult writer, she originally published this story in online installments just for her fans. Now that it has been bought by a major publishing house, everyone can enjoy this former cult classic.
For fans of bodice-rippers who devoured the Outlander series
Set against the complicated, fascinating backdrop of the English-Scottish wars of the 16th century, The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett is the tale of accused traitor Lymond of Crawford, his love affair with a blind girl, his Cain-and-Abel relationship with his own brother, and his merry band of outlaws and rogues. We found ourselves hurtling through the pages, trying to decide who was the true traitor to Scotland and worrying about the eventual fates of Dunnett’s many vivid characters. This book is the start of a classic series first published in 1961.
For the thrills, chills, and suspense addict who has run out of Stephen King novels
Back in the day, Gerry Fegan was a stone-cold hitman for the IRA, but he’s falling apart in the peace negotiations of the 1980s in The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville. Is Gerry really being haunted by 12 of his murder victims? He sees them everywhere, begging him to shoot his old friends and comrades among the IRA. At the same time, his life is increasingly entwined with those of a young woman, who is hated for her former relationship with an English cop, and her small daughter. Can Gerry protect them from everyone, even himself?
For your sister who wants a nicely written romance that makes her laugh and feel cozy all over
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a funny, charming retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, set in and around Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Kate is pretty, capable, and actually a very kind person who does everything for her father, a distinguished scientist, and her boy-crazy little sister Bunny. But her brusque manner scares everyone away…except her father’s Russian lab assistant. Does he only want to marry her to stay in the U.S.? Or has he truly fallen for Kate, his “vinegar girl”? Decide for yourself! Want a romantic book to share with your honey? Start with these 10 novels that will tug at your heartstrings.
For aficionados of Westerns, courtroom dramas, and mysteries
In Cimarron Rose by James Lee Burke, Billy Bob Holland of Deaf Smith, Texas, is a man with a past. Once a Houston cop, then a Texas Ranger, now an attorney, he sired his only son out of wedlock and had to watch him be raised by a much lesser man. But now that the young man has been accused of rape and murder, Billy Bob feels he has no choice but to take his son’s case, facing down the ghosts of violence that run through his life and back through his family history to the early settlers of Texas.
For a young hipster friend or relative in need of an original new read
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a spare, droll, often wistful tale of a young Japanese woman who finds her métier in working at—where else—a convenience store. Keiko is just normal enough to want to hide how much of a social misfit she is. Left to her own devices, she can veer toward sociopathy, as when she tries to break up a school fistfight with a shovel or considers sticking a small knife into her baby nephew to stop him from crying. But in the regimented world of Smile Mart, where there’s a standard response and gesture for every occasion, Keiko can relax, and in her own peculiar way, even consider dating. These are the 10 surprising books every teen should read.
For sci-fi geeks
This hidden gem, Kindred by Octavia Butler, was the first science fiction novel ever published by an African-American woman; for years it was a cult classic, but now Butler is finally getting the attention she deserves. Dana, a young black writer in California in 1976, keeps finding herself traveling back in time to a slave plantation in 19th-century Maryland, where she saves a young red-headed boy named Rufus from one dangerous scrape after another. Eventually Dana realizes that Rufus is her ancestor. If he doesn’t survive and enter into a non-consensual relationship with one of his slaves, she will never be born. What should she do? It’s simultaneously thought-provoking and impossible to put down.
For those who are over vampires but still love urban fantasy and supernatural romance
Mercedes Thompson, a tough, attractive young car mechanic in Washington State, is not, repeat, not a werewolf in Patricia Briggs’ Moon Called. But she can turn into a coyote at will, and she is on friendly terms with the local pack, especially its appealing alpha, Adam, who lives next door to Mercy and clearly wants closer ties to the shapely shifter. When some dangerous lone wolves show up in town and Adam’s young teenage daughter goes missing, Mercy gets involved in the pack’s rescue efforts. Will she always prize her independence over all else…or will she give in to a wolf whistle in the end? You’ll also want to check out these books with fierce female characters.
For true crime junkies
Everyone knows the story of Columbine, the tragic school shooting that launched an epidemic of violence, that’s the focus of Columbine by Dave Cullen. But no one has probed more deeply into the heart of the matter than Cullen, an award-winning journalist currently writing a book about the Parkland, Florida massacre. Cullen does an amazing job of getting inside the young killers’ heads and revealing the roots of the symbiotic relationship that exploded into mass murder. At first, it seems that no one could have predicted this bloody cataclysm, but by the end, it becomes clear that law officials and parents had ignored obvious signals of distress for years.
For your pal waiting impatiently for John le Carré to produce another spellbinding tale of espionage
In A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin, Lilian, a Chinese-American professor, is the daughter of a notorious longtime PRC mole in the CIA who claimed, when caught, that he was “serving both his countries.” She travels to China to trace her late father’s footsteps and connect with the family he left behind—including her previously unknown half-siblings. The author is a dissident Chinese émigré living in Boston who began to write in English after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Looking for more recommendations? Start with these 11 book club books bound to get everyone talking.
For the armchair traveler
“A man who is tired of London is tired of life,” proclaimed Samuel Johnson, creator of the first dictionary. This may not be strictly true, but as best-selling author Anna Quindlen explains so convincingly in Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City, a delicious travelogue-plus-literary-companion, it’s hard to walk any distance there without encountering favorite fictional ghosts like Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, Clarissa Dalloway, or even Peter Pan. Follow in Quindlen’s footsteps in this quaint ramble through London and its literature, and you may just find yourself booking a transatlantic vacation. Here are some more books that will inspire you to travel the world.
For those on the hunt for the next big thing
My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel, is not for the faint of heart, but if you read past the first few pages, you won’t be able to stop. Fourteen-year-old Turtle lives with her father, a brilliant, manipulative survivalist, along the California coastline, and his powerful love for her is intertwined so tightly with his terrible abuse that it’s a wonder she’s still alive. When Turtle finally falls in love with a boy her own age, the results are predictably explosive. And when her father brings home a little girl to raise just like he raised Turtle, she is galvanized into action. No one is a match for Turtle’s deadly, ruthless father…except possibly Turtle herself. For other challenging reads, check out our list of the most controversial books of all time.
For fans of murder mysteries and mismatched buddy comedies
This debut novel, Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman, features Buck Schatz, an ancient foul-mouthed curmudgeonly ex-homicide detective in Memphis, Tennessee, who is also a WWII vet. He and his young whippersnapper lawyer grandson Tequila—”it’s a fraternity thing”—get caught up trying to recover stolen Nazi gold…and trying to solve a bunch of murders along the way. Though the adventures of Buck and Tequila are often laugh-out-loud funny, the story also poignantly addresses old age, death, and not going gentle into that good night.
For those in need of comfort mixed with laughter
No author alive does a better job than Anne Lamott in writing about the big topics with capital letters, like Life, Love, Loss, and Meaning. In Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, she acknowledges the terrible truth that bad things do happen to us and the people we love, and suggests that these experiences, however unwanted, may still yield some form of enlightenment—and her light touch somehow makes it all seem more bearable. One example: “I wish there were shortcuts to wisdom and self-knowledge: Cuter abysses or three-day spa wilderness experiences. Sadly it doesn’t work that way. I so resent this.” For more suggestions for those in need of a lift, check out our favorite self-help books for people who hate self-help books.
For devotees of historical fiction, stories of con games, and tales of New York City
Francis Spufford brilliantly evokes 18th-century New-York (yes, it originally had a hyphen) in Golden Hill, a story of a mysterious young man who appears with a dubious bank draft that could ruin the city’s entire growing merchant class. What will he do with the money? What does he really want? This endlessly surprising hero is matched by a most original heroine, sour and fresh as a green apple despite the conventions of the day. It’s lengthy enough to keep the fastest reader going for a good long while, with a plot twist at the end that left us gobsmacked.
For your co-worker who loved The Goldfinch
The World to Come by Dara Horn is an equally compelling and beautifully written novel, about a Chagall painting stolen during a museum cocktail party. In this case, the thief, a former child prodigy who writes questions for a quiz show, believes that it once belonged to his father, who took art lessons from Chagall himself in a Jewish orphanage in Soviet Russia during the 1920s (a job Chagall actually did hold for some time). The action moves between contemporary America and the orphanage, and also introduces us to the work of the great Yiddish writer Der Nister, who (at least in this story) stuffs his unpublished manuscripts into the backs of Chagall’s paintings to preserve them for posterity. Want to read books for free? Start with these 9 great online sites.
For Dan Brown devotees
When a computer hacker gets an anonymous message through Vatican security for the Pope himself about Our Lady of the Tears, a suave priest investigator is dispatched to Seville at the start of The Seville Communion by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The church is named for a statue of a weeping Madonna with real pearl tears beyond price, and several recent mysterious deaths have given her good reason for a fresh crying jag. As it happens, Our Lady of the Tears is being threatened by a lucrative real estate deal. The villain employs several hilarious bumbling criminals to do his dirty work, but they are no match for his own estranged wife who is both sexy and devoted to the Church…including certain priests. Next, read on to discover 100 of America’s favorite novels.
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