By Jessica Blankenship
Updated Dec 19, 2018 @ 7:38 pm
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I like to imagine a version of myself who is completely exceptional at gift-giving. To me, this would mean that every birthday, major holiday, and personal milestone would be marked by me graciously (I have grace in this wild scenario too) bestowing upon my loved ones a material expression of who they are, what they mean to me, where they are in their lives, and where they are going. I would give gifts that are the embodiment of so many things that lesser gift-givers and awe-struck recipients never dreamed could be encompassed within a gift.

This, of course, is a dumb goal, and most of those things can’t be purchased on Amazon Prime exactly one day before Christmas, so I will probably keep giving people books as gifts until I die. It’s honestly a tremendous gifting strategy if you like to read, since all the reading you do all year is essentially research for the holidays. The many weekends at the end of last winter when you were waiting for the world to thaw and didn’t get off your couch? Definitely not laziness — you were just vetting gift ideas for the book-lovers in your life.

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If you found that just surviving 2018 has been all you could manage (fair), and you didn’t have as much time to lie around and binge the bounty of excellent books that blessed our otherwise thoroughly dystopian scene, no worries — I generously sat on my ass reading all year, doing research for you (and definitely not just, like, avoiding the rest of the world). Here’s a rundown of the most giftable books that came out in 2018.

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Perfect For: Your moody lit-major niece who hopefully won't regard it as a how-to, but hey, gotta roll those dice.

OK, everyone loved this book, but I had a few major complaints about it, none of which I can express without effectively ruining the book for anyone who hasn’t read it. So read it, then read my tweet, and tell me if you think I’m right (I am) or wrong (I’m not). Regardless, if you have a reader in your life who is in their early- to mid-twenties (or even just still processes their emotions like they are), they will enjoy reading this book. My pissy gripes aside, it really is a beautifully rendered depiction of a specific and compelling expression of universal emotions around loss and grief, so actually most anyone will enjoy reading this book.

RELATED: You'll Tear Through These December Books Faster Than Your Holiday Wrapping Paper

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Perfect for: Your aunt who has a lot of "theories" she likes to run by you in hushed tones.

For the uninitiated, the Golden State Killer committed a series of deeply fucked up rapes and murders over a decade in the ‘70s and ‘80s. McNamara was a crime journalist who cultivated a particular obsession with rooting out the serial killer’s identity and unpacking his motives, a fixation which defined her career, was cemented in this sincerely incredible book, and wasn’t solved until this year, two years after McNamara’s death. Yeah, it’s a hell of a punctuation on her career tracking him, and for anyone who even remotely enjoys true crime, this book is just extremely great.

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Everything's Trash, But It's Okay by Phoebe Robinson

Perfect for: Your best friend with whom you are always joking (but not at all joking!) that spending so much time online is ruining your mental health in a way you may never recover from but, LOL, you keep doing it.

If there’s a 2 Dope Queens fan in your life who doesn’t already have this book, this is such an obvious pick for them that I can’t even take credit for it. Like, I also recommend drinking water and breathing oxygen and not forgiving Louis CK. But honestly, this book works for anyone who likes effortlessly insightful, funny, self-aware essays that look at everything about existing in the current cultural hellscape from a position that makes it feel survivable. I’m calling it one of the best new books of 2018, a year in which almost nothing can be described as “best.”

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The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Perfect for: That friend who's always just a little happy and, TBH, needs to be taken down a peg.

Do you know someone who likes to spend their leisure time having their entire emotional landscape relentlessly torched by a book and then not feel quite normal for, like, weeks afterward? This is the gift for them! (Bringing it to a secret Santa and unleashing it on a random person is practically an act of violence, though.) It’s the story of Romy Hall, a young woman with a son who is serving two consecutive life sentences in prison, and if that premise alone isn’t pointedly evocative enough, the way Kushner traces a laser-sharp articulation of this story will grind it so deep into the fibers of your mind that it will later make you ache any time you think of it. And if that’s not a holiday-season mood, I don’t know what is.

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All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

Perfect for: Someone who is perpetually too worked up about some relatively minor aspect of their lives, and could really stand to spend some time considering someone else's for a while.

I feel like the only thing a writer really needs to pull off a memoir is an ability to not tell their story but to rebuild it in a way that makes a reader feel like they can step inside it. I say that like I have any authority to tell writers what they need to do, but that’s always how I describe the memoirs I love best (whereas the ones I walk away from feeling begrudgingly uninvested read like someone drunkenly showing off all the pics in their phone, as if anyone will care as much as they do). Nicole Chung’s account of her upbringing with her white, Catholic family in Oregon, which she was adopted into, does exactly that. But considering that Chung is an editor at Catapult and formerly The Toast (RIP), it’s not surprising that she makes storytelling feel less like a skill and more like a magic power. You could give this book to anyone, and later they’ll be like, “Hey, thanks for giving me that book.”

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This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps

Perfect for: Your little sister, because honestly this book will take a lot of the big-sistering burden off of you. 

As someone who was a teen during the exquisite days when Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek were on TV, it’s baffling to me that there are breathing humans on earth who are just now stanning Busy Philipps. But I’m not going to waste time being mad about it — welcome to the fold, lambs. Busy is great, and her book is all the things you would want a funny-girl memoir to be: It’s light, relatable, and real enough to make you feel things. Her “past it, over it, above it” perspective will help you (or your sis) remember there’s nothing you can’t get past, over, and above. As a gift, it’s like giving someone a literary digestif after an unforgiving year.  

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How To Be Alone by Lane Moore

Perfect for: Your forever-alone friend, which OK, might just be you, and that's fine. 

This essay collection is like the spirit of typing “lol” at the end of texts to your friends about how depressed you are expanded into book length. Chapters are titled things like “TV Couples Who Made Me Believe Love Was Supposed To Be Better Than This” and “I Liked Dating You Better In My Head” and “Happy Holidays To Everyone But You, You Lonely Weirdo.” It’s a great book for anyone who ever tried to act like their crushing sense of intense loneliness was, like, “totally not a big deal and actually kind of funny, haha, let’s just forget I said anything and enjoy Red Lobster, guys!” (That’s not a line from the book, it’s a line from my life. You should get this book for me.)

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There There by Tommy Orange

Perfect For: Your dad, because, fuck it, welcome to the book club, Dad.

The thing I’ve been forced to reckon with in the post-contrarian world of my 30s (I’m too lazy now, and it turns out hating things isn’t a personality) is that when a book is abundantly hyped, it is usually very good. This is also true of TV shows and movies and never true of podcasts. Yeah, it’s just a hearty marketing budget sometimes, but generally, if everyone is talking about something being incredibly good, it’s because most people think it is! And since none of us is as remarkable or in possession of the singular taste we believe we have, chances are most of us will like popular things too. There There is kinda that book for me this year. Everyone loves it because it’s wonderful.

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Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Perfect for: Your very busy friend who reads the New Yorker every week but hasn't finished a single novel the entire time you've known each other. 

Submerging yourself in a single story for the duration of a novel or biography is inarguably the single best (and most defensible to your therapist) vehicle for escaping life. But when you lack the time or focus or luxury of getting lost for the long haul, there is nothing so pure and merciful than a collection of essays, especially if you can count on all of them to be immaculate. Zadie Smith is among very few who can reliably deliver that. I spent the first half of 2018 with Feel Free in my bed next to me, and I opened it whenever I needed to put my brain in some else’s hands for 20 minutes or a whole night. On good days, spending time with this collection is a cherry on top. On bad days, these essays can be taken medicinally. Give it to literally anyone.