To say there’s a wide variety here would be an understatement
Gifting a book to someone is hard. You have to either really know the person and what they like extremely well or, of course, know a specific book that they want. Otherwise — there’s a good chance your gift is getting a new life somewhere else.
However, I know from personal experience that an enthusiastic recommendation goes a long way, and our team is nothing if not a group of readers, and we promised you a gift guide devoted to books, so we’re delivering. Also! We loved so many books this year that we decided to make the list all-inclusive — ie, not just food-related.
We’re pretty sure you’ll find something here. And we’d love to hear your recommendations — leave them in the comments.
The Possibilities, by Yael Goldstein-Love (fiction)
One day this summer, we were swimming in the pond in Truro, and Holden and another little boy greeted each other; they were in the same bunk at Audubon camp. The boy’s mom and I got to talking, and she turned out to be a novelist with a new book coming out that month. She is Yael, and that book is this book, and I read it when we got back home, and it’s a must-read for any new parent, and a should-read for anyone else. It takes on the very special anxieties that come with having a small child in a way that I’ve never seen pinpointed so perfectly, and carefully, and doubt I’ll ever see again. I wouldn’t call it science fiction, but it toys with that genre, and it’s unforgettable. Yay, Yael!
Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro (fiction)
Our dear friend Samir read it. His wife (also a dear friend), Ramya, read it. Nick read it. I read it. Kathleen read it. And the chain continues, and hopefully will lead to you and your people. When Samir recommended it to me and Nick, he just said, “It’s so beautiful,” and really, that’s all you need to know. I should warn you that it is about AI, but also tell you that, like Yael’s book, it takes on a subject that can easily feel trite or overdone in a way that’s poignant and special. I have not been able to stop thinking about it.
Mayumu, by Abi Balingit (cookbook)
Holly and Mark interviewed Abi on the podcast and her joy practically jumps out at you. It’s also infused into all her gorgeous, uniquely Abi desserts in Mayumu, an ode to Filipino flavors and sweets. Double-Toasted Coconut Marshmallows are made even better with the addition of latik — toasted coconut curds — which Abi taught me and my dad and Holly to make over the summer. The ubiquitous lava cake is made new with ube halaya (purple yam jam). And Abi’s Fiesta Fruit Salad will have you oozing with nostalgia.
The Guest, by Emma Cline (fiction)
This creepy book was everywhere this year, talked about by many. Mark and I both loved it.
I don’t think any of these was published in 2023, but this is the best of what I read.
Ride the Pink Horse, by Dorothy Hughes (fiction)
Best noir of the year, even if it was written in 1947. Thank you to my friend Bob Spitz.
Slouching towards Utopia, by J Bradford DeLong (nonfiction)
An alt-Marxist analysis of how and why the twentieth century (or, to be clear, from 1870 on) has been the most important era in human history.
Bewilderment, by Richard Powers (fiction)
It almost doesn’t matter what it’s “about” — Powers is a wonderful writer.
I Have Some Questions for You, by Rebecca Makkai (fiction)
The highest quality murder mystery imaginable. Brilliant.
The Disappearance of Josef Mengele, by Olivier Guez (fiction)
A historical novel. I’m not even sure I can say I “enjoyed” this, but it’s interesting and compelling.
Il Profilo dell’Altra, by Irene Graziosi (fiction)
I had a great deal of trouble with this, because I read it in Italian, and I’m like a five-year-old in that language. If you know someone who reads Italian, get it. And the English edition is out in February, so we can all read it together.
The Sixties, by Todd Gitlin (nonfiction)
Highly highly recommended, whether you lived through them or not. Todd was an SDS leader, a lifelong activist, a brilliant chronicler and a wonderful writer. (RIP.) A re-read for me, and worth it again.
The Baron in the Trees, by Italo Calvino (fiction)
I always wanted to read Calvino (in English!) so finally did. Let’s say you have to be in the mood for it, but if you are it’s enchanting.
Blackouts, by Justin Torres (fiction)
This is certainly not an original thought, since it won this year’s National Book Award for Fiction, but Blackouts is an amazing read. Torres employs layers of always-shifting reality to look at the recovery of queer history and the effects of our growing up in a state of “not knowing,” while also delving into the creation of identity, the power of myth (for good and evil), and (dare I say it?) the nature of eroticism — all without being obnoxious or deliberately obfuscatory, which is quite a balancing act.
When You Call My Name, by Tucker Shaw (fiction)
Full disclosure: Tucker is a personal friend. That accounts for why I found this book, which is (unfortunately, in my opinion) categorized by the publisher as Young Adult; it doesn’t account for why I loved it. More than any other book I’ve read, it brings the terror and excitement and wonder and fear of being a gay teen coming of age in New York as the thrill of sexual freedom and centering of identity runs into the horror of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It should be required reading for anyone who is ever tempted to downplay or discount what this period of time meant to a generation of queer Americans.
Start Simple: Eleven Everyday Ingredients for Countless Weeknight Meals, by Lukas Volger (cookbook)
Most of the cookbooks I turn to over and over involve the culture as well as the recipes of other countries; those are the ones that teach me the most. But there are also some that just give you good ideas for simple, unusual, delicious things to make for dinner. The most recent of these, for me, is Start Simple. It’s a very handy book to have on hand if you just want to see what you have in the ‘fridge and get some help in making something easy and delicious that you might not have thought of yourself. Also, for those of us trying to eat less meat, it’s nice that it’s vegetarian.
Birnam Wood, by Eleanor Catton (fiction)
Billionaire a-holes, conflicted idealists, and power gardening come together in a pre-apocalyptic setting. Through the mayhem you’ll keep thinking, “Why aren’t they eating better than 1970s American hippies?”
Land of Milk and Honey, by C Pam Zhang (fiction)
Now mid-apocalypse, these billionaire a-holes are chowing way too high on the food chain as a mad scientist’s personal chef struggles with tasting menus and the boss’s daughter. The gory and glistening descriptions of animal-based meals are not for the weak-of-stomach. But you’ll push away from the table with a head full of questions on entitlement and consumption, and probably eat only salads for a week.
Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus (fiction)
Cooking-Show Barbie is coming to the small screen. If you haven’t already, please read the book first. Even if you didn’t grow up watching Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child, your own imagined portrait of Elizabeth Zott will be inspirational, heroic, and probably look like someone you know.