Every December, Icelanders celebrate the holidays—and their love of books—with a “book flood.” This year, we’re bringing Jólabókaflóð to American living rooms with our favorite literary gifts!
Need some books for your parents who love to read? A few gifts for the people you taught you to read, perhaps? After all, reading with children “helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world,” as The Washington Post’s Amy Joyce writes. So, what better way to celebrate the people who introduced you to the world of books—and the world itself—than by offering a bit of it back to them? Looking for books for mom? If your mom loves page-turners as much as you do, warm her heart with a tale that will make her pulse race. Looking for books for dad? If you’ve got the kind of dad who calls you while he’s watching the news, assign him some reading before your next chat. Consider it a tribute to your origin story. Below, find great book recommendations for parents who love to read as much as you do.
- On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
“History does not repeat,” Yale historian Timothy Snyder argues, “but it does instruct.” His diagnosis of our country’s political sickness is a grim one: While America’s founding fathers structured our government with the intent to inoculate it against the threats they imagined for us, we now face dangers they didn’t foresee. His prescriptions are education and action, and he argues that we must learn from the Europeans who faced totalitarianism in the twentieth century, educate ourselves offline about the issues and institutions that matter most, and take direct responsibility for defending the truth—for in an age where facts don’t matter, no one can criticize power and we are vulnerable to control. As Daniel W. Drezner of the New York Times Book Review suggests, “Approach this short book the same way you would a medical pamphlet warning about an infectious disease. Read it carefully and be on the lookout for symptoms.”
- The Little French Bistro by Nina George
What does a woman have to do to end her rotten life in peace these days? German army wife Marianne Messman tries to wriggle out of her despair by jumping from the Pont Neuf into the Seine during a trip to Paris, but a good Samaritan fishes her out and deposits her at the hospital. She then heads for the Breton coast with the intention of strolling into the sea . . . and finds herself working as a sous chef in a local bistro full of fishermen and tourists. As in George’s much-beloved The Little Paris Bookshop, where a shopkeeper prescribed books to address his customers’ afflictions, this tale is full of unconventional cures: a raw potato can remedy an over-salted soup, an outsider’s perspective can untangle a knot of provincial romantic intrigue, and an artist might help a heroine who believed she was at the end of her story realize she’s been at the beginning all along.
- Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
Even Sue Grafton didn’t expect to spend nearly four decades keeping readers up long into the night with her tales of cunning California P.I. Kinsey Millhone: “I wasn’t even sure I could sell A is for Alibi,” she’s confessed. Twenty-four books (and letters) later, her Alphabet series has made it all the way to Y is for Yesterday, which debuted atop the New York Times bestseller list in September and catches up with Kinsey in 1989, when a ten-year-old tape of four private-school teens assaulting a female classmate resurfaces in the hands of a blackmailer. Grafton’s latest novel is just the second one in which she’s incorporated elements of non-fictional wrongdoing (the other is Q for Quarry); in this case, Grafton has dovetailed and expanded two very real crimes in order to send her detective off in the service of justice once more. Gift a good flashlight along with this book: It’s Kinsey Millhone’s darkest case report to date.
- The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook by Coco Morante
LeftySpoon.com blogger and Instant Pot Recipes Facebook page webmistress Coco Morante has a knack for teaching amateur cooks how to make the most of what’s in their kitchens—after all, she’s self-taught (and now works as a recipe developer for sites and publications like The Kitchn and Simply Recipes). Coco’s a Northern California girl, so it’s no surprise that her take on foolproof weekday meals from everyone’s favorite electric pressure cooker are full of fresh, healthy ingredients; they also happen to be flavor-packed crowd-pleasers. This cookbook is an indispensable guide for both Instant Pot newbies and old pros, as it provides both a general introduction to the gadget and walks more adventurous users through their own Instant Pot recipe conversions.
- Portraits of Courage by George W. Bush
Featuring 66 full-color oil paintings, a four-panel mural, and personal stories of members of the United States military, Portraits of Courage is an outgrowth of former President George W. Bush’s firsthand experience with the men and women who have served our country since 9/11. The George W. Bush Institute’s Service Initiative—which will receive all of the author’s profits for the book—supports veterans as they transition back to civilian life by connecting them with quality care and peer-to-peer networks, helping them navigate the job market and find meaningful employment, and empowering other nonprofits that serve military personnel and their families to serve as allies in providing them the backup they deserve. “Our warriors are the one percent of America who kept the 99 percent safe,” former President Bush has said. “We have a duty to help make their transitions as successful as possible.”
- The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
It’s 1940 in the English village of Chilbury, and singing appears to be the latest victim of World War II. Europe’s battlefields have claimed the local choir’s men and the vicar has declared it on hiatus. Not so, says a local music professor, Miss Primrose Trent: the ladies will form their own group, thank you very much. For the next six months, the stories of the ladies in said choir and community unfold in a kaleidoscopic array of letters and journal entries. These are wartime dramas, strictly speaking, but the homefront takes center stage: The uproarious, improbable, heartbreaking stories of the lovers, mourners, and even surreptitious baby-swappers left behind in Chilbury are every bit as engrossing as concurrent, more explicit conflicts between the Allied and Axis forces.
- The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 1 by Robert Lacey
The thoughtful, critically-acclaimed Netflix series that traces the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II owes its accuracy to royal biographer Robert Lacey, who serves as the show’s historical consultant. QEII aficionados will thrill to Lacey’s accompanying volume of stories behind the stories, featuring both art from the show and archival photos of the newly-minted monarch and her contemporaries. This installment begins with young Elizabeth’s comparatively carefree life with her new husband, follows her through King George VI’s untimely passing and her sudden ascendance to the throne, and chronicles her early clashes with Winston Churchill. Lacey’s got this material down cold: He also worked with series creator Peter Morgan on his Oscar-winning movie The Queen (2006), and he’s been writing about the royal family for more than 40 years.
- The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
Lisbeth Salander fans heaved a long-held sigh of relief when Stieg Larsson’s anointed successor (chosen by his estate to propel his literary legacy past the three novels he finished before his death in 2004) reintroduced his spiky heroine with a flourish. With 2015’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Swedish journalist David Lagercrantz won both critical acclaim and purists’ approval. In this fifth volume of Larsson’s Millennium series, Lagercrantz takes us (and Lisbeth) back to her twisted roots: She’s got a chance to answer questions that have tormented her since childhood, and with journalist Mikael Blomkvist at her side, she hacks her way (both literally and figuratively) through mad scientists, gangsters, and even her own evil twin. She’ll get to her origins or die trying.
- Camino Island by John Grisham
If John Grisham’s twenty-plus legal thrillers are the world’s vacation reading, this could be his first vacation writing. Conceived as he and his wife road tripped down to Florida, this jaunty meta-narrative sets a frustrated young writer-turned-sleuth, Mercer Mann, on the trail of book thieves who have lifted priceless F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton. If she finds the prized documents, her mysterious client will pay off her college-loan debts and reward her handsomely. What fledgling novelist could resist going undercover? Camino Island presents itself as a caper novel punctuated with cheeky asides on book collecting, but there’s more than meets the eye, of course, behind Grisham’s idyllic, small-town bookstore backdrop. Mind your seatbelt on this road trip.
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Some blazes—like the one in the first line of Celeste Ng’s barnstorming second novel—are visible from miles around. “Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.” Others are so subtle that the kindlers themselves might not feel the heat. They are the ones that crackle through this tale: In Cleveland’s sleepy suburbs (where Ng herself grew up), communities are planned within an inch of their inhabitants’ lives, and identity crises that might consume less intentional neighborhoods are miles away. Right? Ng—who was a miniaturist before she became a writer—maps out her characters’ territories and inks the borders between families in painstaking detail. She then sends them—and our assumptions—up in smoke.
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Featured image: Elsa Jenna