Books

11 of the best books for gifts in 2021

Don’t know what to get your mate? We’ve compiled a list of books that’ll make excellent gifts – no matter what their taste!

Books for gifts are a tricky thing to navigate — some people like romance, some people like fantasy, some people hate reading altogether (hard to believe, I know)! But the magic of books is that there are literally so many out there.

The data nerds over at Google estimated that there were almost 130 million in 2010. So, if we try to extrapolate that figure for 2021, well, you get the point. To make life easier, we’ve gathered a mix of iconic and lesser-known novels and non-fiction books to gift all of your friends!

Jack kerouac reading
Jack Kerouac reading at The Village Vanguard, December 1957. (Photo: (c) Phillip A Harrington)

For someone who loves a road trip: On the Road – Jack Kerouac (1957)

Probably the most iconic roadtrip novel of all time, On The Road is a roman à clef, based on the experiences of Kerouac’s own travels around America with his friends. Many of the characters represent real-life figures of the Beat movement: William S. Burroughs (Old Bull Lee), Allen Ginsberg (Carlo Marx), and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty), and Sal Paradise (Kerouac).

Having influenced multiple generations of artists, writers, musicians and creatives, the book — which explores themes of sex, drugs, friendships, religion and travel — is one of the most iconic novels of all time, and the perfect gift for someone who loves being on the road.

on the road
Photo: Penguin

For someone who’s an aspiring BookToker: It Ends with Us – Colleen Hoover (2016)

For anyone that has ever been on BookTok, there’s one book that has dominated every level of the TikTok sub-culture for the past six months: It Ends With Us. A novel that has been described as “the most heartbreaking novel you’ll ever read,” it was first published in 2016. A couple years down the track, there was a huge sales bump in November 2020, which has been attributed to Colleen Hoover’s novel trending on TikTok.

It Ends With Us “has [now] sold more than 308,000 copies since the start of 2021—with sales peaking at just over 29,000 copies in the week ended August 14—and just shy of 450,000 since its 2016 release,” according to BookScan, making it an excellent gift for someone who’s getting around BookTok.

ss it ends with us
Photo: Simon and Schuster

For someone who’s obsessed with world literature: The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini (2003)

Set in Kabul, Afghanistan, The Kite Runner tells the story of two friends, Amir and Hassan who are experts in the art of kite flying — a popular Afghani pastime — as they navigate the devastation of war at their doorsteps. It’s a story of friendship, love and betrayal, and in addition to being described as one of the most unforgettable novels of the 21st century, paints a complex portrait of Afghanistan over the several decades of conflict in the region.

Bringing special resonance in light of the Fall of Kabul in 2021, The Kite Runner is a brilliant book to gift someone who’s interested in reading about a world beyond their own.

gift the kite runner
Photo: Kobo

For someone who’s obsessed with fantasy: His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman (1995-2000)

Personally, I rank this series amongst the top three fantasy books ever written. His Dark Materials is by far one of the most expansive, complex fantasy series of ALL time. Following the life of Lyra Belaqua, who lives in an alternate version of our reality, the series is a stunning exploration of religion, theocracy, human relationships and the nature of truth.

While it’s possible for someone who’s obsessed with fantasy to have already read this book, there is now a prequel series titled The Book of Dust, which I would also highly recommend — both are the perfect books to gift someone who loves fantasy, or just damn fine storytelling!

his dark materials penguin
Photo: Penguin

For someone who loves reading about history: The Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia – Bill Arthur, Frances Morphy (2005)

The Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia is a unique tool for understanding the experiences of First Nations people, by exploring the landscape of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives, from over 60,000 years ago to the present time. As described by the publisher: “[the book] visually represents patterns of human activities in space and time. The maps, which form the core of the book, are supplemented by explanatory text and numerous diagrams, photographs and illustrations, including Indigenous artworks.”

A collaborative publication between the Australian National University (ANU), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Macquarie Dictionary, The Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia is an excellent book to gift someone who’s interested in the original history of Australia.

pan macmillan macquarie
Photo: Pan Macmillan

For someone who claims to be a literary aficionado: Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (1996)

Notorious for being one of the most difficult books to read in the English language, Infinite Jest is one of those books that only a handful of people have read. While it could be because the book is over 1000 pages, or that David Foster Wallace uses a variety of post-modern narrative techniques (footnotes lol), most mere mortals have not been able to complete or comprehend the book.

For anyone that claims to be “well-read,” I DARE you to buy this book and try to give me a one page summary of events. While deeply complex (and confusing), it’s also one of the rare critically acclaimed books that have elevated its author to “genius” status. The millennial Ulysses, Infinite Jest is a mammoth novel that deserves to be on the bookshelves of anyone claiming to be an avid reader.

infinite jest
Photo: Amazon

For someone who’s a secret romantic: Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney (2015)

Sally Rooney is probably familiar to every millennial reader — unless they live under a rock — because of the insane success of her second novel, Normal People. While Normal People is probably the more straightforward romance with a heavy “will-they-won’t-they” track, Rooney’s first novel (in my humble opinion) Conversations with Friends is much more accessible as a book for gifting a cynical, yet secret romantic.

Set in Ireland, it follows the lives of two ex-girlfriends and best friends, Frances and Bobbi, and a married couple, Nick and Melissa, as they navigate the disorientation of connection, love, intelligence and miscommunication in the millennial era of social media.

amazon cwf book for gift
Photo: Amazon

For someone who’s a budding polyglot: Australia’s Original Languages: An Introduction – R. M. W. Dixon (2019)

Described as “a must-read for all who would like to understand the languages and culture of Indigenous Australians,” by Dr Ernie Grant, Elder of the Jirrbal nation, Australia’s Original Languages is a book that has examples from over 30 languages and anecdotes illustrating language use. The book explains the distinctive features of Indigenous languages, and is described to be accessible to readers who haven’t got any prior knowledge of learning language, while expounding how language reflects traditional culture.

australia's original languages
Photo: Allen & Unwin

For someone who doesn’t like to read: Maus – Art Spiegelman (1980)

Graphic novels are by far the easiest, and most interesting, way to getting someone into reading if they *hate* to read. Maus depicts author Art Spiegelman, interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The novel is considered a classic of the genre and was one of the first graphic novels to receive significant academic attention in the English-speaking world. Sublimely illustrated, Maus is the perfect gift to give a literary newbie.

maus amazon books for gift
Photo: Amazon

For someone who’s seen the movies but hasn’t read the damn book: Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

Watching films yet actively avoiding the books that they’re based on just feels like a grave, unforgivable atrocity. Maybe it’s a pretentious way to live, but I stand by it. In the case of The Lord of The Rings, I can try to understand why — the novels are long, intricately constructed, and richly detailed. But isn’t that the fun of it all?

One of the best selling literary series’ of all time, J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece reinvented the high fantasy genre and influenced many filmmakers, directors, writers and artists across the world. If you know someone who loved the movies, it’d be worth gifting them the wonderful, beloved book series too. Plus, the box sets are always beautifully packaged.

lotr amazon
Photo: Amazon

For someone seeking Oprah-recommended spiritual enlightenment: A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle

A worldwide bestseller, A New Earth has been described as empowering people to live a more conscious, fulfilled life — perhaps, for this reason, Eckhart Tolle’s self-help book has a legion of fans which interestingly enough, including celebrities. As well as being recommended as Oprah’s 61st book in her Book Club, A New Earth also counts comedian Jim Carrey as an admirer. Of the non-fiction, he said: “Eckhart’s philosophy is basically about the idea that the present moment is all that we have… It’s all there is and all there ever will be.”

He continued: “Sometimes I’ve spent two hours of my day thinking about one person I resent and going through orations and [thinking], ‘If he ever says this, I’ll say that. I find myself now when I get caught up in something like that, becoming conscious suddenly and going, ‘Oh, wait, I’m here. I’m not with that person right now. I’m creating things that don’t even exist.’ It’s useless. It’s time badly spent.”

a new earth eckhart
Photo: The Hollywood Reporter