Books

21 of the best books for gifts in 2022

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 novel:

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
Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luiselli (2019)

Inspired by the current American policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexico-America border, Lost Children Archive follows an unnamed narrator, her husband, and two children, as they drive from New York to Apacheria, the place the Apaches — a group of Native American tribes — once called home.

Having won the 2021 International Dublin Literary Award and 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, as well as a slew of nominations that include the 2019 Booker Prize, Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive is a celebrated road-trip novel that reflects on both personal and political anxieties in the modern age.

valeria luiselli books for gifts
Photo: EW

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
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens (2018)

Where the Crawdads Sing follows the lead protagonist Kya, who’s left to raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina after being abandoned by her family. A blend of bildungsroman, crime, and mystery genres, Where the Crawdads Sing experienced the BookTok effect, spending 124 weeks on The New York Times Fiction Bestseller list. It’s a great gift for someone who’s into trending books.

where teh crawdads sing best book
Photo: Amazon

For someone who loves a good music bio:

Crying in H Mart – Michelle Zauner (2021)

Indie rockstar Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast fame, first novel Crying in H Mart is a powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and finding her way back to herself. In this beautiful story of family, food, grief, and perseverance.  Zauner leads the reader through painful adolescence, all the way to meeting the man who would become her husband. Zauner shares what it took to regain a sense of herself, and her identity, which she felt alienated from, and it was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, that forced upon Zauner a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim her tastes, language, and the history her mother had given her.

crying in h mart
Credit: Penguin

For someone who’s obsessed with world literature:

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe (1958)

Things Fall Apart details pre-colonial life in Nigeria, the invasion by Europeans in the late 19th century, and the eventual Partition of Africa. It inspired a generation of African writers and continues to be beloved amongst the literary community. Notably, South-African revolutionary and eventual President Nelson Mandela had read the book in prison, and described Achebe as “the writer in whose company the prison walls fell down.” 

things fall apart
Photo: Penguin
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (1981)

Midnight’s Children follows the life of Saleem Sinai, one of 1,001 children born at the midnight of 15 August 1947, who have been gifted with extraordinary, supernatural talents. As reviewed in The Guardian: “Salman Rushdie’s second novel took the Indian English novel, revolutionised it by marrying the fiction of Austen and Dickens with the oral narrative tradition of India, and made a “magical realist” (the label was still in its infancy) novel for a new generation.” 

The only triple-Booker winner in the history of the prize, Salman Rushdie’s masterpiece Midnight’s Children is a wonder to behold.

midnight's children gift
Photo: Penguin
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.

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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’s into reading historical non-fiction:

Precolonial Black Africa – Cheikh Anta Diop (1988)

Written by Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop, Precolonial Black Africa provides a vital African perspective on the history of the continent. By comparing European and African social, political, and economic structures — from antiquity to modern ages — Diop details an analysis of Africa’s immeasurable contributions to modern Western civilization. It’s an excellent book; a must-read for anyone that’s into reading about history.

precolonial black africa books for gifts
Photo: Kobo
The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II – Iris Chang (1997)

The Rape of Nanking is a bestselling work by American journalist Iris Chang that details the events of the Nanking Massacre during the second Sino-Japanese War. Having initial inspiration from her grandparents’ stories of escaping the massacre, Chang’s book discusses three different perspectives of the atrocity: the Japanese soldiers who committed it, of the Chinese civilians who endured it, and of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city.

A fair warning: The Rape of Nanking is a harrowing and uneasy read. In saying that, it’s equally as urgent and insightful in its mission to shine a light on one of the darkest chapters of history.

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Photo: SCMP
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:

Dubliners – James Joyce (1914)

So, Ulysses is probably the first Jocyean book that comes to mind when thinking of high Modernism, but I counter you with Dubliners. On the surface level, it may look less ostentatiously experimental than his other works. However, the rich symbolism and subversion of closure or plot — as would be expected for any conventional narrative of Joyce’s era — was revolutionary for its context.

Written in the throes of the Irish Literary Revival, Joyce’s collection of stories feature several middle-class Dubliners, all of whom experience a sense of class consciousness and social paralysis. Reflective of the divisions in the Ireland of the writer’s time, Dubliners is an extraordinary work that delves into the nuances of the ordinary. It’d make an excellent gift for a bookworm!

dubliners james joyce
Photo: Amazon
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.

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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 get 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
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood – Marjane Satrapi (2007)

Adapted into a Jury Prize-winning film, Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel that traces Marjane Satrapi’s adolescence and early adulthood in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, as well as her eventual migration to Europe. With beautiful illustrations, Persepolis is a universally-acclaimed memoir-style-graphic-novel and is the perfect gift to sneakily get someone started on reading books!

persepolis books for gifts
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
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (1997)

The name that launched a million-dollar franchise and a legion of worldwide fans, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone is the first book in the generation-defining series. It’s much more detailed than the film, including many more fan-favourite characters (e.g. Peeves), as well as more intricate plot points (e.g. Snape’s potion puzzle). Second, only to J.R.R. Tolkien’s  The Hobbit, J.K. Rowling’s book is one of the best-selling novels of all time — so it’s definitely about time that you grab your friend a copy!

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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.”

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Photo: The Hollywood Reporter