How to Pick the Perfect Book for a Gift

wooden book shelves loaded with books, with plush blue chair in the corner against a white wall
Scene from a cozy used bookstore I came across in Hamilton, ON during my summer road trip. Used bookstores are a great place to find unique titles or beautiful editions of classic books that make great gifts – just make sure they’re in good condition!

The holiday season is here, and if you’re like me that means that the crushing dread of trying to find the perfect present for your loved ones is here as well. We all have one person who feels impossible to shop for, but even if they aren’t big bookworms, a book can still make a thoughtful and memorable gift.

For example, last Christmas I was gifted Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. I had never read the book or anything by the author before, and honestly had no idea what it was about before I even started reading it. It was a great gift nonetheless because of the reason it was chosen. I’m a huge 90’s/00’s romcom fan and Serendipity is one of my all time favorites. One specific edition of Love in the Time of Cholera plays a huge part in the movie, so getting that exact edition was not only a fun reference to my favorite movie, but also ended up being a great book selection for me as well.

My next example of book gift-giving is how it can go wrong. A few years ago I was also given a book, this time a collection of poetry. I won’t say who the author was, but it was a very popular poetry anthology at the time, at least judging by the amount of fellow Brooklyn hipsters I saw reading it on the train every morning. I can totally see how that would have been a sure fire hit as a present to a 20-something artistic person. However, what the person didn’t take into account is that I actually never read poetry. I can’t explain it, but sitting down with a whole book of poetry is not something that has ever interested me, especially more the experimental/avant-garde poetry that was in this selection. I still appreciated them taking the time to get me a present of course, but still it sits on my shelf unread.

So, how can we avoid giving a book that will be doomed to collect dust for all eternity? I’ve got a few tips below to help you get through this holiday season and be crowned the Ultimate Gift Giver amongst your friends and family.Look at their other interests in life

Look at the other interests in their life

Maybe the person you’re shopping for isn’t an avid reader, or is but seems to have read everything already. In that case, look at the other types of media they like: what shows, movies, podcasts do they love? Do they love True Crime podcasts and the Investigation Discovery channel? Try I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamera, the book that sparked a nation-wide obsession about a killer who was caught post-publication, or go for the classic In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Do they love RuPaul’s Drag Race? The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara tells the story of the NYC drag ball scene in the 80’s and how drag as we know it came to be (learn your history, babies!). There’s a book for every topic, interest, or niche!

When in doubt, buddy up!

If you find yourself in the middle of your local Barnes and Nobles completely lost and overwhelmed, look for what I call “Book Club Reads”. Your local bookstore associate should be able to help you with this, but basically a book that has enough drama or mystery running throughout it to make it a good buddy read. Get one for yourself and one for your friend, and now not only do you have a present to give them, it’s also a fun activity for you both to do together and bond over. 

Leave an inscription

Some people might try to fight me on this, but I love books with inscriptions! Some book lovers are a bit “book purist” and can’t stand things like dog-eared pages or writing/highlighting in books, so if that sounds like your friend or loved one that you’re shopping for, ignore this. But if not, then a short but sweet inscription on the inside cover is a great way to personalize the gift and make it something that they will cherish. Just make sure your handwriting is legible and everything is spelled correctly, of course.

Covers matter

It’s a fact that’s sad but true – we all absolutely judge our books by their covers. Books are more than something you read, they become our accessories as we read them on the train, they become our home decor when we’re done reading them. Because of that, we naturally gravitate towards prettier covers. So if you already know what book you want to buy your loved one, look into if the book has multiple editions available, and pick the one you think most matches them. For example, look at the three different versions of Moby Dick you could get:

A very “classic” version, for the no-frills type of person
and a more intricate and designed version, for someone who is more particular about the items in their life

(note: “Moby Dick” is notoriously one of the hardest books to read. I don’t recommend getting this for someone unless they have expressed a serious interest in reading it already)

Hopefully this list will help you walk into your office holiday party or family function this winter with confidence, knowing you’re about to give an awesome present that they’ll appreciate and remember.


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