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Your guide to

Once Upon a Time

We've handpicked our absolute favorite books across all genres and age groups. Each is a wonderful reminder that reading is still awesome.

Tenth of December: Stories

  • #teens
  • #adults
  • #short-stories
  • #best-ever
  • #sci-fi-future

On January 3, 2013 (pretty early for this kind of proclamation if you ask us), The New York Times ran a piece entitled:

George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year

More like The Hyperbole Times, am i right?

Anyhow, it piqued our interest. Then, in August, they went and published another piece on Georgie Boy. This time it was about a commencement address he had just given at Syracuse University. Now they had our attention (read it, you’ll be happy you did).

The 10th of December is a collection of short stories (perfect for subway reading) and you can finish it in no time. It’s as incredible as we were lead to believe. Equal parts dreamlike, hilarious, visceral, and inventive. For your gift, maybe print out the commencement and give it alongside the book?

$18.04 on Amazon

The Story of Ferdinand

  • #kids

This may be my favorite kids book. Ferdinand is a bull that is super into flowers and not so down with fighting. He’d rather just LOL all day in the shade with some choice petals than crack his bull head against the heads of other bulls.

As a reader, at first you’ll be like “Hey Ferdinand, be a team player.” but then later you’ll be like “Whatevs, you can just chill.” Especially if you do any thinking at all about what actually happens to bulls at the end of bullfights.

The drama happens when one day the bull scouts show up at bull town to pick which bulls “get” to go be in the bullfight. At first they ignore Ferdinand because he’s not brawling. But then he gets stung by a bee and he’s not even sure if he’s allergic to bees so he starts freaking out. Turns out, freaking out is the number one thing bull scouts look for in a bull so they pick him. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that the illustrations are phe-no-men-al. Put them in front of your kids eyeballs as soon as possible.

$3.59 on Amazon

Rookie Yearbook Two

  • #girls
  • #teenagers

BLAM! The perfect gift for your favorite teenage girl. Yearbook Two is the second yearbook put out by Rookie, the excellent online publication for teenage girls. I think they describe it best:

350 pages of articles, interviews, collages, photo editorials, and illustrations from Rookie’s second year — in print! Also: stickers, tarot cards, a cootie catcher, and lots of beautiful writing and art.

I mean, c'mon, you get a cootie catcher! It's also got contributions from Mindy Kaling, Judy Blume, Grimes, and Lena Dunham. OMGs guaranteed. Expect your giftee to feel a mixture of jealousy and undying love for Editor-in-Chief Tavi Gevinson who founded Rookie when she was just fifteen years old and recently starred alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini (RIP) in the movie Enough Said. O_O

For an easy intro into Rookie, check out their Ask a Grown Woman and Ask a Grown Man video series. If you’re feeling generous, throw Yearbook One into the mix as well.

$21.56 on Amazon

The Fixer: A Novel

  • #classic
  • #sleeper-hit
  • #russia

The Fixer is a book by Bernard Malamud, who also wrote The Natural which got made into a Robert Redford movie that was pretty good. A better title would be The Sleeper, because for some bonkers reason, almost nobody has heard of this wonderful book that is one of just a handful of books to win both The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Whatevs, I guess.

The book is good. It will grab ahold of you. You will be stressing alongside Yakov Bok, the main character. There was one part where I actually shouted “NOOOOOOOO!” out loud. On that note, if you get to that part, please tweet at us so we can commiserate. I don’t like being the only one carrying the trauma around.

Pro tip: The Fixer takes about 20–30 pages to really get going, so be patient.

Fun facts:

  1. Don Draper reads The Fixer in an episode of Mad Men.
  2. Pearl Jam (a band from the 90s) named a song after it.

$11.79 on Amazon

I Want My Hat Back

  • #kids
  • #but-also-adults
  • #bear
  • #hat

We’ve all been there. You wake up one morning, grasp your head, and announce “My hat is gone.” Unlike you and me, though, the bear in this story actually goes and does something about it. No spoilers here, you’ll have to see for yourself whether or not he gets it back.

LOLs guaranteed. It’s great for kids, but adults will get a kick out of it and will for sure enjoy reading it to their kids. The illustration work is fantastic. Jon Klassen, the writer / illustrator is a great illustrator in general. Check his Tumblr.

$12.91 on Amazon

How To Be Black

  • #all-ages
  • #how-to-book
  • #be-black

"If you don’t buy this book, you’re a racist."

Not our words, but those of Baratunde Thurston, author of How To Be Black and general haver of a badass name. Strong words, but Baratunde does offer an out. You're only on the hook if you can answer yes to one of his three questions:

  • Have you ever been called “too black” or “not black enough”?
  • Have you ever befriended or worked with a black person?
  • Have you ever heard of black people?

It’s a New York Times Bestseller. It comes packed with comedy and truth. It saves you from being racist. Not bad for twelve bucks.

Pro tips:

  1. Alert your gift-receiver to Baratunde’s latest venture: Cultivated Wit which marries comedy & technology at Lucy & Desi levels.
  2. We recently heard that the audio edition is even better as it is read by Baratunde himself. If you’re interested, fall in love with his voice on WTF with Marc Maron.

$12.27 on Amazon

Get Shorty: A Novel

  • #adults
  • #crime-fiction
  • #gritty
  • #fast-paced

This year, a guy named Elmore Leonard died, which is kind of a downer because Elmore is a super cool name and now we have one less in the world. It turns out to be an even bigger downer because this particular Elmore also happened to be an amazing crime author.

At his passing, tribute was paid by the likes of James Franco, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Neil Gaiman, M. Night Shyamalan, and Ed Finkler.

For your gift, we’re recommending one of his better known books, Get Shorty, which is about a short person that some other people are trying to get. But really, any of his books are worth a read. To give you a sense of what you’re getting yourself in to, we’d like to direct you to Elmore's 10th rule of writing:

Leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

That’s what you can expect. No nonsense, no bullshit, crime writing. As a bonus, if they like Get Shorty, there’s a lot more where that came from. The gift isn’t just the book, it’s the author.

$11.75 on Amazon

A Wizard of Earthsea

  • #all-ages
  • #fantasy
  • #wizards
  • #dragons
  • #magic

I was doing a little Internetting on one of my favorite people, Hayao Miyazaki (how great is his smile on that wiki page?) who wrote / directed / everything’d Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and more. He often gets called the Walt Disney of Japan because he has a real anti-semitic streak.

Anyhow, on his wikipedia page it says that Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea is a huge influence on all of his works and he keeps her books by his bedside. There’s an old saying that goes “When your favorite people have favorite people, those people are double favorite.” So, Ursula is my new double favorite.

Earthsea (amazing for a world) is a series of six short books. This book is the first. If you know someone who likes wizards, magic, dragons, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit then you know someone who will love this book.

P.S., Ursula is 84 and still writing. Keep 'em coming, Ursula! We love you!

$7.19 on Amazon


  • #all-ages
  • #bio
  • #comedy
  • #Tina-Fey

Look at that cover. I already had a pretty significant crush on Tina Fey, but now that I know she can comfort me in those brawny arms, I’m beside myself. (Side note: I wonder where “beside myself” came from. Just spitballing here, but I think maybe it means like when you’re really tired or groggily hungover, and you feel less like you’re one with your body and more like you’re a clumsy little person inside your body who’s operating your body with all kinds of levers, but it’s your first day on the job, so you’re not very good at it.)

Back to the book. Tina Fey is the best. The book is a breezy read. Funny. Self-deprecating. Empowering. Wonderful. Whoever you give it to will be a happier person at the end of it.

Just looked up the origin of “beside myself” and it says:

Originally came from a phrase used in the Bible, in 2 Corinthians 5:13: For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.

So there’s that but who really knows. Moral of the story? Buy Bossypants.

$8.09 on Amazon


  • #all-ages
  • #comic-book
  • #limited

I like comics so you’re gonna get a comic book recommendation. This one is for all ages and it’s one of the most innovative, simple comic books I’ve read. It’s about a detective whose job it is to track down folks who haven’t returned their library books. It’s beautifully drawn. It’s a sweet premise. It’s a lot of fun. As a note, it’s the only book on this list that seems to have a limited number of copies available so grab it right away if you’re interested. Seriously, though. Look at that cover art. So dope.

$40 on Amazon

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