Books make great gifts, but ﬁguring out just which book is the perfect gift for which friend can be crazy-making. Not only do you have their taste (or lack thereof) to consider, and the occasion itself, but also the given friend’s current emotional state due to what phase of a relationship they may or may not be in. The stakes are even more stressful with someone you are, or hope to be, more than friends with. Here is a situational guide to book-gifting, comprised entirely of books published in 2013 (because everyone who wants a copy of Pride and Prejudice already has one).
Your Friend Who Was Just Dumped
Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh
Allie Brosh’s ﬁrst collection includes new work and favorites from her blog. It is hilarious and heartbreaking, a perfect one-two combination for the recently dumped – not so relentlessly cheerful as to be annoying, but funny and relatable enough to get the depressed laughing again. The ﬁrst story, in which Brosh unearths a letter she wrote to her adult self as a child, made me laugh harder than I ever have in my life. Brosh deals with everything from confronting childhood weirdness, to a moving depiction of living with depression, to how to tell if your dog belongs on the short bus.
Your Friend Who Needs to Realize She’s Better Off on Her Own
The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
Do you have a bad-ass artist friend who rides motorcycles — really fast — and is dating a handsome, rich Italian who is a little too friendly with other women? Probably not, and we don’t need to gift people books that are spot-on “about” them, but it is good when you can give someone a story that will speak to their own experience. The Flamethrowers was the best new novel I read in 2013. Buy it for someone who likes perfect, laser-sharp sentences that come out of nowhere, someone who is smart but a little lost, or someone who simply likes a damn good book.
Someone You Want to Break Up With But Can’t Quite
Goodbye to All That, edited by Sari Botton
A collection of stories about breaking up with New York, named after the Joan Didion essay about leaving the city. Here, sometimes the breakup sticks, sometimes they get back together, sometimes it’s hard to leave and sometimes it’s impossible to stay. Also appropriate to give to someone who is leaving the city for whatever reason, or someone just arriving.
Someone You Want to Be With Till the End — Of Everything
One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, Lucy Corin
Lucy Corin’s collection contains three longer stories, and, yes, one hundred apocalypses. Corin will prepare you for any version of the end, from ghosts to dinosaurs to witches to more familiar apocalypses – like the end of a relationship. Some are funny and some are sad and some are too weird to describe, but all 100 (and three!) are worth reading.
Your Friend Who Just Ended a Relationship
Even Though I Don’t Miss You, Chelsea Martin
You might know Chelsea Martin from her regular comic, “Heavy-Handed,” on The Rumpus. Her collection of short poems about art and relationships (don’t worry, they’re completely unpretentious and don’t rhyme or anything) is perfect in the wake of a breakup. Martin’s writing is so sad and so very funny and so very full of great moments where she captures something you didn’t realize you feel. An example poem in its entirety: “Sex is so weird. There’s always that moment like who is going to undress me?”
A Friend Who Doesn’t Realize the Breakup was His/Her Fault (and Maybe Lives in a Weird Midwestern Bizarro Town with Vigilante Librarians)
The Facades, Eric Lundgren
Eric Lundgren’s debut novel has wonderfully noir elements and is narrated by a man whose wife has gone missing after going out to buy an egg for her throat (she’s an opera singer, evidently that’s an opera singer thing). He searches for her on the streets of their town, Trude, and gradually confronts the truth of her disappearance in a place featuring, yes, vigilante librarians, an improbable opera house, a shopping mall that is quite literally a labyrinth, an asylum that seems an awful lot like an MFA program, and more.
Your Female Friend Who’s “One of the Boys”
Drinking with Men, Rosie Schaap
Rosie Schaap’s lively memoir of her time in bars is perfect for the girl who loves being treated like one of the guys, which can be frustrating when she wants to kiss those guys sometimes. Schaap, who writes the “Drink” column in the New York Times Magazine, is an energetic and warm storyteller, and the book celebrates bar culture at its best: when your local watering hole is a haven, a place you feel at home.
Your Friend Who Is Stuck in a Relationship that Makes Him Act Not Quite Like Himself
Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell
The title story of Russell’s new collection features two vampires who have been together for centuries. They are the only vampires they’ve ever met, and they’re kind of tired of each other. They’ve discovered a specific type of lemon that will sate their thirst for blood, but the “husband” vampire is suddenly afraid of ﬂying and begins to miss his own horrifying mythology. There are also dead presidents reincarnated as horses (yup), tailgating the food chain in Antarctica, and a silkworm girl revolution.
Someone You Just Started Dating
This is too speciﬁc and personal for me to recommend a particular title, but here are some ideas: A rare/collectible/old book with a cool cover from a favorite writer is always a thoughtful—but not overly intimate or extravagant—gift for this stage. I’ve also very much enjoyed going to the bookstore together and picking out books for each other. It takes away most of the pressures and anxieties associated with gifting—What are we doing? Oh my god did they get me something? Is it too much? What if mine’s too much?—by making it something you do together.
Amanda Bullock is the director of public programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, co-organizer of the Downtown Literary Festival, and co-creator and -organizer of Moby-Dick Marathon NYC.