Spoiler alert: I’m getting everyone books, not just my nieces and nephews. Here are the books I’m most excited to give this holiday season, and the people who I think will enjoy them the most.
Look, men are obsessed with the Roman Empire—and if they’re going to obsess over it, then they should get the true story! If you recognize the name Tom Holland, you might be familiar with the historical podcast he co-hosts, The Rest Is History. I am a big fan of the balance the hosts strike between historical and conversational, and I anticipate this book being very similar. It’s a great holiday gift for the man in your life who’s interested in the Roman Empire but needs a thorough education on the topic before he should talk about it in public… maybe your dad. Your brother. Or brother-in-law. Maybe they all need to read it an have a book club about it.
I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Sicily this spring, and let me tell you—aside from the antique hand-painted tiles and perfumes, the food is the thing I wish I could bring back the most. I was also texting my uncle photos of the food the whole time, not only because he’s my godfather (yep, went there), but because Sicilian food is just unbeatable. It’s both Arab and Italian, and look, there is no more indulgently spiced cuisine, fight me. Anyway, this cookbook is not just a cookbook. It’s written by the woman who runs the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, which is dedicated to preserving and sharing their food, and the book itself profiles the land, people, and history, as well as how they inspired the cooking process. I’ll be giving this recipe book/ethnography to my godfather.
Yes, it’s a coffee table book, if you mean it’s visually stunning, but everything about Old Hollywood is stunning. If there’s someone in your life who loves film noir… and loves drinking the cocktails on screen in a glamorous glass, get them this book. The TCM Noir Alley host, Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir, guides you through recipes to drink while you watch some of your favorite—and newly restored—classic cinema. I’m thinking this one might go to my maternal uncle, so we can sip some gin fizzes while we rewatch Streetcar Named Desire.
This book is similar to the one above, but instead of pairing cocktails with films, it pairs them to classic Christmas albums. We’re talking the perfect drink for every musical artist from Mariah Carey to Boyz II Men to Elvis to (my personal favorite) Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s. I actually think this book would be a perfect host(ess) gift, so I’ll grab a copy on the way to an “ugly sweater” party or a swanky cocktail corporate event at the boss’ house. Plus, this is the type of party gift that begets another party, centered around the theme of the book. Hell, this might be a good buy if you’re wanting to host your own holiday party but coming up short on theme ideas. (Note: There’s a secular edition of this book, too, so if you like this concept and want to explore it yearlong, try Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks.)
The authors of this book, Laurelynn and Byron Martin, own Logee’s Plants for Home & Garden, and they have all the tips, tricks, and secrets to growing plants of all kinds in every climate… indoors. Do you want a lemon tree in Minnesota? An olive tree in Georgia? The Martins will tell you how to do that—and there are photos! I happened upon this book in a plant-store-slash-coffee-shop in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I bought it for my husband on the spot. He was just in the other room, so I had to be quick, but the link between him having a green thumb and me never needing to buy overpriced grocery-store herbs again is this book. It’s the gift that keeps giving!
Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.