All products on this page have been selected by the editorial team, however Stylist may make commission on some products purchased through affiliate links in this article
Thrillers, cookbooks, poetry, memoirs and more – be inspired with the best books to buy for Christmas 2021.
In need of some Christmas inspiration? We’ve put together a whole host of original, thoughtful and clever Stylist gift guides for people who love fashion, interiors, independent brands, fitness, sustainable ideas and more. Now, we’ve also collated some of the best books that have landed during 2021.
After all, a beautifully bound hardback or a thoughtful story to transport someone to a different time and place is one of the best gifts you can get. From must-read fiction, including books by Raven Leilani, Sally Rooney, Nadifa Mohamed, Meg Mason and Abigail Dean, to books that’ll make you laugh and memoirs from Bernardine Evaristo, Stanley Tucci and Emily Ratajkowski. We’ve also rounded up the best thrillers, arresting graphic novels, children and YA titles and addictive biographies to create a guaranteed selection that anyone will be thrilled to find under the tree come Christmas morning.
There are also some brilliant pocket essays, novellas and food books that will make for ideal Secret Santa presents. That’s not all: there’s The Feminist Book Box, modern classic prints by We Are Dorothy, and charity giving for the BookTrust’s Christmas appeal. Discover book-inspired gifts for friends, family and even yourself with ideas that’ll keep on giving throughout 2022. Happy buying and reading…
The unmissable fiction buys from 2021
There have been some major books out this year: Sally Rooney’s blockbuster Beautiful World, Where Are You (£16.98, Faber), Natasha Brown’s slim-but-powerful Assembly (£12.99, Penguin) and Raven Leilani’s Luster (£14.99, Pan Macmillan), while Matrix by Lauren Groff (£16.98, Cornerstone) has won legions of fans who are elated by how much they care about 12th century nuns. Emily Itami’s Fault Lines (£12.99, Phoenix) is a funny, whipsmart story of a modern love affair that’ll leave you weeping and hugging the book.
Other releases that shouldn’t be missed include Peaces by the wonderful Helen Oyeyemi (£14.99, Faber), an unsettling, weird and wonderful train journey featuring mongooses and the shadow of the British Empire, and Huma Qureshi’s tender Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love (£16.98, Hodder & Stoughton), which is a series of beautifully written short stories examining the pent-up frustrations and the everyday betrayals that even our closest relationships can cause.
Chibundu Onuzo’s Sankofa (£16.99, Virago) is the story of a mixed-race woman who goes in search of the father she never knew she had. A real pleasure, it’s funny, thought-provoking and holds a light up to everything from cultural differences to colonialism. Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink (£14.99, Phoenix) is like dipping into other people’s lives in a hugely readable story about parents, neighbours and the lies we all tell.
Slim but lethal, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (£10, Faber) is one of those books that will stay with you forever and takes ferocious aim at the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland but also gives hope for the love and care people can show to one another. The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (£14.99, Penguin) has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Based on a historical event, it’s set in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay in 1952 where Somali man Mahmood Mattan is a small-time criminal who finds himself accused of murder. Smart and devastating, there’s a reason it’s one of our books of the year.
Books for people who love food
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love (£25, Ebury) is the ultimate foodie buy this Christmas offering a practical and inspiring guide to stripping back your shelves, raiding your fridge to use existing ingredients and making daily food that nourishes and inspires. It teaches you how to adapt and swap in ingredients, how to veganise dishes and also how to create food such as spiced mashed aubergine and peas that you’ll return to again and again.
Cook As You Are by Ruby Tandoh (£19.98, Profile) is a cookbook designed for real people: using up ingredients you can pick up on the way home, meals that give nourishment and comfort at the end of a tricky day and packed with insider ideas and ways to make your kitchen entirely your own; the most thoughtful of gifts.
Similarly, Claudia Roden’s Med (£28, Ebury) is a bible of classic and comforting dishes that will prove to be the foundations of any cook’s kitchen: classic aioli; pasta with tomatoes, garlic and basil; chicken tray bake with olives and boiled lemon… For those with a sweet tooth, The Sweet Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer (Vintage, £18.98) is a pastel confection of easy bakes from loaf tins to muffins.
Wine expert Victoria Moore’s What To Drink With Absolutely Everything (£12.99, Granta) is a gorgeous and useful idea. An A-Z of food (with handy recipes) and a guide to the wines to match (which explains why you’d pair them), this is the thinking person’s Secret Santa for someone who loves their food (and drinks). Another ode to food and drink is actor and all-round good bloke Stanley Tucci’s Taste (£20, Penguin). With what must be one of the most beautiful covers of the year (it’s a real pleasure to hold), this is a mash-up of his life, his parents, his family, food from around the world (Italy especially) and basically takes you on a journey of joy and gratitude.
Books to make people laugh
We could all do with a little more humour in our lives after the past 18 months which is why we all need a bit of David Sedaris’ A Carnival Of Snackery: Diaries 2003-2020 (£20, Little Brown; volume one was released in 2017). Coming in at a whacking 566 pages, this is the perfect read for that downtime between Christmas and New Year. With a piercing offbeat wit and eye for absurd detail, he’s one of the funniest people alive – hell, even his reaction to Trump’s 2016 election win will make you belly laugh. Which is no mean feat…
The perfect comic partner to Sedaris is Lucy Mangan’s Are We Having Fun Yet? (£16.99, Profile), a comic update on EM Delafield’s Diary Of A Provincial Lady that will hit home with anyone who hates the verb ‘to multitask’. My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life: Adventures In Anxiety by Succession writer and producer Georgia Pritchett is a funny and moving memoir that weaves its charm around the ups and downs of life, of battling shyness, health issues, parents and self-belief and is a perfect gift for someone you love. Finally, two of our favourite novels of the year: Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny (£14.99, Fourth Estate) and Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason (£14.99, Orion) both capture the chaos of life and love with laugh-out-loud one liners and incredible characters. If you’re stuck for some good books to buy a friend – these two definitely have you covered.
Books for people who love memoirs and biographies
One of the most uplifting memoirs of 2021 is Bernardine Evaristo’s Manifesto (£14.99, Penguin). It’s her story of growing up mixed race in Britain and finding her voice as an artist. It’s a calling card for anyone who’s dreamt of something more – of how to build confidence and self-belief and how to pass it on to the next generation. Bob Mortimer’s And Away… (£20, Simon & Schuster) is another book to treasure exploring his childhood in Middlesbrough, his shyness and how meeting and making friends put him on the path to comedy. Funny, insightful and moving, it’s a tribute to love helping us through the difficult bits of life.
Crying In The H Mart by singer and writer Michelle Zauner (£16.98, Pan Macmillan) has picked up a legion of fans this year in a deeply personal memoir about growing up as an Asian American woman in the US, the impact of losing her mother and how her heritage, food and family has shaped who she is today. Actor Alan Cumming’s Baggage (£18.99, Canongate) is a wonderfully entertaining book about his adventures in Hollywood that follows up the powerful Not My Father’s Son, which was released in 2014. Diary Of A Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty (£9.99, Ebury) is a poignant and lyrical ode to the importance of nature in our lives from a writer exploring the impact of autism and anxiety on his life.
On the subject of Hollywood, Little Sister by Lana Wood (£20, Dey Street Books) is a dark exploration of her sister Natalie Wood’s troubled life as an actor in the studio system and her notorious and tragic death. Huma Abedin’s memoir Both/And (£20, Simon & Schuster) picks up where American Horror Story: Impeachment left off. Detailing how she became Hillary Clinton’s right-hand woman; it’s also a story of how trust in her husband led to the greatest betrayal of all and how his actions may have contributed to Trump’s win in 2016.
Finally, the biography of Elizabeth Packard – The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore (£10.99, Scribe) – is an uplifting and fascinating read of a Victorian housewife who wanted more freedom but ended up being put in an asylum by her husband. A fate she didn’t take lying down…
Books for fashion, beauty, nature and wellness
For fashion, beauty and wellbeing, there are some gorgeous books to choose from. Justine Picardie’s Miss Dior (£25, Faber) is a biography of Christian Dior’s sister, Catherine, who inspired his famous ‘New Look’ but who also fought with the French Resistance, was captured by the Gestapo and deported to the German concentration camp of Ravensbrück. Fabric by Victoria Finlay (£25, Profile) is a gorgeous adventure through the history of cloth weaving together disparate countries and stories in the most fascinating (and personal) of ways.
Vivienne Westwood, Katharine Hamnett and Manolo Blahnik all contribute to Rebel Stylist: Caroline Baker - The Woman Who Invented Street Fashion by Iain R Webb (£25, ACC Art Books) who pioneered street fashion as a stylist and editor, punk DIY and wrestled high fashion away from the elite. In Face Values by Navaz Batliwalla (£16.98, Laurence King) also interviews some famous names to gain an understanding of rituals that support wellness, skincare, fragrance and beauty with insights from make-up artist Gucci Westman, legendary photographer Ellen von Unwerth and perfumer Maya Njie.
Strong, Calm And Free by Nicola Jane Hobbs and illustrated by Ann-Kathrin Hochmuth (£16.98, Bloomsbury) is a “a 10-week journey of yoga sequences, meditations and mindful living practices”; Coasting by Elise Downing (£9.99, Summerscale) is a funny and empowering read about the author’s decision to take on 5,000 miles round the coast of Britain with no experience of ultra-running while Zoe Aston’s Your Mental Health Workout (£16.99, Yellow Kite) is the ideal gift to yourself in the middle of winter.
Books for music fans
2021 has been a bumper year of books for music fans. Part of the same series, Why Marianne Faithfull Matters by Tanya Pearson and Why Solange Matters by Stephanie Phillips (both £9.99, Faber) both celebrate two very different but trailblazing musicians and their social and feminist impact while tracing their lives – we’d like these under the tree this Christmas, please. Skunk Anansie singer Skin’s It Takes Blood And Guts (£9.99, Simon & Schuster) is another must-own for music fans as it explores being her role as an LGBTQ+ champion and how a working-class Black woman held her own in a notoriously male-dominated and damaging industry – especially in the 90s.
The newly released The Storyteller by Dave Grohl (£20, Simon & Schuster) is a life-affirming ode to his love of music that skeeters through some of music’s biggest names over the past 30 years. Nick Cave collaborator Warren Ellis has written Nina Simone’s Gum (£20, Faber) about a piece of gum the singer left on her piano after a performance at Cave’s 1999 Meltdown festival. What the gum symbolises and the meaning behind what great performers and artists give to people – the transcendence of music in our lives – is what this wonderful book is all about.
Original gifts for book fans
Book-inspired gifts? We’ve got them covered. For a really thoughtful present, donate £10 to the BookTrust Christmas appeal on behalf of a friend and they’ll send a book box to a child in care or to community foodbanks. In need of a little gift for yourself? Reposed’s Secret Book Service asks you to name three clues about your favourite reads ever and they’ll choose a book for you plus some beauty products, luxury chocolate and more. Plus, every box bought gives a donation to Shelter, Age UK or Refuge.
We Are Dorothy has revealed its brilliant new stamp prints, £35, featuring Modern Classics and Classics. The covers of Pride And Prejudice, The Road, Beloved and The Bell Jar have all been given beautiful minimalist makeovers.
Fancy joining a library that counts Jessie Burton, poet Raymond Antrobus and writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied as members and offers 17 miles of shelves? The London Library has incredible remote and associate memberships (see the full price list here) with access to their beautiful book-filled building next to Green Park with a special 15% discount for Stylist readers using the code STYLIST15.
Sign up for free to Faber Members and you’ll be able to get your hand on special edition hardbacks, including a beautiful cover of Normal People, which is an ingenious gift for Rooney fans. Sign up to members’ events to also receive special discounts. Finally, subscribe to The Feminist Book Box for three, six or 12 months and discover amazing women authors from past and present.
Books for people who love essay collections
My Body by Emily Ratajkowski (£16.99, Quercus) has become one of the defining titles of 2021 exploring the uncomfortable and ever-shifting space that commodifies and exploits women’s bodies with no easy answers. Queer Life, Queer Love (£9.99, Muswell Press) features stories, poems and essays about all aspects of the queer experience and The Joy Of Small Things by Hannah Jane Parkinson (£10, Guardian and Faber) is a collection of the journalist’s columns on the little things in life (red lipstick, pop songs and being right) that can spark the greatest of joys. The wise, wonderful, moving and brilliant Conversations On Love by Natasha Lunn (£14.99, Penguin) features wise thoughts from Philippa Perry, Diana Evans, Roxane Gay and Dolly Alderton and will leave your heart in a much better place.
Tackling politics, journalism, art, money and more is the anthology Black British Lives Matter (£16.99, Faber) which features Doreen Lawrence on the importance of Black motherhood, how British historian David Olusoga fights against Black people’s “accidental obscurity” and Lenny Henry (one of the book’s editors) on the importance of Black laughter. The fourth volume of Refugee Tales (£9.99, Comma Press) continues to give a voice to immigrants and refugees who are all too often demonised in Britain. Writers include Bidisha, Amy Sackville and Robert Macfarlane and all proceeds go to Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and Kent Refugee Help.
Ann Patchett’s beautifully bound These Precious Days (£16.99, Bloomsbury) is a mix of essays and memoir that latches onto the unlikeliest of subjects: Tom Hanks and Snoopy and beautifully captures the things that affect us all: the loss of our parents, coping with illness and holding on to love.
Otegha Uwagba’s We Need To Talk About Money (£14.99, Fourth Estate) is a brilliantly entertaining but also instructive exploration of how money defines us and affect us – how our own financial expectations have been foisted onto us by a society that’s broken its contract in terms of the housing market, education and employment. Finally, queen of the short form Lydia Davis has a new collection, Essays Two (£20, Hamish Hamilton), that reflects on literature and language and is a beautiful thing to behold.
Books for people who love thrillers
2021 has been a vintage year for entertaining and readable thrillers with Janice Hallett’s The Appeal (£8.99, Profile) unpicking a community’s attempt to raise money for a sick child. Told via emails, WhatsApp arguments and newspaper articles, it’s so well done that even those stuck in terrible reading droughts will finish it within hours. Similarly, True Crime Story by Joseph Knox (£14.99, Transworld) is a mix of found footage and oral history that is made for true-crime podcast addicts. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (author of Nicole Kidman coat series The Undoing, £8.99, Faber) is a brilliant mix of literary satire and an ode to the work of The Talented Mr Ripley author Patricia Highsmith that’s made for winter afternoons on the sofa. Other breakout 2021 thrillers to add to your buying list include the unsettling The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward (£8.99, Profile) and the compelling Girl A by Abigail Dean (£8.99, Harper Collins).
Books for poetry fans
From Chaucer to Pam Ayres, James Baldwin to Jackie Kay and Hollie McNish, A Poet For Every Day Of The Year by Allie Esiri (£20, Pan Macmillan) is a compendium of writing to dip into whatever your mood. With an absolutely beautiful cover, this book is filled with wise words to uplift, ruminate over and celebrate while each poet is given a short biography to help you understand their work and its context.
Sarah Crossan’s Tomorrow Is Beautiful (£12.99, Bloomsbury) also unites poems from Maya Angelou, Kae Tempest and Walt Whitman (to name a few) along with words from Crossan herself. Designed to offer “calm, hope and peace” in a rocky world, it’s a real comfort to leaf through when you’re feeling overwhelmed. A complement to Crossan’s anthology (in which she also appears) is Yrsa Daley-Ward’s The How (£10.99, Penguin), a tool to help you look deeper into yourself and finding ways to flourish in an uncertain world.
Books for kids and teens
One of the most beautiful books of 2021 is The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L Frank Baum and illustrated by MinaLima (£25, HarperDesign). Designed to become a beloved family heirloom, it has everything from fold-out maps to an interactive yellow brick road. Similarly, Once There Was A Bear by Jane Riordan (£14.99, Harper Collins) is a prequel to the AA Milne Winnie the Pooh books and delightfully decorated by Mark Burgess.
Once We Were Witches by Sarah Driver and illustrated by Fabi Santiago (£6.99, Harper Collins) is a wonderful book for tweens as two sisters in a witch-free world discover they’re not “wicked girls” but in possession of a powerful magic inherited from their parents.
Another must-buy this Christmas is the always-gorgeously illustrated Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales Of Black Girl Magic (£25, Rebel Girls) featuring the lives of Ava DuVernay, Angela Davis, Ida B Wells and more. It’s a nice companion to Sophia Thakur’s Superheroes (£16.98) which features British icons and their superpowers chosen by Stormzy and the #Merkey books team. Featuring Candice Carty-Williams (whose own book Empress & Aniya is a must-buy YA stocking filler), Riz Ahmed, Ian Wright and Dina Asher-Smith, it’s done with passion and panache.
For younger children, The Christmas Pine is a festive delight by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Norwegian artist Victoria Sandøy. The Little Star by Samantha Williams (£5.99) is a lovely story that touches on grief and why the people we love will always be with us. Barbara Throws A Wobbler by Nadia Shireen (£6.99, Penguin) will be a big hit with toddlers and their parents as it’s a very funny take on bad moods (and one which we could all learn from…). Finally, for parents, 100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play (£14.99, Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is the gift that will literally keep giving. Filled with offbeat and inspired ideas for rainy days and sunny walks, it’s a genius gift.
Books for culture lovers
In Notes From An Island by Moomin creator Tove Jansson and her life partner Tuulikki Pietila (£12.99, Sort Of Books) build an arresting picture of the remote island in the Gulf of Finland where the two women created their work and escaped from the world. After being locked down for so long, this portrait of living simply and delighting in nature is a balm. It works especially well with A Year Unfolding by printmaker Angela Harding (£18.60, Little, Brown). An absolute collector’s find, the gorgeous images and portrait of a changing year seen through her eyes is transporting.
Two books pay homage to women artists: The Women Who Changed Art Forever (£14.99, Graphic Lives) celebrates the work of Guerilla Girls, Ana Mendieta, Judy Chicago and Faith Ringgold while Bright Stars by Kate Bryan (£16.99, Frances Lincoln) re-examines the life and legacies of artists across the spectrum who died too young.
Ballet fans should definitely get their hands on Swan Dive by Georgina Pazcoguin (£18.99, Picador) which is a truthful, funny, shocking and scandalous exploration of elite ballet. Strangely, it also works hand in hand with Woke Up This Morning by Sopranos actors Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa (£20, Fourth Estate), an oral history of one of TV’s greatest shows.
Books for people who love graphic novels
A beautiful reminder that we can all feel lonely and in need of companionship is Crushing by Sophie Burrows (£16.99, David Fickling Books). The tale of two lost souls in the city – with deft drawings and few words, Burrows conjures up a story of feeling lost but also finding hope; a truly gorgeous gift.
Two-Week Wait by Luke and Kelly Jackson and Mara Wild (£14.99, Scribe) is a couple’s experience of IVF and the two weeks it takes to find out if an implantation will turn into pregnancy and The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman and illustrated by Chris Wormell (£30, Scholastic) is a gorgeous hardback that continues Lyra’s story in illustrated form and perfect for His Dark Materials fans. Finally, Medusa by Jessie Burton (£14.99, Bloomsbury) is a novel with illustrations by artist Olivia Lomenech Gill that reframes her story – a young woman stripped of her agency, objectified and feared; it’s an ideal gift for teenage girls finding their voice and their power.
Books for escapist reads
The best gift of all is a book you can curl up under a blanket with over the Christmas and New Year holidays and happily transport yourself. Leading the way is Laura Barnett’s Gifts (£14.99, Orion) which is an ode to the strange and wonderful time that is Christmas told through a series of moving stories about characters trying to find gifts for awkward-yet-loved people in their lives. A Scandinavian Christmas (£12.99, Vintage) is filled with stories from writers including Hans Christian Andersen, Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlof, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Vigdis Hjorth.
For brilliantly written pure escapism, Lindsay Kelk’s On A Night Like This (£14.99, HarperCollins) conjures up a modern-day Cinderella story with some killer one liners. Wife Support System (£8.99, Canelo Hera) by Kathleen Whyman is a darkly funny and very readable tale of three mothers who decide to move into together hoping to find the support they’ve been missing only to find things rapidly falling apart.
If you’re missing sun and sparkling seas, The Getaway by Isabelle Broom (£7.99, Hodder) is just the answer as it conjures up the beauty of Croatia with a mystery at its heart. Finally, conjure up the spirits of past and present with The Haunting Season (£12.99, Little Brown) featuring original ghostly stories from Imogen Hermes Gowar, Andrew Michael Hurley, Elizabeth Macneal and Laura Purcell. Merry Christmas reading one and all.
Images: courtesy of publishers
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown