Useful as they are for keeping tables level, impressing visitors, and the like, books—actual, physical books—are even better as gifts. While a lousy one makes for a perfectly fine present, there’s no real reason not to get a good one. Here are some that we liked, and that we’re pretty sure you or someone you like would like too.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
You probably don’t know much about surfing—your experience is likely confined to this movie and this song. But relative ignorance may be the best way to approach this lush, deep-thinking memoir by New Yorker staff writer William Finnegan, who describes his chosen pastime as part sport, part religion, and part albatross. As he told us himself earlier this year in a lengthy, bonkers, essential Q&A, “People who seriously surf are people who have let surfing mess up their lives—that’s undeniable.” This book will take over you life in turn, and if it coaxes you out in the water one day, all the better.—Rob Harvilla
City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
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Behold the big-whoop literary event of the season, a panoramic, hilariously ambitious 900-plus-page debut novel about gritty ’70s New York City that earned your man Garth “Risk Is Actually My Middle Name” Hallberg a whopping $2 million advance. So is this thing actually worth Beno Udrih’s 2015-2016 salary? A few rapturous reviewers say yes, giving it at least a shot at joining the Beloved Doorstop Masterpiece pantheon alongside Infinite Jest, Underworld, and the dozen other beasts you have to at least pretend like you’ve considered reading. It’s perfect for NYC fetishists who can still remember a time when Times Square didn’t have a fucking M&M Store in it.—RH
Saban: The Making of a Coach, Monte Burke
Nick Saban is one of the most fascinatingly crazy figures we have in sports today. He’s basically Bill Belichick: The College Version, or the Emperor Palpatine with Alabama as his Death Star. (We’re excited to see if that means he’ll turn Lane Kiffin into his Darth Vader.) This book, unauthorized though it may be, offers a revealing behind-the-scenes look at how Saban became the person he is today, and it’s a much more nuanced and complex journey than you may expect.—Billy Haisley
Little Victories, Jason Gay
This will not teach you How To Become A More Centered And Balanced Human Being By Breathing In Positivity or anything like that. It’s an advice book, sort of, but it’s primarily a exploration of the way we live right now that manages to be consistently funny and readable while treading through a wide berth of topics. Buy it for the skeptic in your life, and watch them be surprised with how much they like it.—Patrick Redford
The Best Team Money Can Buy, Molly Knight
For the last few years, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been one of the weirder and more interesting experiments anywhere in sports, an ongoing attempt to answer the question of what happens if a team has so much money it can’t even figure out how to spend it. Molly Knight’s close examination of the team is filled with great gossip and insight into the day-to-day workings of a major league ballclub, but the most fascinating thing about it might be the way it lays out how boardroom insights translate directly into what happens, and doesn’t, on the field.—Tim Marchman
Illustration by Jim Cooke; photos via AP