14 book recommendations for the Christmas holidays

By Jen Li (opens in a new window)

11 December

I initially wrote this as an email to a friend who had asked me for book recommendations for Christmas presents. I read a lot of books and I read a lot about books, partly because I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not love reading, and partly because I am currently doing a PhD on public libraries and reading habits.

In my personal reading life, I read very little literary fiction, a lot of crime fiction and chick lit, a lot of non-fiction on topics I am interested in (the obsession for 2013 was North Korea). The list below is somewhat reflective of this. Most of what I recommend are books I have read, but I also include a few titles I have read many good reviews of (particularly when it comes to literary fiction).

1. For someone who enjoys food, cooking, and being aware of where their food comes from:

- Cooked (opens in a new window)by Michael Pollan
- The Omnivore's Dilemma (opens in a new window)by Michael Pollan
- In Defence of Food (opens in a new window)by Michael Pollan

2. For someone with an interest in science and the way science is used and mis-reported:

- Bad Science by Ben Goldacre 
- Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken and How We Can Fix It by Ben Goldacre

3. For someone interested in the human body, the brain or medicine:

- The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
- The Pen and the Stethoscope by Leah Kaminsky 
- Trouble in Mind by Jenni Ogden

4. For anyone interested in the environment:

- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson - amazing book that changed the world.

5. For someone who likes books about travel that are funny and easy to read:

- Bill Bryson! My favourite of his is Down Under, the one about Australia. He writes other non-fiction too, and my two favourites of his non-travel books are A Short History of Nearly Everything and At Home: A Short History of Private Life
- Brian Thacker's Rule No.5: No Sex on the Bus - Confessions of a Tour Leader is also a funny travel book

6. For someone who likes well-written but easy to read modern fiction about women:

Anything by Liane Moriarty or Nicola Moriarty – who are sisters from Sydney that write awesome books, not chicklit. Other authors in this vein I'd suggest are Emily Giffin and Melanie La'Brooy. For even lighter fiction (that I *would* classify as chicklit, anything by Lucy Dillon and Sophie Kinsella's standalone novels (but not the Shopaholic series).

- The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
- Free-Falling by Nicola Moriarty  
The Wish List (opens in a new window)by Melanie La'Brooy

7. For someone interested in development issues, charities, literacy and changing the world:

- Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children by John Wood
- Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy by John Wood

8. For someone with an interest in other countries (and in particular North Korea):

- Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Hardy
- Nothing to Envy: Love, Life & Death in North Korea by Barbara Demick
- The Impossible State: North Korea, Past & Future by Victor Cha

9. For someone who likes light-hearted, funny crime:

- The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz - first in a four-part series available in Australia
- One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

10. For someone who likes crime with depth and well-rounded characters:

- The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver 
- The October List by Jeffery Deaver 
- The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

11. For someone who likes literary fiction:

- The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson - winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize

These ones I have not read but have read reviews of: 

- The Luminaries (opens in a new window)by Eleanor Catton - won the Man Booker Prize this year, youngest winner and the first NZ winner for a long time
- Questions of Travel by Michelle de Krester
- The Embassy of Cambodia by Zadie Smith
- Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang

12. For someone who likes young adult literature:

-The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - I've heard great things about John Green, but not read anything by him.

13. For someone who likes reading about books and reading:

- The Library Book by Alan Bennett et al
- My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favourite Place to Browse, Read, and Shop by Ronald E. Rice
- Stop What You're Doing and Read This! by Mark Haddon et al
- Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

14. And finally, if you're after a humorous gift-style book

- I highly recommend Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half - she is a genius!

Book cover with pasta dipped in water

Lime green book cover with text and no images  

Hand holding a transparent jar with a pink butterfly inside

White background, orange outline of tiger's face, black text