Holiday conundrums: What does a feminist gift look like?

That’s not a set up for a joke. It’s a serious question.

There’s a lot to be said about conspicuous and excessive consumption, about the push to buy buy buy before the holidays, and then right after, in grotesque “door buster” sales. There’s a lot to be said about buying from businesses and corporations that are or are not responsible and ethical. There’s a lot to be said for allocating resources – the money you’d use to buy stuff for people – elsewhere, like giving to a charitable organization or cause in their name. I’m aware of all of that, and every time this time of year rolls around, those thoughts roll around in my head.

Like you, I want to give meaningful gifts to the people I love. So, what to give them?

When I’m giving gifts at this time of year, I almost always give books. It’s partly because most of my loved ones are big readers and people who like discussing those books with me after we’ve read them. That gives us both joy, so in some ways a book is an investment in that future conversation, a means to a very enjoyable end. Also, I enjoy shopping for books more than I enjoy shopping for any other item, and I don’t seem to feel as bad about spending – or overspending – on books as I do on other things.

Figuring out how to consume responsibly and ethically and in a way that aligns with your beliefs about the world is something each of us has to do, but I suspect that a lot of you feel about books all the same things I do. So, here’s a list of the best books I read this year, many of which I’ll be buying and wrapping up for loved ones.

Some of them are new releases, some of them aren’t.  Some of them are explicitly feminist or political or geared toward social justice, and some of them aren’t. All of them are great, and I say that because I’ve read them all cover to cover and loved them. I only want the best for my friends and family. And so, without further ado, here are the best books I read this year.

Covering, by Kenji Yoshino

Gorgeously written, masterfully argued. If you want to give your loved one a double whammy of awesome, thoughtful writing, pair it with Yoshino’s second book, A Thousand Times More Fair.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo

This just won the National Book Award, and it should win all the other awards that exist. Three years of grueling reporting, three hundred pages of wrenching, thought-provoking writing.

Drift, by Rachel Maddow

Brain boners, get your brain boners over here! Maddow’s argument about the disconnection between the American military and the American people is so important, and made here with great research and in Maddow’s intelligent voice.

Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti

I’m a little biased, since Jess is a friend and of course the co-founder of this site, but this book asks a really important question, one that we really stop to think about in any serious way.

Judging a Book by Its Lover, by Lauren Leto

A book for people who love books, written, weirdly enough, by the woman who founded Texts From Last Night. Leto’s love for reading is contagious, so f your loved one doesn’t read a lot of books, this book might change that.

Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson

We hardly know anything about Shakespeare’s life, but everything we do know is in this short book, written with Bryson’s usual razor-sharp humour and appreciation for the ridiculous.

Blueberry Girl, by Neil Gaiman

Yep, this is a kids’ book. It’s also a mini feminist manifesto, and it brought me to tears.

The Worst Princess, by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

This is also a kids’ book. I walked into the book shop and said, “I need a book for an awesome three-year-old feminist,” and this is what they gave me. You can give this to the kid, and Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter to her parents!

What did you read this year that you want to talk about with your loved ones? Tell us in the comments

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/probablywriting/ Amanda

    “The Paper Bag Princess” is a really good kids’ book. It’s about a princess whose prince is taken away by a dragon (who also burns down her castle, leaving her with only a paper bag to wear) and she uses her intelligence to best the dragon and free the prince. The prince is a jerk and tells her that she should come back when she looks like a “real princess”, so she dumps him. It’s pretty awesome.

  • http://feministing.com/members/contrabassic/ Sara

    I read David Foster Wallace’s “Interviews with Hideous Men,” this year, which I am going to pass on to my brother when I go home. It’s a series of short stories, mostly about the interactions of men and women. A lot of them resonated with my experiences with abusive/manipulative men and relationships. I’m currently reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich, a national book award finalist. It looks promising so far. I also feel like the classics (Austen, the Bronte sisters, O. Henry, etc.) can make great gifts, and usually lead to excellent conversations.

  • http://feministing.com/members/inquisitivebibliophile/ Inquisitive Bibliophile

    I just recently got The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon–he also wrote The Shadow of the Wind, which I think is fantastic. SotW has a LOT of interesting elements: intrigue, murder, a story within a story, but at the end of the day it’s a story about people who love books and value storytelling…written by a person who loves books.

    I’m also digging into Feminism Is For Everybody (bell hooks), Yes Means Yes!, and The Purity Myth (I’m late, I know, don’t judge me).