Which Books Will Make Perfect Presents?

We checked in with top booksellers around the city to answer that question. Read on.

Eve Glasberg
December 14, 2021

The holidays are here, and it’s time for gift-giving. To help you find terrific books to offer as presents, Columbia News has consulted several New York City bookstores to learn which best-sellers and other books of note are flying off the shelves. Check out our round-up of volumes that are sure to appeal to family and friends.


BARNES & NOBLE, Lerner Hall, Morningside Campus

Conveniently located right on campus, this Barnes & Noble branch is the go-to shop for Columbians’ immediate needs, especially books of all sorts, everything from textbooks to new fiction and nonfiction.


Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

Atlas of the Heart

By Brené Brown

Brown takes us on a journey through 87 of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.


Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land

By Anthony Doerr

Doerr, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, returns with a novel set in 15th-century Constantinople, a small town in present-day Idaho, and an interstellar ship decades from now. It is a story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope, and the magic of books. Cloud Cuckoo Land is a tapestry of times and places, which reflects our vast interconnectedness.


A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris

A Calling for Charlie Barnes

By Joshua Ferris

Charlie Barnes's life isn't going well. Too often divorced, discontent with compromises, and in a house he hates, Barnes would like out of his present circumstances and into the American dream. But when the Great Recession and a cancer scare compound his troubles, his dreams dwindle further. Against all odds, Barnes is granted a second act, and finds his true calling where he least expects it—in a sacrifice that redounds with selflessness and love.



Also convenient, Book Culture has two outlets in the Morningside neighborhood, one at 2915 Broadway (at 114th Street) and the other just around the corner at 536 West 112th Street. Visit one of these branches for a wide selection of new arrivals, paperbacks, and children’s books.


The 1619 Project by Hannah Nikole-Jones and the New York Times

The 1619 Project

Edited by Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman, and Jake Silverstein. Created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine.

The award-winning “1619 Project” issue of The Times Magazine reframed American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work with essays, fiction, and poetry that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America.


The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence

By Louise Erdrich

What could be better than a novel about a bookstore? In Erdrich's latest, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. A new, formerly incarcerated employee must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, isolation, and reckoning.


Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Harlem Shuffle

By Colson Whitehead

The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner's newest work of fiction is a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a comical morality play, a social commentary about race and power, and, ultimately, a love letter to Harlem. The protagonist is furniture salesman and part-time crook Ray Carney, who leads a caste of diverse characters, some more nefarious than others, as he tries to get by with his constant wheeling and dealing  on 125th Street in the early 1960s.


SHAKESPEARE & CO., 2020 Broadway, Upper West Side

An iconic Manhattan bookshop with two locations, one on the Upper East Side, and the other, closer to Columbia, on Broadway between West 69th and 70th streets, with a nifty café.


People From My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami

People from My Neighborhood

By Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Ted Goossen

A bossy child who lives under a cloth near a tree; a schoolgirl who keeps doll’s brains in a desk drawer; an old man with two shadows, one docile, one rebellious. These are some of the inhabitants of this book. In their lives, local details slip into accounts of duels, dreams, revolutions, and visitations from ghosts and gods. In 26 stories—fictions small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand—Kawakami creates a universe ruled by mystery and transformation.


These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days

By Ann Patchett

“Any story that starts will also end.” As a writer, Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. But life often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these essays. The title essay is a meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores “what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.” From Kate DiCamillo’s children’s books to youthful memories of Paris; the life gifts given by her three fathers to the influence of Charles Schultz’s Snoopy; the expansive vision of Eudora Welty to the importance of knitting, Patchett connects life and art.


Will by Will Smith with Mark Manson


By Will Smith with Mark Manson

Smith’s transformation from a West Philadelphia kid to one of the biggest rap stars of his era, and then one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history, is an epic tale—but it’s only half the story. This memoir is the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you, and all that it can leave behind. Written with the help of Mark Manson, author of the bestseller, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ckWill is the story of how one person mastered his own emotions.


SISTER’S UPTOWN, 1942 Amsterdam Avenue, Washington Heights

A cherished neighborhood bookshop and cultural center with a loyal following, this is the place to come for a diverse selection of African diasporic literature and a full slate of programming.


Zoe's Ghana Kitchen by Zoe Adjonyoh

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: An Introduction to New African Cuisine—from Ghana with Love

By Zoe Adjonyoh

First published to widespread acclaim in the United Kingdom, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen began as a pop-up restaurant in London featuring dishes such as Pan-Roasted Cod with Grains of Paradise, Nkruma (Okra) Tempura, Cubeb-Spiced Shortbread, and Coconut and Cassava Cake. Soon those dishes evolved into this cookbook, newly revised and updated for American cooks. Adonyoh shares the beauty of Ghana’s markets, culture, and cuisine, and tells the evocative story of using these tastes and food traditions to navigate her own identity. 


Feeding the Soul by Tabitha Brown

Feeding the Soul (Because It’s My Business): Finding Our Way to Joy, Love, and Freedom

By Tabitha Brown

In 2016, Brown was an aspiring actress who began struggling with undiagnosed chronic autoimmune pain. Her condition made her believe she wouldn’t live to see 40—until she started listening to what her soul and her body needed. In this book, Brown shares the wisdom she gained from her own journey. She grounds her lessons in stories about her own life, career, faith, and family.


Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Kendi and Blain have assembled 90 diverse writers, each of whom takes on a five-year period of the 400-year span covered in this book. The writers explore their periods through historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and polemics. They approach history from various perspectives: through the eyes of historical icons or the untold stories of ordinary people; through places, laws, and objects. There are themes of resistance and struggle, hope and reinvention.


THE LIT. BAR, 131 Alexander Avenue, Bronx

Opened in 2019, The Lit. Bar is currently the only bookstore-community center serving the Bronx. In addition to the carefully curated selection of volumes, there is a wine bar.


Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope by Carmelo Anthony with D. Watkins

Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope

By Carmelo Anthony with D. Watkins

Anthony faced palpable dangers growing up in the housing projects of Red Hook in Brooklyn and West Baltimore’s Murphy Homes (aka Murder Homes, subject of HBO’s The Wire). He navigated an inadequate education system, and suffered the untimely deaths of loved ones. He struggled to survive physically and emotionally. With the strength of family and the guidance of key mentors, he endured and thrived, eventually finding himself at the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in 2003, preparing to embark on his legendary career.


The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

By Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers

W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote about the problem of race in America, and what he called “double consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s problem on her shoulders. To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. 


You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union

You Got Anything Stronger?

By Gabrielle Union

Union's first book, We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, was released in 2017, and instantly became a best-seller. The response was so great that people asked the actress, producer, and activist when she would do a sequel: You Got Anything Stronger?  In these stories, she says that she is more vulnerable—not so much for herself, but for anyone who feels alone in what they’re going through. 


THE STRAND, 450 Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side

The original Strand, downtown in Greenwich Village, opened its doors almost a century ago in 1927. Today, the main location is still going strong, with a few satellite shops, including one closer to the University on Columbus Avenue between West 81st and 82nd streets.


The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

By David Graeber and David Wengrow

For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike. Graeber and Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the 18th century as a conservative reaction to powerful critiques of European society posed by Indigenous observers and intellectuals. Revisiting this encounter has startling implications for how we make sense of human history today, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilization itself. The authors draw on pathbreaking research in archaeology and anthropology. 


Dune by Frank Herbert


By Frank Herbert

Now a feature film, Herbert's epic novel--the first of six--is one of the best-selling science fiction novels ever. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of a boy, Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world, where the only thing of value is the melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. The destruction of Paul’s family sets him on a journey in which he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. 


My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

By Otessa Moshfegh

This is a novel about a young woman’s efforts to avoid the ills of the world by embarking on an extended hibernation with the help of a terrible psychiatrist and the medicines she prescribes. The narrator is a recent Columbia graduate, who has an inheritance, works at an art gallery, and lives in an Upper East Side apartment. But there is a dark hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, the way her boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so wrong?