For your geeky brother: Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson
This book will delight computer nerds and fantasy geeks alike — and hey, it’s not like the two camps don’t heavily overlap. This mythical, magical, technological masterpiece is fantasy for the modern age, and your family’s favorite hacker/wizard-wannabe will eat it up.
If he already has that one, try: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
For the cousin thinking about joining the army: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain
Well, he should at least know what he’s getting into — this book is a look inside the psychology of soldiers and heros that we’ve never seen before. Plus, it’s hilarious. If you need help convincing him to give it a shot, let him know that there are a lot of descriptions of really hot cheerleaders.
If that cousin happens to be a girl, try: The People of Forever are Not Afraid, Shani Boianjiu
For the literary mom: Dear Life: Stories , Alice Munro
Alice Munro is tried and true, and yet still manages to constantly excite us. Her most recent collection is filled with new directions, but still seems to look back on her entire oeuvre with a weather eye.
If Mom isn’t the short story type, try: Bring Up the Bodies , Hilary Mantel
For the teenage sister on the verge: The Necessity of Certain Behaviors , Shannon Cain
Cain’s protagonists are figuring it out, testing the limits, spreading their wings and suffering the consequences. Pain, sex, the ache of humanity, what it means to be different or the same — these are the concerns that occupy every teenager’s mind, and these are the ideas splayed out across the pages of Cain’s stories.
If the cover is too scandalous for Mom’s censors, try: Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill (we know, this didn’t come out this year — or anywhere close. But it’s required reading for any girl on any verge)
For the fantasy-addicted dad: The Unreal and the Real, Vols. 1 & 2, Ursula K. Le Guin
Oh yeah. This is the good stuff. This two-volume collection of Le Guin’s best stories, chosen by Le Guin herself, is sure to please any lifelong fantasy nerd — and perhaps open him up to some of Le Guin’s more earthbound stories. And who knows where that might lead?
If he’s in the mood for something a little more meta, try: Redshirts, John Scalzi
For the grandfather who knows what he likes, damn it: The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson , Robert A. Caro
Well, he’s earned it.
If he can work an iPad or just prefers bugs to presidents, try: The Social Conquest of Earth, Edward O. Wilson.
For the big sister that works way too hard: Gone Girl , Gillian Flynn
This one might be a little obvious, but hey — when you have a high-powered job and only a few scant days of vacation, sometimes all you want is escape. And an out-of-the-box female protagonist to remind you that you can get the better of those corporate suits any time you choose.
If she (and all her friends) have already read this one, try: Dare Me, Meagan Abbott
For the new baby who has to start building a library from scratch: Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, Philip Pullman
This is simply the place to start for any budding literary snob. Trust us, she’ll thank you later.
If this baby’s silly parents think the Grimms are too scary, try: This Is Not My Hat, Jon Klassen
For the scads of sixth graders that seem to be running around your uncle’s house: Liar & Spy, Rebecca Stead
Quirky, clever, and delightful to the end, this book will get any middle-grade reader to sit down and shut up for a while. Hey, it might get you to sit down and shut up for a while too. Wouldn’t that be nice?
If they prefer China to Brooklyn, try: Starry River of the Sky, Grace Lin
For the anglophile grandmother: Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy , Paul Thomas Murphy
Because Queen Victoria was a hell of a survivor, just like your grandmother. Plus, you want to hear the stories she’ll be telling after she finishes this book.
If she actually sort of prefers the French, try: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo , Tom Reis