The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , Mark Twain
Mark Twain is one of the most essential, most American of American writers, someone everyone should be able to look to for alignment. Plus, there’s this superb novel, which will, among other things, teach you how to live.
One Hundred Years of Solitude , Gabriel García Márquez
It’s about history, it’s about magic, it’s about family, it’s about myth-making and world-building and pain and love. What more could a book possibly be?
Nine Stories , J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger is a cultural touchstone that we think everyone should experience at least once in their lives. And while we consider Catcher to be a book for a certain kind of person, we think almost anyone can find something to connect to in Nine Stories. There are nine of them, after all.
Dune , Frank Herbert
Now, don’t be scared because this is a massive environmentalist fantasy novel — Dune is another one of those books that manages to charm everyone from kids to dads to literary snobs to die-hard fantasy geeks. Whether your intended recipient counts herself as one of these or none, she’ll find something to love here.
Tenth of December , George Saunders
This book is magic, and it will slay everyone. If it doesn’t, you should back away slowly, because something very bad and possibly supernatural has happened to their soul. Plus, it’s already the best book of the year, right? Can’t argue with that logic.
The Phantom Tollbooth , Norton Juster
Many kids’ classics could fit on this list — The Little Prince, Where the Wild Things Are — and we recommend all of them. Today, though, we’re feeling The Phantom Tollbooth, which has convinced many a skeptic about the power of language and story.
Me Talk Pretty One Day , David Sedaris
If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t like David Sedaris — at least a little — we haven’t met him. After all, everyone wants a new, hilarious, self-deprecating, hyper-aware best friend who they can carry around in their pocket and use to ignore more boring people, right?
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao , Junot Díaz
Díaz’s novel has enough honors and serious literary merit to please the adults and/or snobs, and enough grit and clever curse words to please the teenagers loathe to pick up anything their parents like. It’s fun for the whole family.
The Secret History , Donna Tartt
If you’re a frequent visitor to this space, then you’ll know that we talk about this novel a whole lot. But we’ve got to mention it again, because it’s our absolute, number one go-to for blind book recommending/ lending. We’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it.
The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald
You can’t really go wrong with a time-tested Great American Novel (unless you go for Moby-Dick, which is frankly not for everyone). Plus, there’s that shiny movie coming out. Done deal.