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Holiday book gifting

How to recommend books so people will actually read them

The turn of the year is the time when book readers everywhere pull out their reading lists. Major news publications publish articles rounding up the best books of the year. People review how many books they finished compared to their new year’s resolution goal. Countless blog posts and email newsletters are sent out with subjects like “Books I Read in 2022.” For a brief few weeks in December and January, there is an endless stream of book recommendations that flood email inboxes, landing pages, and social media posts.

new-yorker The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022 has at least 200 titles on it. I tried counting all of them but I got tired of counting when I reached 170…

I’m an eager participant in the yearly book recommendation ritual. One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is to review everything I’ve read, making complicated charts on my reading trends and ranking my completed books against each other. This data analysis is easy since I’m one of those people that meticulously tracks my reading habits. At this point, my book tracker goes back ten years and includes 250 finished books (and counting!). From this massive record of book details, I feel confident in recommending the very best titles to anyone who asks.

books-read A graph of my yearly reading statistics since 2012 that compares completed fiction vs non-fiction books. I finished 47 books total in 2022, a personal best!

On the other hand, I am also conscious of book content overload. My unread book list is infinitely expanding and it gets an especially huge chunk of new rows at this time of year like clockwork. I’m an especially fast reader but even I still can’t keep up with all the books on my backlog. It’s hard to prioritize new book titles, even from people who I respect and know have reading tastes very compatible with mine. I have an ever-increasing stack of purchased books waiting to be read, reminding me of the deep backlog. By the next time I’m at the bookstore or library, weeks have passed and I have forgotten which titles have been recommended to me.

A few years ago, I discovered a better way to recommend books with my friends & family: doing an annual book gifting tradition. This method cuts through the endless books-of-the-year lists and reduces cognitive burden.

It’s a very simple process:

  1. Choose the best books that you read this year.
  2. Write up a short summary of why you picked those books.
  3. Send out an email with a signup form for the free book gift. Recipients can choose between a physical book, e-book, or audiobook.
  4. Order copies of the book.

I love this because it has positive benefits for everyone involved. Recipients get a free gift–who doesn’t love free stuff? It’s great for me too since books are a pretty affordable way to send friends & family a fun, off-list holiday gift. I also find that the people who receive the free copies are more likely to read them. My gifted book is put on the top of their already-purchased book stack, a visible reminder to read it when people reach for their next book, so I have a higher chance of receiving a message later with thoughts and reactions! And on top of all that, I can help support my favorite authors and local bookstores by ordering the books from Bookshop.org, which shares the proceeds with an independent bookstore of your choice.

Here are my top picks since I started the tradition:

Usually I also try to include a second- and third-place choice from different genres. I read a lot of science-fiction and fantasy and, unsurprisingly, I tend to heavily favor books from those genres. Each year, I include approximately 2-3 runner-up books as well, in case folks have any genre or book type preferences. The majority of books I gift are my top recommendation, with about a third coming from the runner-up options.

book-selection Comparison of book selections for the top (65.9%) vs the runner-up (34.1%) picks over the last 6 years.

top-books The statistics for the book types and genres of the top picks. 66.7% of the top picks were fiction, and exactly 50% of all the top recommendations were science fiction. Like I said, I have some favorite genres!

all-books The overall set of books I’ve recommended (including runner-ups) is more diverse. More than half (57.1%) are actually non-fiction, and the top categories are dramatic fiction (19%) and non-fiction social-studies (19%) books. Next highest genres are science fiction and non-fiction essay collections (14.3%).

I’d strongly recommend anyone adopt this tradition as their own. It’s been a real joy to me and my loved ones over the years. Even while life gets busier and wilder than ever, I will make time to send these book gifts during the holidays. Hopefully, I am still doing this many years from now.

Annual Book Gift - 2022 Email

Let me know if this post inspires you to start your own book-gifting tradition! You can see this year’s book email I sent below (feel free to steal for yourself)…

From: Vivian

To: Friends & family

Subject: Viv’s 2022 Book Rec 📚🎁

Merry Christmas everyone! 🎄

Another year, another annual book gifting to friends! Fill out this form to receive your free book gift from me here: Vivian’s 2022 Holiday Book

This is ✨6th year✨ I’ve done an annual book gifting. I love recommending good books and I also love supporting my favorite authors. This is an easy way for me to do both, plus give a fun gift to all the book readers in my life 💝

Book recs 📖

My top book this year was Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan!


This was truly an epic story, a behind-the-scenes oral history of the making of the latest Mad Max movie. Even if you aren’t a fan of this movie, it’s still well worth a read.

It took fifteen years to get the film made and the story of how it finally made it to theaters is full of dramatic twists and turns. Mad Max was a movie only storyboarded with no written script, filmed in physically harrowing conditions in the Namibian desert, with studio executives bewildered by this creative process and actively trying to pull funding away from the movie. People were unsure if the director George Miller was a madman or a next-level genius. Miller was 70 years old and had not directed a live-action film for 17 years by the time Mad Max: Fury Road was finally released.

Here are a few quotes that showcase how wild this book is:

A film like Fury Road isn’t just one of a kind—in this era of increasingly bland superhero movies, it’s the sort of film that could probably never be made again.

Parasite director Bong Joon Ho has said that the sheer scale of the movie brings him to tears, while Steven Soderbergh put it more bluntly. “I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film,” Soderbergh once said, “and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.”

I loved Fury Road when it came out but I wasn’t a huge fan of the Mad Max franchise itself. After reading this book, I now have mad respect for the perseverance and creative intensity of George Miller and his co-creators. I’m planning on doing a movie marathon of all the Mad Max movies when Furiosa comes out in 2024!

The runner-up book of the year is The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith. We built our kitchen garden in June so I’ve been reading a lot of gardening books. This book was a lovely collection of essays about the philosophical and psychological benefits of being in nature and working with your hands in the dirt.


Did you know that there’s a name for the smell of wet dirt? And how our noses have specifically evolved to detect it? I didn’t!

Part of the pleasure of digging in the garden is the smell of wet earth. The aroma, known as geosmin, is released through the activity of soil bacteria called actinomycetes, and it has a pleasing and soothing effect on most people. The human olfactory center is remarkably sensitive to it, presumably because it helped our prehistoric forebears detect vital sources of life. Some people can even detect it at concentrations as low as five parts per trillion.

Here’s another gorgeous quote from the book about the philosophical implications of gardening:

Shaping a bit of reality is empowering, but crucially in the garden, we are never completely in control. The general rule in life is that we thrive best in situations where we have some control but not complete control. A total lack of control is stressful, and too much control is unstimulating, because life becomes boring and predictable. It is why, paradoxically, experiencing both illusion and disillusion, empowerment and disempowerment, doesn’t make us give up—it only spurs us on.

I also read a lot of fiction by female Asian-American writers this year, including:

They were all enjoyable reads and it was interesting to see similar themes of identity, estrangement, and cultural assimilation brought out by reading them all so close together. If I had to pick only one, I would recommend Counterfeit as my favorite of all of these.


Here’s a great interview with Kirstin Chen about the book where she reveals that the counterfeit handbag storyline was based on a real-life scammer:

Well, so the scheme in the book is pretty much exactly that scheme and so oftentimes, people will say, how did you come up with such an ingenious scheme? And I will say, I didn’t. And they’ll say, did you ever consider changing it? And I didn’t because it was so perfect, it was just so seemingly foolproof. So, that scheme I could not have invented one better. It was so simple and so understandable and yet so bold and just ticked all the boxes that I was like, there was no way I can mess with this. So, that was the first thing that grabbed me the most. But then the other thing that I thought was fascinating was that the real-life con artist was an Asian preschool teacher. You cannot make that up.

Wrap up 🎁

Here’s the form again: Vivian’s 2022 Holiday Book

Happy holidays, and see you later alligator 🐊

- Vivian

This article was last updated on 1/16/2023. v1 is 1,833 words and took 3.5 hours to write and edit.

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