The gifting season is upon us, and the pressure to find that perfect present is real. But whether you’re buying for family, friends, or coworkers, books are always a good choice.
Sharing a favorite story or author adds a personal touch to the gift, and discussing a book is a wonderful conversation starter. It’s also a fun, easy, and — yes — safe way to explore questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Works of fiction are particularly suited to sparking thoughtful discussions. In fact, studies show that fictional stories featuring diverse characters can increase empathy and reduce prejudice. Authors from different cultures who explore unfamiliar topics can spark curiosity in readers.
For the more serious-minded on your list, the slower-paced holiday season offers time to read up on expert advice. In a 2019 article, Forbes senior contributor Janice Gassam Asare lists some books to help you improve workplace culture, and the folks at teambuilding.com suggest fifteen recent titles. Organizational leaders might also consider using end-of-year budgets to give their team members a subscription to a digital learning platform like MasterClass, Skillshare, or Coursera.
To get you started, we asked independent booksellers at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, Shelves in Charlotte, and Foggy Pine Books in Boone, N.C., to recommend some new releases. They offered these suggestions to give as gifts or to add to your own holiday wishlist!
- No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull is the first installment in a fantasy series that explores themes of othering, oppression, police violence, connection, and how we stay safe. The novel opens with the slaying of a young man, but what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real.
- The Guncle by Steven Rowley is a warm and deeply funny novel about a once-famous gay sitcom star whose unexpected family tragedy leaves him with his niece and nephew for the summer.
- Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth is a highly imaginative and original horror-comedy centered around a cursed New England boarding school for girls. The novel is a wickedly whimsical celebration of the art of storytelling, sapphic love, and the rebellious female spirit.
- The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is a pandemic novel from the acclaimed author, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Set in a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis, haunted by its most annoying customer, the novel is a compelling story about how we cope with pain and fear, injustice and illness.
- Hell of a Book by Jason Mott was recently named the winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2021. In the novel, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline frames other stories — of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi is a moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression, addiction, and grief. A sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience, Gifty studies reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Determined to help her family through science, she also hungers for her childhood faith.
- Noor by Nnedi Okorafor is a science fiction novel of intense action and thoughtful rumination on biotechnology, destiny, and humanity in a near-future Nigeria.
- Santa in the City by Tiffany D. Jackson, illustrated by Reggie Brown, is a charming and boldly illustrated tale about the magic of Christmas and a child whose belief in Santa is restored.
- Black Boy Joy, edited by Kwame Mbalia, is a vibrant collection of stories, comics, and poems. Seventeen acclaimed Black male and non-binary authors explore the power of joy and the wonders of Black boyhood.
- Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff is a haunting ghost story about navigating grief, growing up, and growing into a new gender identity.
- For a truly memorable gift, Keepsake Tales are children’s books that can be customized for the young reader. The hero of the story is them!
- Most of the books listed here are also available as digital downloads or audio books, which aren’t affected by supply-chain issues. And if you’re looking for more ideas, small independent booksellers are always happy to suggest items tailored to your interests. For instance, Foggy Pine Books in Boone has anti-racist book lists for readers of any age.
Please note: We have provided links to purchase each of these books online through independent bookstores that are minority-owned, woman-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, or veteran-owned. We also recommend you seek out local, independent bookstores in your area as a way to diversify your own personal network and make a real economic impact in your community.
Amber Keister is a writer and editor who believes in the power of story to bring people together. Her work has appeared in Cary Magazine, The News & Observer, and other local publications.