I’ve written and erased at least 20 introductions to this year’s gift guide. I don’t know what to say except: we all really need a holiday this year. And with many of us staying close to home and avoiding family gatherings, a thoughtful gift may be more appreciated than ever before. So, here’s a guide with a little something for everyone. Although this list uses affiliate links, I encourage you to buy from local, small businesses whenever possible. Most independent bookstores will order books that are not in stock and many will ship gifts for you.
A Laptop Stand
2020 was the year of WFH and it looks like 2021 will continue the trend. A laptop stand will encourage good posture and help avoid back pain and eyestrain. I use a simple platform that raises my laptop up a few inches, but my husband, who spends his day on Zoom, recommends this adjustable platform from iLevel, which is easy to reposition up or down for optimal camera angles.
A Portable Desk
When you’re not at your desk—when, say, your children are using it for remote schooling—a portable lap desk can help you turn your bedroom, sofa, or comfy chair into a work space. This bamboo model from SongMics comes recommended from my sister, who has been using it throughout the pandemic.
Wake Up & Work Notepad
This daily notepad strikes me as more approachable than a bullet journal or even a daily planner. To me, this notepad says, “I’m here for you on the days when you’re feeling productive, but no pressure!” It also includes a place to note daily water intake and meal plans.
Drinking French by David Lebovitz
If your friend ends her writing day with a cocktail, I recommend this charming cookbook. Even if you never get around to making its excellent recipes, they’re worth reading for Lebowitz’s descriptions of life in Paris. Combined with the beautiful color photographs, it’s easy to imagine whiling away an afternoon in a French cafe.
So You Want To Publish a Book? by Anne Trubek
This nuts-and-bolts guide to publishing aims to draw the curtain on the publishing industry, defining terms and processes that are generally only known to insiders. Author Anne Trubek founded her own press, Belt Publishing, six years ago, and this guidebook makes an argument for the importance of small presses to writers and readers.
Freewrite Smart Typewriter
I often use Freedom, the Internet-blocking software, to help manage the daily distractions of email and “research” rabbit holes, but the Freewrite Smart Typewriter takes Internet-blocking to a new level. Available in either desktop or traveler size, the Freewrite looks like a cross between a word processor and a small electric typewriter. It allows you to save everything you type to online cloud storage such as Dropbox and Evernote, but does not have web-browsing capabilities. It also has limited editing features, so that writers are forced to keep writing instead of fussing with a particular sentence. This machine would be ideal for early drafts, and for working from home in a small space.
A Potted Plant
Plants are beautiful and quiet companions, the perfect audience when you need to read your work out loud but aren’t necessarily looking for feedback. You can’t go wrong with a pothos plant, which will grow anywhere and doesn’t need a lot of coddling, but if you really want to go low maintenance, you can get your friend a cactus. Planet Desert delivers potted cacti and succulents, and Bloomscape is great for leafy green plants, and also ships plants directly to your home.
A Postcard from a Famous Author
You have to act fast for this gift, which will not be available after today. Every year, The Common holds a postcard auction, allowing readers to bid on the chance to receive a handwritten, personalized postcard from acclaimed authors. This year’s auction includes Ann Patchett, David Sedaris, Min Jin Lee, Anne Carson, and Edmund White—to name just a few. Online bidding takes place at charityauction.bid/postcards and ends today, Nov. 30.
A Literary Facemask
Etsy has tons of book-themed facemasks, and your local independent bookstore probably also has a bin of them near the cash register. My personal favorite is from Litographs, whose products I have recommended in previous gift guides. As with their t-shirts and tote bags, their mask is printed with famous literary quotations in a tiny font.
Making Comics by Lynda Barry
This self-help book teaches you to draw and write your own comics and helps you to establish a daily creative practice. I think this would be a wonderful gift for a writer at any stage of their career, because it’s the kind of book that opens your mind and gets you thinking in a different way. Its drawing and writing prompts could help you to get out of a rut, kickstart a new project, or simply provide an activity to help get through pandemic life.
White Pens & Black Paper
Reverse the contrast with a black paper notepad and what have been consistently rated the best white pens. Novelty may not be the mother of invention but it’s definitely the fun aunt.
Literary Postage Stamps
Back when paper submissions were still a thing, stamps were something that writers bought by the roll. Now, they’re more of a special occasion item, which is all the more reason to choose ones with flair. Encourage your friends to write you some letters with these literary-themed stamps, including “Voices of Harlem” forever stamps, and Walt Whitman 85-cent stamps. There’s also a “The Snowy Day” stamp, which looks lovely on holiday cards.
An Extremely Comfortable Reading Chair
Ever since the fall weather set in, I’ve been looking for the comfy chair of my dreams. We have comfortable-enough chairs in our apartment, and even two bean bags, but I’m looking for the kind of chair you can read an entire novel in, the kind of chair that embraces you, the kind of chair that your children will want to sit in but you will not let them because it is YOUR CHAIR. This might be a gift you need to buy for yourself, and that’s okay. You deserve it.
Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison
This craft book looks at the patterning of non-linear narratives. It invites readers and writers alike to think about storytelling methods that don’t fall within the classic Aristolean ideal of beginning, middle, and end. Writing for The New Yorker, Katy Waldman described it “a deeply wacky pleasure,” which sounds like what we all need right now.
Literary Tarot Cards
These Rumi and Emily Dickinson “Divining Cards” feature quotes from the great poets to “Inspire, Provoke, Contemplate and Answer Life Questions.” Perhaps they can also help writers with thorny manuscripts.
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodrom
This recommendation comes from my older sister, who teaches wellness classes as part of a work readiness program. She describes it a classic book for turbulent times and one that might help to conquer writer’s block.