Reading and listening to the books my loved ones adore always gives me a warm, glowing feeling: it’s like getting to take a peek inside their brain and connect in a way that feels very sweet.
What’s doubly lovely is this works both ways. Gifting my friends and family my favorite books from any given year is my way of saying, “here’s what I love…and I think you will too.”
Read on to find out which literary fiction, essays, short stories, romances, and poetry audiobooks I’m planning on gifting to the people around me this year.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl had been taking up residence on my to-listen-list for years, and now that I’ve finally experienced it, I’m absolutely livid with myself for not getting to it sooner, but overjoyed that I’ve heard it now.
In this genre and gender-defying novel, it’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris has a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Paul transforms his body and his gender at will as he crosses the country on a whirlwind journey of love, sex, friendship, and identity. In Paul, Andrea Lawlor queers the already queer 90s, and nearly demands the reader let go of any rigidity in order to experience the novel in all its liberatory beauty.
A bonus: Paul is full of pitch perfect music references and evokes the very relatable feeling of overthinking every mixtape one makes, proving that even if your identity is magical realism levels of fluid, you cannot escape wanting your crushes to think you have perfect taste.
Blue Horses by Mary Oliver
I’m of the belief that poetry collections are a perfect gift. Your chosen present-receiver can listen and pause and come back when the time feels right, because each poem is its own complete work. Poetry also lends itself to revisiting and rereading time and time again. It’s the gift, as they say, that keeps on giving.
I think there’s no better poet to start with than Mary Oliver: her work is beautifully written, but what I appreciate most about her is her clarity. Her words mean exactly what they say, with honesty and preciseness that makes a warm feeling sit in my chest. Blue Horses is Oliver’s return to nature imagery, her career-defining motif, by some accounts. Her attentiveness to the world around us is unmatched, and a reminder to look a little closer and revel in what’s special in the every day.
Never Whistle at Night edited by Shane Hawk & Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.
Never Whistle at Night was one of my most highly anticipated listens of 2023! I spent a lot of time in the American southwest this year, driving down very dark desert roads, getting the palpable feeling that the land itself was very much still wild, and feeling certain that I was not the only living thing out there. Throughout my time, I became really interested in the region’s Indigenous mythology, particularly the parts that were less-than-human. I managed to fully terrify myself, but still can’t get enough.
Never Whistle at Night is a collection of wholly original and shiver-inducing tales from 26 Indigenous authors. While unsettling, it’s also a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination, and a glorious reveling in all the things an ill-advised whistle might summon. Stand out stories for me include Kushtuka by Mathilda Zeller and Behind Colin’s Eyes by editor Shane Hawk.
A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
Hanif Abdurraqib is one of the finest writers currently working today. I am constantly thinking about everything he’s ever written about Carly Rae Jepsen, and his essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us has become a touchstone for music and culture writing.
A Little Devil in America explores Black art, music, and culture in all their glory and complexity, reflects on how Black performance is woven into the fabric of American culture, and is infused with Abdurraqib’s own personal history of love, grief, and performance. Aburraqib’s writing is beautiful and sharp, and a must-listen.
Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date by Ashley Herring Blake
2023 was the year of listening to saucy little rom-coms that had me blushing while washing the dishes. The most recent of these was Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date, the third and final installment in the Bright Falls romance trilogy. A queer romance with a fake dating trope set in a world of interconnected couples and characters? Hello!!!
I’ve been diligently working on getting all of my friends to listen to the Bright Falls series, so it feels only right that I also peer pressure you, reader of the PRHA staff gift guide, to press play for a fun, sexy time.
There’s more audio goodness where that came from!
To find more gift ideas this holiday season (and to win big) follow along with our PRH Audio 12 Days of Audiobook Giveaways on Instagram!