Our 2020 Christmas Gift Guide: The friends & family edition

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be compiling a host of gift guides to help you with your Christmas shopping.


Gifts to make someone feel happy…

  • Yotam Ottolgenghi continues to work magic in the kitchen with Ottolenghi FLAVOUR, co-written with cook and recipe developer Ixta Belfrage. Featuring sections on different cooking techniques and one on mushrooms (!), as well as an index of sauces and other useful bits and bobs, this cookbook is certain to cheer keen home cooks.

  • A memoir about coming out of grief and a literary biography about author Elizabeth von Arnim, Only Happiness Here is a delightful, engaging read. Author Gabrielle Carey became intrigued by Von Armin’s relationship with happiness, in her books as well as her life, and sets off to learn more.

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  • The dog lover in your life may already know of Andrew Cotter’s two beautiful labradors, Olive and Mabel, who shot to internet stardom when the popular sports broadcaster started making videos of them at home during the start of the Covid-19 crisis. Olive, Mabel and Me is his heartwarming story about his life with these two lovable hounds in the midst of a pandemic.

  • It’s Been A Pleasure, Noni Blake is a joyful, sexy and highly entertaining romcom from award-winning author and playwright Claire Christian. Funny and frank, this is the story of one woman’s search for pleasure and it’s a total romp.

  • For a sweeping, nostalgic read set in the Golden Age of Hollywood – try Mr Wilder and Me from Jonathan Coe. Opening in 1977, Calista travels to a Greek island to work for Billy Wilder on his film Fedora. Film buffs will particularly love Coe’s funny, yet tender portrait of the famous director.

Find more suggestions for books to make you feel happy here.


Gifts to inspire & empower…

  • A Life on Our Planet is a legacy-defining work from iconic broadcaster David Attenborough. After clearly and honestly detailing the current impact of the climate crisis on our world, Attenborough looks to the future – revealing what happens if we don’t act, but also what’s possible if we do.

  • Living on Stolen Land is a must-read work for anyone looking to learn more about First Nations perspectives in Australia. Written as a prose poem, this wide-ranging book educates readers about the colonial contextual history of Australia, and also suggests what actions could be taken to work towards a brighter, more respectful future.

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  • From writer and broadcaster Ramona Koval, A Letter to Layla is an uplifting examination of what it is to be human. Inspired by her growing granddaughter Layla, Koval travels around the globe and across time to ask questions about who we are, and what we could yet achieve.

  • Humans is the new book from Brandon Stanton, creator of popular photo blog Humans of New York, which has evolved to encompass images and stories of people from all parts of the world. This intimate yet expansive book proves a moving antidote against an increasingly divided world.

  • Helen Garner presents the second volume of her diaries with One Day I’ll Remember This: Diaries 1987-1995, this time opening with an all-consuming love affair and ending with the controversial publication of The First Stone. This is a book to dip in and out of, and Garner’s unvarnished reflections on her life and work will be a balm to anyone engaging in creative work.

Find more suggestions for books to inspire hope and action here, or else browse our selection of recommended life-affirming reads here.


Gifts to encourage community connections & explorations…

  • A book that will appeal to experienced twitchers and novices alike, How Birds Behave is a fascinating investigation into why birds do what they do. Biologist Wenfei Tong provides insight into nesting, songbirds, mateship, and more, as well as demonstrates how birds are adapting to their changing world.

  • In Wild Nature, John Blay laces up his walking boots and goes bush to explore Australia’s rugged southeast forests – stretching from Canberra to the coast and on to Wilsons Promontory – in a great circle from his home in Bermagui. The result is an all-encompassing, philosophical journey into the heart of a vast and contested Australian wilderness.

  • This One Wild and Precious Life is a persuasive argument for forging connections – with ourselves, with our communities, and with nature. Drawing on science, literature, philosophy and memoir, author and social-media star Sarah Wilson suggests ways in which we can reconnect with life and self.

  • Creative explorers will find much to relish in Make Art Where You Are. From a five-minute blind contour of a cup of coffee to an hour-long sketch of a cityscape, the guidebook is filled with ideas for finding opportunities to make mark, or simply to reflect, while you are on the move.

  • For wandering a bit further from home – Lonely Planet’s Best Day Walks Australia is a rich treasure trove. Covering a wide swathe of regional Victoria, as well as other parts of the country, it includes 60 terrific day walk recommendations that range in time and skill level.

Find more suggestions for books to help you explore your neighbourhood here.


Gifts to enjoy while nesting at home…

  • Long may the craze for houseplants live on… In Plantopedia, Lauren Camilleri and Sophia Kaplan present the definitive guide to potting, maintaining, and loving your houseplants. You can find even more picks for plant parents here.

  • For those looking longingly at airfares, Paolo Cognetti’s Without Ever Reaching the Summit may just scratch that particular itch. Part travel journal, secular pilgrimage, literary homage and nature writing, this book is a love letter to one of the most spectacular places on earth.

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  • Catland is a captivating deep dive into Japan’s feline love affair, complete with cute illustrations, lovely photography and engaging stories. Cat cafes, Hello Kitty, beckoning cat statues, artisan cat beds, and more – this is a book to pore over.

  • Start a new tradition in your own home with Elizabeth Hewson’s Saturday Night Pasta. Designed to teach self-care through the humble act of making pasta, this cookbook is extremely delicious therapy for the modern-day food lover. And did we mention, pasta?

  • If your intended recipient is having trouble sleeping, or simply in need of a good long rest, Nothing Much Happens may just be the answer. Using experience as a meditation and yoga teacher, Kathryn Nicolai has compiled a collection of bedtime stories for grown-ups.

Find more suggestions for books to keep you busy at home here.


Gifts for escaping to other worlds…

  • Slip away into a surreal and entirely enchanting world of limitless halls, staircases, passages and vestibules with Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. The less you know about this slim, handsomely packaged fantasy novel the better so we will entice you with the: “May your Paths be safe, your Floors unbroken and may the House fill your eyes with Beauty.”

  • Head out to the high seas with Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water – a thrillingly original murder mystery set aboard an East India merchant ship. A Sherlock Holmes-esque tale with a spooky supernatural element and a vibrant cast, this chunky book is perfect for disappearing inside for hours.

  • Elena Ferrante is ready to consume the hearts and minds of readers once more with her new novel. Set in a divided Naples in the 1990s, The Lying Life of Adults follows teenager Giovanna as she navigates the ferocious volatility of adolescence and the disorienting limitations of the new adult world in front of her.

  • Song of the Crocodile is a captivating Australian saga that follows three generations of the Billymil family. This is the first novel from Yuwaalaraay woman and musician Nardi Simpson, and her lyrical prose is guaranteed to sweep you off your feet.

  • Perhaps you are longing to peek inside other houses? In Lives of Houses, a collection of notable writers celebrate our fascination with the houses of famous literary figures, artists, composers, and politicians of the past. Complete with illustrations, this is a fresh look into the meaning of home.

For more transportive reads, we recommend browsing our picks for literary mysteries for book lovers and non-fiction for lovers of adventure and detective stories, as well as looking back over a selection of sci-fi and fantasy reads published this past year.


Gifts for engaging with the world we live in…

  • From Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Anne Applebaum, Twilight of Democracy is an illuminating read for anyone looking to understand the current state of global politics, and in particular, the rise of illiberalism and authoritarianism in the Western world.

  • Polymath and former politician Barry Jones is know for his candour and fierce intelligence; What Is to Be Done is his new book and it’s a thought-provoking look at the challenges of modernity, and a call-to-action for us to take charge.

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  • Songlines are an archive for powerful knowledges that ensured Australia’s many Indigenous cultures flourished for over 60,000 years. An accessible and informative primer on the topic, Songlines: The Power and Promise invites readers to understand a remarkable way for storing knowledge in memory by adapting song, art, and most importantly, Country, into their lives.

  • The Mutant Project is a fascinating book for science nuts. Anthropologist Eben Kirksey visits the frontiers of genetic modification to ask questions about social justice, science and health, and reflect on the future of humanity.

  • Charting the experiences of those who have the courage to come forward and face their abusers in high-profile child abuse and sexual assault cases, Louise Milligan was profoundly shocked by what she found. In Witness, she shares what she saw, as well as her interviews with high-profile members of the legal profession, and never-before-published court transcripts.

Find more suggestions for books to help us rethink the world here.


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The Devil and the Dark Water

The Devil and the Dark Water

Stuart Turton

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