The books, movies and music we're gifting this year

Escape with these titles when the real world just gets too overwhelming.

Sponsored Links

Husband watching television on the sofa with wife's feet resting on lap
KOLOstock via Getty Images
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

There’s no better way to spend a mid-winter holiday evening than wrapped up in blankets on the couch, sipping cocoa and watching a fun, wholesome film with the family -- at least it would be if you hadn’t already been locked in the same house with these same mouth-breathers under COVID quarantine for the last nine months. So this year, while the fam is off-key singing their way through Frozen 2 for the bazillionth time since March, give yourself an early gift. Put on some Kamasi Washington and curl up with one of these phenomenal titles.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Holiday Gift Guide: Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Will Lipman Photography / Abrams ComicArts

It’s sometimes said that traveling back in time is only a fantasy for the privileged. In Octavia Butler’s seminal story -- here adapted into graphic-novel form -- a young, black, 20th century woman time-travels to a plantation in the antebellum South. As in the tradition of century-hopping tales, she shapes the trajectory of her ancestors while simultaneously having to navigate the horrors of the slavery era. Also appearing in this summer’s Fight for Racial Justice bundle by Humble, this graphic novel version of a celebrated sci-fi author’s work had particular resonance in a season of racial reckoning. — Chris Ip, Features Editor

Buy Kindred at Amazon - $19

Race After Technology

Holiday Gift Guide: Race After Technology
Will Lipman Photography / Polity

Ruha Benjamin’s key exploration of how racial discrimination can be structurally embedded in technology came out last year but received newfound attention with 2020’s resurgent Black Lives Matter movement and a national reckoning with race. As we take an ever-more critical eye towards AI and the digital systems that determine our lives, the Princeton professor elucidates the ways we need to ensure that tech innovations ameliorate past inequities instead of amplifying them. It’s equally for the technologist that wants to consider where their industry fits into modern society and for the citizen who wants to understand how that industry is affecting them. — C.I.

Buy Race After Technology at Amazon - $19

Kamasi Washington - Becoming

Holiday Gift Guide: Kamasi Washington - Becoming
Will Lipman Photography / Young Turks

Our records reflect our times and they have, for the most part, not been well this year. The seminal afrofuturist jazz musician Kamasi Washington’s album Becoming was a rare record of hope among it all. The soundtrack to the Netflix documentary following Michelle Obama, Washington’s Emmy-nominated score feels warm, at times wistful, but fundamentally optimistic -- a sentiment as good as any gift going into the new year. — C.I.

Buy Becoming at Amazon - $16

Gamish: A Graphic History of Gaming

Holiday Gift Guide: Gamish: A Graphic History of Gaming
Will Lipman Photography / Particular Books

Filmish was a charming, a fun nostalgia romp, through the history of cinema. Now, Edward Ross has turned his illustrations to the lineage of video games in Gamish. More than a timeline, though, this is a graphic novel about where our notions of play come from, what makes games compelling and what this entertainment form can tell us about free will and choice. Match this comic about games with Framed or Gorogoa -- two games that play on the conventions of comics -- for a complete gift package. — C.I.

Buy Gamish at Amazon - $56

This Isn't Happening: Radiohead's "Kid A" and the Beginning of the 21st Century

Holiday Gift Guide: This Isn't Happening: Radiohead's "Kid A" and the Beginning of the 21st Century
Will Lipman Photography / Hachette Books

20 years ago Radiohead changed music. It’s honestly hard to overstate what a huge deal Kid A was. Following the success of Ok Computer and seemingly poised to take over the world, the band eschewed guitars in favor of synths and indulged many of their more experimental impulses. They also decided against releasing singles or music videos, and instead turned to the internet to stream the album along with short animated films. Rock bands borrowing from experimental electronic music and using the internet to promote their albums is par for the course these days. But in 2000 it was almost unheard of. This Isn't Happening by Steven Hyden tells the whole story of the album, from its conception and recording to its legacy on the music industry and pop culture. Whether Kid A is a defining moment from your youth or you’re being introduced to it for the first time, This Isn’t Happening puts the album in context and shows how it’s just as relevant in 2020 as it was in 2000. — Terrence O’Brien, Managing Editor

Buy This Isn’t Happening at Amazon - $24

Lurking: How a Person Became a User

Holiday Gift Guide: Lurking: How a Person Became a User
Will Lipman Photography / MCD Books

Internet culture is the culture today (for better or worse) and Joanna McNeil takes us back to the origins of regular folk using the Internet in Lurking: How a Person Became a User. Regardless of when you began your Internet journey, you’ll be able to connect with the stories of early Internet users carving out spaces for themselves in a digital world that was, at one time, mostly untouched by corporations. Those days are long gone now and Lurking looks at how those once weird, fun, spontaneous places created by users have been largely taken over now by big business -- and the effects that shift of power has had on all of us who identify as Internet users. But Lurking manages not to be a text bemoaning what the Internet has become, but rather a relatively hopeful one that describes a new digital world in which having constructive (and not totally corporatized) conversations with others online is possible. — Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor

Buy Lurking at Amazon - $16

Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World

Holiday Gift Guide: Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World
Will Lipman Photography / Penguin Random House

If you were alive in the ‘80s you probably remember all the talk (and fear) about Japan’s dominance in business. An economic crash in the ‘90s put a stop to that, but Japan’s influence is still strongly felt abroad thanks to a number of cultural icons that have earned a prominent place in our consciousness and culture. Matt Alt’s Pure Invention takes a look at the history of some of these unique products, from popular media like anime and karaoke to groundbreaking tech like the Walkman and Super Mario. He explains how they were developed, why they became so popular and what makes them so distinctly Japanese. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor

Buy Pure Invention at Amazon - $21

Patch and Tweak with Moog

Holiday Gift Guide: Patch and Tweak with Moog

A hardcover tome for synth nerds, Patch and Tweak with Moog features contributions by everyone from Trent Reznor to Hans Zimmer to Stranger Things composers Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon. The coffee table book includes synth techniques and Moog history, going in-depth on the Mother-32, DFAM, Subharmonicon, Grandmother and Matriarch. Catch a sneak peek of Kim Bjørn’s latest electronic music deep-dive here. — T.O.

Buy Patch and Tweak with Moog - $40

The Goblin Emperor

Holiday Gift Guide: The Goblin Emperor
Will Lipman Photography / Tor Books

There are few places more dangerous than a palace court during a succession power struggle, as Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor shows us. After the Emperor and his next heirs are killed in a suspicious “accident,” fourth-in-line Maia, having spent his entire life in exile for being born half goblin-half elf, is suddenly thrust upon the throne and expected to lead. But with no understanding of court politics or even trusted advisors to turn to, can Maia navigate a path to power before his father’s killers come for his head as well? — Andrew Tarantola, Senior Editor

Buy The Goblin Emperor at Amazon - $14

How to Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables

Holiday Gift Guide: How to Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables
Will Lipman Photography / Meatspace Press

Would you trust Uber to operate your city’s ambulances? Or allow your number of Twitter followers to dictate the quality of public services you receive? The 38 stories and essays contained within How to Run a City Like Amazon imagine what our lives would be like were cities to operate under the guiding corporate principles of today’s biggest tech companies including Apple, IKEA, Pornhub, Spotify, and Grindr. — A.T.

Buy How to Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables - £14

The Interdependency series

Holiday Gift Guide: The Last Emperox
Will Lipman Photography / Penguin Macmillian

If you know someone who loves rollicking space operas imbued with deep political intrigue then they’re going to love Locus Award winning Interdependency series from New York Times best selling author John Scalzi. After discovering a means of traveling faster than light, humanity spreads out among the stars establishing a new order -- The Interdependency -- which dictates that no outpost can live without the others to ensure peace and prosperity for all. But when the Flow, the extradimensional river of energy that enabled our expansion begins to collapse, so too does The Interdependency. Thus, it is up to Emperox Grayland II to lead a rag-tag starship crew across the cosmos in a desperate effort to stabilize the Flow and stave off an intergalactic civil war. — A.T.

Buy The Last Emperox at Amazon - $18

Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive Books 1-3)

Holiday Gift Guide: The Stormlight Archive (Books 1-3)
Will Lipman Photography / Tor Books

Putting even Tolkien’s world-building skills to shame, Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive has been an epic fantasy saga ten years in the making. In a barren, storm-blasted world, ten kingdoms vie for power and fortune over their rivals while each fighting separately against a single common foe. The story follows three protagonists -- a doctor’s apprentice thrown into slavery, a king obsessed with an ancient text while besieged by visions of the past, and an artist in search of forbidden knowledge -- through tightly interwoven narratives documenting their trials and tribulations, downfalls and ultimate redemptions. The box set for the first three titles is currently on sale and the eagerly awaited Book 4, Rhythm of War, is slated for release November 17th. — A.T.

Buy Rhythm of War at Amazon - $21

The Boys Season 2

Holiday Gift Guide: The Boys Season 2
Amazon Prime Video

Everybody’s favorite superhero hit-squad is back on Amazon Prime Video! Following the shocking revelations wrought at the end of the first season of The Boys, Billy Butcher and his crew are on the run and in the fight of their lives against The Seven, led by the eminently detestable Homelander. With a star-studded cast, top-notch writing and more gratuitous violence you can shake a dismembered leg at, The Boys Season 2 promises to be an even bloodier good time than its predecessor. — A.T.

Stream The Boys Season 2 on Prime Video

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Holiday Gift Guide: Bill and Ted Face the Music
Will Lipman Photography / Orion Pictures / UA

It seems that, somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten what it means to “be excellent to each other.” But no worries, William "Bill" S. Preston Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan have returned once again to help save the world by performing the song that will unite humanity… they just still have to write it. Or steal it from their future selves. Whichever’s easier, really. The final installment of the Bill & Ted trilogy has our dynamic, dimwitted duo jetting off to chronologies unknown while their teenage daughters follow in their fathers’ footsteps and attempt to get the best band in the history of the world back together. With a fresh crop of new characters (and a bunch of beloved familiar faces) Bill and Ted Face the Music is a righteous, joyous finale to this classic sci-fi series. — A.T.

Stream Bill and Ted Face the Music on Prime Video

The End of Everything

Holiday Gift Guide: The End of Everything
Will Lipman Photography / Scribner

The last few months have had everybody contemplating their own mortality, but astrophysicist Katie Maack has been obsessed with the end since childhood -- the end of the universe, that is. In The End of Everything Maack takes us on a humorous, eye-opening tour of the five most likely ways our universe will cease to be. — A.T.

Buy The End of Everything at Amazon - $20

Omega Force (Books 1-12)

Holiday Gift Guide: Omega Force books 1-12
Will Lipman Photography / CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Ex-Special Forces Jason Burke enjoyed his seclusive lifestyle deep in the American Rockies but it was not meant to be. Shanghaied by an otherworldly spacecraft and sold into intergalactic slavery, Burke must rely on his wits and his fists to escape his bonds, free his fellow slaves and hijack the ship the stole him from his home-world in a desperate bid for freedom. And that’s just Book one of the Omega Force series. From there on, he and his newly-liberated crew of misfit aliens blast off aboard their newly-minted Phoenix gunship for adventure across the cosmos. Like a spacefaring A-Team, the Omegas right wrongs, help the helpless, and more often than not end up saving the galaxy -- the parts they don’t manage to blow up, at least. All this, while working as a head-busting, gold-hearted mercenary outfit. If you’re looking for an action-packed military space opera that will leave you cheering, don’t pass up Omega Force. — A.T.

Buy Omega Force series at Amazon - $55

Acheron Inheritance (Federation Chronicles Book 1)

Holiday Gift Guide: Acheron Inheritance
Will Lipman Photography / Acoustical Books LLC

What would you do if you woke up in someone else’s body? Especially if that body was a decrepit rusting hulk of an outdated and barely-operational gardening android? That’s exactly the horror that awaits Quinton Aldren in the first installment of Ken Lozito’s new Federation Chronicles series, Acheron Inheritance. Right from the opening pages, Aldren is on the run -- attempting to outwit hunter-killer robots hot on his trail as he attempts to escape a dying planet. And from there things only can, and do, go farther sideways than Aldren could have ever imagined. Written by the same author as Omega Force, Acheron Inheritance is a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure set in a decaying future where humanity lives in fear of an armada of autonomous war machines hell-bent on imposing their own twisted definition of order upon the galaxy. — A.T.

Buy Acheron Inheritance at Amazon - $20

Popular on Engadget