ROCK PAPER RADIO's 2020 Gift Guide For Misfits

spoiler alert: it's just books

ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to, something to read, and something to listen to. Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.

This week I’m disrupting ROCK PAPER RADIO’s usual programming of something to hold on to (that’s the ‘rock’), something to read (that’s the ‘paper’), and something to listen to (you guessed it, that’s the ‘radio’), in order to share the only 2020 gift guide you’ll need to find gifts for everyone in your misfit crew. Missing our usual format? Check out all of ROCK PAPER RADIO’s archives here.

One of the perks of leaving a career that once nurtured and defined me, but eventually sucked my soul dry and left me with only enough energy to weep over a pile of grading every night; is that now I have the time and serotonin to do the things I love again, namely: reading and more reading (also baking and telling my dog she’s so soft).

Another thing about me: I’m not a big fan of ritualized gift-giving or packing my home with stuff. But books? Yes. I am a big fan of real, paper, hold-in-your-hand books. Books (also bread and portraits) are my love language. Which means: me sharing this list with all of you is my way of sending my ROCK PAPER RADIO misfit fam a big, awkward hug.

The books here have either stuck with me long after the last page was turned, or are on my to-read ASAP list. If you read any of them or give any of them as gifts, I’d love to hear about it and join your book club. Reach out. For real. And tag our misfit fam in your nerdy book pics using #RockPaperRadioBookClub on Instagram or Twitter.

Enjoy your reading and giving!


For your friend who keeps messaging you to let her take your picture since she started taking a photography class: The Other Side by Nan Goldin

For your poet friend who knows the pandemic is a metaphor: On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

For your single friend who’s been social distancing in her studio apartment since March: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

For your friend who ran away from home but keeps going back: Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

For your gay biracial friend who wants to join an MFA program and grow a rose garden: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

For your friend who knew to take out her earrings before kicking someone’s ass in high school: Random Family by Adrian LeBlanc

For your friend who adopted a pandemic puppy: How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete

For your friend who eats persimmons and sends hand written thank you notes: Ensō by Shin Yu Pai

For your friend who’s a patriot but not an asshole: Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy by Eric Liu

For your friend who’s still citing Howard Zinn: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

For your friend who makes yogurt and played hacky sack in college: How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

For your friend who’s still killing it in Kangol hats: Emerald Street: A History of Hip Hop in Seattle by Dr. Daudi Abe

For your friend who pronounces croissant “quah—son” but who’s actually a really good person: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

For your friend who’s the cool teacher at school: Experience Inquiry: 5 Powerful Strategies, 50 Practical Experiences by Kimberly L. Mitchell

For your nephew who asked you recently if you have a friend: What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

For your friend who definitely is not a parent: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

For your mom friend who brings whiskey to playdates: Love and Trouble by Claire Derderer

For your friend who booed your competitors at poetry slams in the early 2000’s: Against Memoir by Michelle Tea

For your lesbian friend who still uses a carabiner as a key chain: Trash by Dorothy Allison

For your friend who listens to Alanis Morissette: Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by DT Max

For your graphic designer friend who has established a uniform: Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman

For your friend who works at a startup by day, and is running an OnlyFans empire by night: Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Behavior by Cindy Gallop

For your friend who has a well-worn copy of Lolita on her bedside table: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

For your art director friend who skateboards to work: Fire in the Belly by Cynthia Carr

For your friend who had migraines, IBS, and anxiety even before the pandemic: The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

For your friend who married her high school sweetheart in her 20’s and is now eyeing the Lex app and a motorcycle: Mating in Captivity by Ester Perel

For your single mom friend who wants to burn the family court system to the ground: Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away by Alice Anderson

For your friend who has cultivated healthy boundaries between themself and their parents: Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

For your friend who is working on cultivating healthy boundaries between themself and their parents: Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

For your uncle on Facebook who thinks that the nearly 700 migrant children who have still not been reunited with their parents should have just filled out the proper paperwork: Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario

For your friend who never wanted to fit in anyway: Family of Origin by C.J. Hauser



From Moffett Burgess, pickleball champion: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen

From Kimberly Mitchell, queen of questions: Emergent Strategy by Octavia Butler

From Keri Zierler, lesbian supermodel: Y: The Last Man Omnibus by Brian K. Vaughn

From Mellina White, fire starter: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear

From Ty Hansen, pink salt slab chef: Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut

From Paula Yoshisotto, rescue pet whisperer: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


That’s it for ROCK PAPER RADIO’s 20th(!) issue, misfit fam. We’ll be back to programming as usual next week. In the meantime, keep taking walks outside even if it’s cold, and try to eat at least one entire tin of those sugar-dusted butter cookies from the drug store. And if you buy any of these books either for yourself or someone lucky, show us! Use #RockPaperRadioBookClub in your nerdy reader pics on Instagram or Twitter so we can see which titles our unlikely optimists are diving into this winter.

See you next Thursday.


You can find ROCK PAPER RADIO on Instagram and Twitter @RockPaperRadio. You can help spread the word about our community of misfits and unlikely optimists by sharing this issue on the social medias with a comment that says AT LAST! A GUIDE GUIDE FOR ALL MY WEIRD FRIENDS. Or something like that.