A very special 18th birthday gift for book lovers

When my daughter turned 18 recently I knew exactly what I wanted her 18th birthday gift to be. I’d seen it on Instagram, and the young lady in question had declared it the best present she’d ever received. And for my girl, who’s been a bookworm since she could first grasp a cloth book in her tiny hands, I knew immediately that this would be the perfect gift for a bookworm.

The ultimate present for a book lover

This 18th birthday present is put together with so much love and personal thought that it can’t fail to land well, but for a bookworm it has to be one of the loveliest ideas to mark the transition to adulthood that I’ve ever seen. Long before the big day, I created a WhatsApp group named Maddie’s birthday. I added to the group everyone I thought had been important in her life so far – including friends, family and godparents – plus some friends of mine who have shown an interest in her life and supported me in raising her. I also added some inspirational women I know who I thought might be willing to inspire a fellow feminist and philosopher of life.

The list included her old Brownie leader, my friend who is inspirational in her quest to cure type 1 diabetes, and one of her best friends, who agreed to coordinate input from her own friendship group.

I then typed this message:

This is an eclectic group of people who I thought might be willing to help me with a project for my daughter’s 18th birthday. Some of you are family, friends, and godparents. Some are good friends, or friends of mine who I’ve chosen because you inspire me, and I think I you might have something to inspire Maddie. Some don’t know Maddie at all, but know something about her and might have relevant wisdom to share. Fellow feminists, followers of politics, film lovers, the pancreatically challenged, or bookworms like she is. This invitation might feel cheeky to some of you, and I absolutely will not take offence if you leave the group as fast as you joined it. Feel free to exit at any point. Also, if you think I’ve missed anyone who might love my plan, please do add them.

I can’t quite believe it. Anyway… I once read about a lovely idea where for someone’s 18th birthday their parent got everyone she knew to send her daughter a book that made them think of her, or that they thought would resonate with her. She ended up with a stack of books and declared it the best present she’d ever had.

Maddie is the ultimate bookworm, and I’d love to do that for her 18th. If you were at all considering giving her a gift, I would love it if you felt like you wanted to get on board with this. You would choose a book, write a personal message inside and send it to me. I would then package the whole lot and gift them to her from everyone together.

The best gift for a bookworm

A personalised book haul is a perfect 18th birthday present for book lovers

The response was overwhelming. People were universally on-board, and started discussing which books they might choose for her. The group got so busy that I had to create a Google doc to collate the list of suggestions, so that everyone could see what each other had chosen in case they duplicated. One of my closest friends struck up a conversation with my nephew that I’m sure is ongoing today!

Maddie’s friend was equally excited, and I started hiding my phone in case her name popped up on my screen while my daughter was in the room.

Over the next few weeks, books began to trickle in and I hid them away at the back of my wardrobe. The pile grew and grew, until my shoe collection could no longer adequately conceal them, and I had to visit the local shops to beg a cardboard box to store them in. Eventually, even that wasn’t big enough, and I had to source a box capable of holding over 40 books, all with personalised messages as to why they’d been chosen.

The ultimate list of books for an 18th birthday

So how did it go?

On the day, my newly fledged adult had no idea what was in the box. I, meanwhile, was beside myself with excitement. You can see how it went here, in my Instagram post. First she was overwhelmed by how many books were in the box; then, as she read the first inscription, it dawned on her what this was, and the smile spread. She’s not known for being effusive, but I knew; she was touched.

So what was on the list of thoughtfully selected books for an 18th birthday? Here’s the full list – even if you don’t go all in, you’re bound to find some good books for an 18 year old in this list (*contains affiliate links):

Good books for 18 year olds
Book recommendations for 18 year olds
Perfect gift for bookworms

Good books for 18 year olds

  1. Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
  2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
  3. Educated – Tara West
  4. ​​Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  5. Wonder – RJ Palacio
  6. Daddy-long-legs & Dear enemy – Jean Webster
  7. How to be invisible – Kate Bush
  8. Be happy, be you – Penny Alexander & Becky Goddard-Hill
  9. Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  10. The World’s Wife – Carol Ann Duffy
  11. The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall
  12. Farenheit 451 – Tim Bradbury
  13. The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran
  14. The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible – Charles Eisenstein 
  15. Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  16. God’s politicians – Graham Dale
  17. I love you Blue Kangaroo – Emma Chichester Clark
  18. The Notebook – José Saramago
  19. Letter to my daughter – Maya Angelou
  20. How to be a stoic – Penguin Books
  21. Sweet Dreams (the story of the New Romantics) – Dylan Jones
  22. The beekeeper of Sinjar – Dunya Mickhail
  23. On the road – Jack Kerouac
  24. Dear Ijeawele – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  25. Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan
  26. The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
  27. Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
  28. The Rotter’s Club – Jonathan Coe
  29. Freakonomics – Steven D Levitt & Stephen J Dubner
  30. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  31. How to kill your family – Bella Mackie
  32. Once upon a time in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino
  33. My own words – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  34. Tales of the city – Armistead Maupin
  35. The Turn of the Key – Ruth Ware
  36. An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
  37. The First Woman – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
  38. A doll’s house, part 2 – Lucas Hnath
  39. The night circus – Erin Morgenstern
  40. Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo
  41. Far from the madding crowd – Thomas Hardy
  42. The Pickwick papers – Charles Dickens

What I love about this list of gifts for a bookworm is how varied it is. From politics and feminism to classics and modern page-turners, this list is representative of her network, young and old, religious and not, literary students and film lovers, with a bit of activism thrown in for good measure. I want to read them all myself. But I’ll have to wait; because she’s cleared an entire shelf in her bedroom that now houses her 18th birthday stash. I’ll update you here if I ever get the chance to read them!

If this post has got you hoping you might be able to do this for your younger child one day, you might like this post on how to get younger children interested in reading.

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