What to Read this Holiday Season

When I think about the holidays, I long to cozy up with a good book and a mug of tea next to a Christmas tree. Ever since college, Christmastime has signaled the uninterrupted and ideal reading marathon for everything I couldn’t read during the semester.

I’m not alone in my holiday reading traditions. Liz, for one, has always been my go-to book friend, and we’ve spent every winter texting about our latest reads. (We do this in every season, every day, really, but that’s beside the point.) It’s overwhelming to decide what book to start with, so we decided to help you out. These are some holiday book recommendations from your Eight Hundred Words duo, some of which we will return to in our own holiday reading escapades.

Our Shared Favorites:

The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling | I mean, need we say more? My favorite holiday breaks have been spent marathoning the Harry Potter books, and honestly, it’s difficult for me not to return to them every year. If you’ve never read them, consider this your official sign to get over whatever is keeping you from them. They’re definitely worth the hype.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë | Elizabeth and I share a deep, deep love for our girl Jane. At one point in college, we snuggled up with glasses of red wine and watched a film adaptation of the book to celebrate Charlotte Brontë’s birthday. Jane Eyre is a story of love, loss, and longing, plus it’s considered a protofeminist novel based on how it deals with gender. It’s incredible, and beautiful, and I need to stop talking about it before I give up on finals and begin another reread.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen | Another favorite classic shared between us and about a million other people. If you’ve never read Jane, this is a great one to start with. No film adaptation does this novel proper justice, and the way Austen critiqued societal norms is brilliant. It’s a love story, of course, but it’s not what culture has made it seem to be. If you haven’t read it, now’s the time.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig | This was my first novel of 2018, and Liz read it soon after moving to NYC. Matt Haig is incredible and his talent spans across genres. How to Stop Time is a story about fear and love and loss. It’ll suck you in and you won’t be able to put it down.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi | This book, y’all. I’ve probably given out a half dozen copies because it is so beautiful and important. Yaa Gyasi is an outrageously talented writer, and Homegoing is likely one of the best books you’ll ever read.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck | I honestly don’t have the words to tell you about this novel, except that three years later, I’m still reeling. I have a tattoo inspired by it and, like Homegoing, I’ve given ton of copies as gifts. I’ve never met someone who read East of Eden and didn’t fall in love with it. It’s a big novel that moves slowly, but it’s worth the time.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle | A fantastical story for people of all ages. This novel feels like rest and taught me so much about myself. It’s a quick, easy read that’ll leave you inspired.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy | Thomas Hardy (not to be confused with British heart-throb Tom Hardy) was a brilliant Victorian poet and novelist. Far from the Madding Crowd is beautiful and heavy and truly contains everything I love about classic literature.

The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis | These are good for the soul. Go back to Narnia for the holidays. You deserve it.

Ash’s Picks

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | I won’t act like The Handmaid’s Tale is a lighthearted, easy read. But, it’s brilliant and terrifyingly relevant in 2018. (Trigger warning for rape, though. Be careful there.)

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely | I read a lot of Young Adult novels, mostly because YA deals with issues in a clever and necessary way. All American Boys was co-written by two acclaimed YA writers, writing narration of the two different protagonists, and it’s a novel I’ve thought about long after finishing it. It deals with racism and police violence; if you’ve read The Hate U Give and it left you wanting more, this is a great place to start.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (series) by Jenny Han | You’ve probably heard of this series by now, but if you haven’t gotten around to reading it, now’s the time. It is precious and wonderful and, miraculously, made me want to go back to high school. Read the books, fall in love with the characters, and then watch the Netflix movie a million times.

Playing with Matches by Hannah Orenstein | I’ve read a lot of “ChickLit” this year, and few of them have actually impressed me. Playing with Matches, however, is the exception. It’s relevant and clever and follows a twenty-something girl following her dreams, looking for love. It reads like the rom com we’ve all been waiting for, really. It’s easy and fun, and another one I’m giving a million copies of as gifts.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr | This is another long one but a good one. This novel carries you in the way all great literature should, and it’s worth sticking in for the long haul. Doerr’s narrative skill is inspiring and impressive and something I’m still not over six months after finishing the novel. If I had to choose one word to describe this novel, it would be beautiful.

Liz’s Picks

Winter by Ali Smith | Aside from the title, this is a great seasonal pick. However, don't be fooled. This isn't a cozy, easy read. This novel is a little more literary in nature and subtly discusses British politics. But it's beautifully written and quite a challenging read. 

Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel | A classic, old-school thriller. Originally published in 1965, this is the literary equivalent to watching a black and white film. I want to read this one late into the night next to a crackling fire adding to the spookiness.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | THE GREATEST MOST HEARTWARMING BOOK YOU WILL READ THIS YEAR. I also want to read this curled up by the fire for hours and hours.

Becoming by Michelle Obama | Because this is the biggest book of the year and completely delightful.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean | In case you want to read some book-ish nonfiction. This is a lovely history of libraries, the role they play in society, and a closer look at the LA Public Library burning in 1986. Plus follow @susanorlean on Twitter for laughs and read her completely wonderful New Yorker article, Growing Up in the Library.

We acknowledge that it’s humanly impossible for you to read all of these books this holiday season. But we love words and both read a lot and didn’t want to limit our suggestions. Choose a few, whether you’re searching for nostalgia, laughter, whimsy, or that great weight of getting completely wrapped up in a novel. I often read books based on what I’m “feeling” so if you need guidance, leave a comment and we’ll point you in the right direction. Consider this a menu rather than a meal plan. Choose one, or five, and get yourself that mug of tea and a warm blanket and read on friends.

Ashton Ray