8 Yuletide Reads to Make the Season Bookish & Bright
- By Jen Michalski
- December 14, 2022
From haunting to heartwarming, there’s something here for everyone!
Holidays are already full of traditions, but we readers need one more: books! As an author and an avid reader, one of my Christmastime rituals is revisiting holiday-themed stories. I asked a few writer friends which books they turn to in December and offer them here along with my own favorites. Grab a cup of eggnog, some gingerbread, and a comfy chair, and dig in!
“The Dead” by James Joyce. The final story in Joyce’s Dubliners, “The Dead” takes place at a Christmas party in Dublin at the turn of the 20th century. Considered by T.S. Eliot as one of the greatest short stories of all time, its themes of identity, nationality, family, and love, as examined through the eyes of protagonist Gabriel Conroy, still resonate today.
“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas. This nostalgic prose piece by the famed Welsh poet is packed full of the scents and sounds of the holidays in a quaint seaside town. Plus, there’s snow. Lots of snow.
The Box of Delights by John Masefield. Before there was Harry Potter and Voldemort, there was Kay Harker and Abner Brown. A magical puzzle box is given to young Kay by a magician at a train station as the boy makes his way home for Christmas. The box, Kay discovers, can transport its owner through space and time and is, he soon learns, sought after by a gang of criminals.
“A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote. First appearing in Mademoiselle in 1956, this semi-autobiographical story about Capote (“Buddy”) and his older female cousin (“Sook”) centers on their deep connection as misfits in their poor Southern family. They make fruitcake for relatives for Christmas, and for each other, kites, a poignant metaphor that’s later used to bittersweet effect.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. Set in Ireland in the mid-1980s, Small Things Like These tests one’s faith in humanity and in a higher power. On Christmas Eve, Bill Furlong sees something unsettling while making a coal delivery to a local convent. In a town controlled by the church, looking away is the safe thing to do. But is it the right thing? At 112 pages, this novella is a quick read, but it stays with you for a long time.
The Price of Salt (or Carol) by Patricia Highsmith. To earn extra money over the holidays, Therese, a struggling young set designer, works as a counter girl in one of New York’s prestigious department stores. A chance encounter there with an older divorcée, Carol, who is looking to purchase a doll for her daughter, leads to a friendship, a cross-country road trip, and a tender, life-altering romance that challenges the norms of 1950s society.
The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman. It’s Christmas Eve, and a father and son are seeing each other for the first time in years. The father tells the son about a little girl in the hospital a few miles away. She’s dying of cancer, and the father has a choice to make — the deal of a lifetime. The often-whimsical Backman is deeply introspective in this haunting novella.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. March sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are facing their first Christmas without their father, a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War. They also face the prospect of a threadbare Yuletide: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” Jo, the second eldest, complains in the book’s opening line. This semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel — with its themes of charity and faith — was wildly successful upon its release in 1868-69 and remains beloved today.
Do you have a favorite holiday-themed read? Tell us about it in the comments!
Jen Michalski is the author of three novels, three story collections, and a couplet of novellas. Her latest novel, You’ll Be Fine, was a 2021 Buzzfeed Best Small Press Book and a 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist, and was selected as one of the “Best Books We Read This Year” by the Independent Press Review. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Poets & Writers, Literary Hub, Psychology Today, Writer’s Digest, and elsewhere. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize seven times, she’s the editor of the online literary weekly jmww and currently lives in Southern California. Her forthcoming story collection, The Company of Strangers, will be published in January 2023 by Braddock Avenue Books.