If the point of the holidays is to spend time away from the workplace and in the company of the people you love (and the vicinity of a fireplace), then books are the first necessary prop. No you don’t need your phone; you’re already with everyone you’d want to communicate with. The only other thing you should keep within reach is food—and alcohol, probably. And socks. And a blanket. And maybe a mask. It might be that the kind of book you like to read during the holidays is what you’ve always read during the holidays: Harry Potter. This is acceptable, but when you start to think you need a break from the wizarding world, consider branching out. The years have been full of good literature, and if you spend your whole life of holidays re-reading Harry Potter, you’ll never get through the never-ending list of “books that are good.” So here are a few of the best books I’ve read this year, both new and old, plus some recommendations from my well-read colleagues. Put down the Order Of The Phoenix (it’s my personal favorite, too) and pick up…
Eve Babitz is a lot of relatable fun. After bouncing back and forth between Los Angeles and New York this past year for work and for fun and for love, reading her feels like reading thoughts of my own I haven’t thought to write down yet. Which is funny considering that in one of the stories that makes up Black Swans, she writes about this very feeling: “...And I was in love with his book, which I felt I could have written myself. Which is one of the troubles with writing; people who love your writing already think they’re you.” Turns out she lives my life a little more glamorously than I do, but I laughed the whole time.
The trouble with Joan Didion’s work is that almost everything else pales in comparison. So you should read this last, or only right before Toni Morrison. Once you’ve devoured the entire Didion canon, from The White Album to “The Panic in Needle Park,” you will be ready for this, her year of magical thinking. It’s a book about grief so it is not easy to read, but you will also not be able to stop until you’re done. Cry if you want to.
Sure, I enjoyed the 1978 "Dawn Of The Dead" as much as the next horror fanatic, but now, every zombie apocalypse rendition feels empty and overdone—an excuse for violence. But this one came highly recommended by several well-read people and I can see why: It does, somehow, capture the mood of this past year articulately and inconspicuously. The zombie aspect, if that’s what it should be called, is more of an afterthought. So the answer is yes, you should read this book.
A moving read told from several different viewpoints. In the end it’s about both what it means to be a Native American today and what it means to be yourself today. Not for nothing, it ended the year on the Times' Best Books of 2018 list—this one feels like watching a really good movie, and it’s worth your time.
When you pick this one up—and you should—what you can be prepared to read is something that sort of resembles a 21st century, psychological Sleeping Beauty. But it's not so much a fairytale as a depiction of a mundane fever dream induced by fictional drugs and written in sharp, concise language that begs the question, according to Dwight Garner's Times review, "Why climb out of bed at all?" It's the holidays; my answer is you shouldn't. Moshfegh's heroine apparently agrees.
If you're sensing a theme here you're probably right. Lovers of Black Swans will love Bad Behavior too. In these stories, the overall pace moves a little more slowly, and instead of LA, it's New York. You know how much New Yorkers love to read about New York. Love.
It’s been a long time since a book made me cry with its pure literary genius, but this one did, and now it’s nestled somewhere on my "Top 10 Books That Changed My Life Forever" list. You should read it before 2019 begins. Wouldn’t want to go into the new year with an unchanged life, would you?
Photographed by the author. All books from McNally Jackson.