Holiday Books: What to Read Next

Lisa writes: What do December and August have in common? Holiday Books.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Summer reading, with toes dipped into a pool or backs pressed against warm sand, is a time for lazy reading. We look for books that can be discarded with the nearly empty bottles of suntan lotion, left in the bottom of a beach bag and easily forgotten. In the same way that we crave more substantive foods in the winter, we look for holiday books with more depth. Here are four works that can be mulled over again and again through the winter months as their characters stay with us long after we close the cover or turn off the Kindle.

The Goldfinch, Donna TarttThe Goldfinch…I haven’t even finished this massive tome, but know that it is one of the best books I have read in years. One night last week I turned the pages of this masterful work until 5 am. Maybe you will have more self-control than I do, and will set down Donna Tartt’s third novel before midnight, but I promise it will not be easy. Told in the voice of a teenage boy and later a young man, Theo Decker is set loose into the world with the death of his single mother. At the moment that he loses his mother, he steals an invaluable piece of art from the Met, The Goldfinch, and this real-life painting (Dutch: 1654) will be his True North. For a decade and a half we watch Theo struggle with loses, struggle with who he is and struggle with the life he wishes he could have had. The one constant is a multi-million dollar work of art that he has carefully hidden in his bedroom. Theo takes us through the world of real art and its reproductions, real antiques and reproductions and finally asks us to look at our real self.

The Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann PatchettThis Is the Story of a Happy Marriage may be the title of Ann Patchett’s new collection of essays, but my favorite of the collection is, ironically, the one where Patchett owned up to her failings in, “The Sacrament of Divorce.” Patchett married young and, by her own admission, might have mistaken the process for another,

I thought that men were like houses, that you could buy one on the cheap that had potential and just fix it up, and that fixing it up was actually better than getting a house that was already good because then you could make it just the way you wanted it. In short, I was an idiot, but I was also twenty-two years old.

Patchett is best known for Bel Canto, her runaway bestseller, but here is a collection of 22 pieces that are reprinted from newspapers and magazines. Many of them address two issues, writing and marriage, even when they are ostensibly about another. The essays about her childhood are exercises in understanding her feelings about family and, more particularly, marriage. Even an essay about her father, her trial for the LA police academy, is ultimately about writing. Little of her writing is cliché, none of it is predictable and, if either of her two main subjects are of interest, this is a wonderful holiday read.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project. I loved this book which I came to with no expectations. Graeme Simsion, the author, segued from a multi decade career in data and The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman, academic geneticist, and his quest to find a wife. Don has Asperger’s syndrome and the typical give and take of the dating scene has left him lost, confused and yearning for something more efficient. Enter The Rosie Project, his personal quest to find a wife through far most scientific means. The trajectory of the book is entirely predictable, from almost the first page (which I believe was originally conceived as a screenplay for a Rom-Com), but that does not seem to matter at all. Don’s observations are so keen, his vantage point so simple, yet profound, and his voice so compelling, that the ending becomes entirely beside the point. This December book could very well qualify as an August book, but read it now because by next summer you will probably be tempted to see the movie.

The Silent Wife, A.S. A. HarrisonThe Silent Wife. This is not Gone Girl, though often compared to that wonderful book both because of the subject matter, a marriage under the microscope, and the deluded first person voices of both husband and wife. If you can stop comparing the two then The Silent Wife is a wonderful, haunting, deranged, but satisfying book. I am not sure if there is going to be a new genre of books–wives who want to kill their husbands–but if there is, this will be right up there on the list. The first, and sadly because of her death, last book of A.S.A. Harrison is a warning about all that we leave unsaid, about the tinderbox of relationships where silence seems expedient but instead is dangerous.

What title would you add to this list of holiday books? We are always looking for more good reads.



  1. Cathy donovan says

    I recommend The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline…a fascinating historical piece of fiction shedding light on a little known piece of history about orphans sent on trains from NYC to the Midwest late-1800’s to 1930.

  2. says

    Thank you so much for the list! Sometimes I get overwhelmed in the bookstore and forget what I want, so I will write these down for my next trip. Thank you very much for the suggestions.

    Best books I read this year were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Double Time by Jane Roper, and I’m in the middle of The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar and am enjoying it very much.

    And I’m going to be obnoxiously self-promote-y (since self-publishing means I’m the only one to do it) and recommend my own novel, Almost There, for anyone who needs a good cry:

  3. says

    I loved the Goldfinch – could NOT put it down! But I need to hear what someone else makes of the ending. I need perspective, interpretation, opinion. I don’t know how this could be done on a public blog – but I’d love it if you (or anyone!) would let us know, somehow, what you think. Thanks!

  4. says

    The Goldfinch has been waiting for me since before India, but I wanted to savor it, not read it on a plane…. I highly recommend The View from Here by Deborah McKinley. And Amor Towle’s The Rules of Civility. But the most useful and surprising book I’ve read recently is Molly Best Tinsley’s Entering the Blue Stone–I don’t usually read books about end of life and parents, I avoid them like the plague, but this one was so surprisingly super-helpful I blogged about it today: This is one that will make a difference in any midlifer’s planning–for themselves and parents. But for fun, those two fiction books I mentioned are great!

  5. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    They’re all on my list. Thanks for great recommendations! I just wish I could read everything I want to!

  6. Carpool Goddess says

    Great list, Lisa! I’ll add them to my growing pile.

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  8. says

    A rockin’ good writer is Deborah McKinlay and her The View from Here was such a great read. Also, Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. OMG, I commented the other day on exactly the same thing! Well, I’m consistent, at least, if memory challenged!

  9. says

    I hopped over from the Midlife Boulevard LInk up because I can ALWAYS use a good recommendation for a good book. I’m planning a little self care this holiday and one of your book recommendations sounds like a perfect way to do that. Thank you! ~Kathy

  10. says

    When you read a book, all of your attention is focused on the story—the rest of the world just falls away, and you can immerse yourself in every fine detail you’re absorbing.