So, it’s crunch time. There are presents to wrap, refrigerators to empty, bags to pack, and miles to drive before we can breathe a big sigh of relief that we’ve made it. We’ve made it to the part of the holiday season where it’s acceptable–nay, encouraged–to stop wearing real pants, sit in front of the fire, have an early glass of wine, and read through that stack of books you usually never have time for.
For me, this is usually the only time of the year I get hours upon hours of uninterrupted reading time. And for most of us, it’s the only time of the year we get to indulge in any non-work-related reading at all. (Because of course, that’s what happens when your hobby becomes your job–you STILL don’t have time to read everything you’d like to. There is just too much, and I am just too tired.)
We’re driving up to Ann Arbor to do Christmas with Jarrett’s family, and then we’re hopping a plane to Punta Cana to do New Year’s with my family. It will be a big change of scenery–from fireside to poolside, and I am not complaining. I just need to make it there first. Which means I have to wrap these last presents. Which means I’m going to keep ignoring them. Which means this won’t end well.
But until that time that I’m cursing at the tape dispenser and panic-wrapping, I’ll be blissfully dreaming about my holiday reading.
Whether you’re heading for the fireside or the poolside, I have a feeling you’ll also need something excellent to read. Here are the 2 absolute must-reads of the year, plus 4 unexpected selections to add to your TBR pile:
The Nature Reverie
I’ve been wanting to read this book for years, and this is the year it happens. It’s set in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley, where Annie Dillard spends a year walking and seeing what there is to see. It’s the perfect inspiration to slow down, take a closer look at the natural world around you, and remember what it was like to take a walk and then write about what you saw, rather than Instagramming the whole thing.
The Hidden Gem Cookbook
I received this book as a gift from an author and am now hopelessly in love with it. It’s funny, because as cookbook design has advanced so much over the last decades, books have started to feel brighter, louder. This book is very quiet. In a good way. There are no pictures (yes, really!), and the recipes are interspersed with Viana’s meditations on things like how to wash herbs and why food processors take the joy out of cooking. (I see her point, but I just don’t have the time after work to grind pesto in a mortar and pestle. It is such a nice thought, though.) It’s the perfect book to inspire you to unplug from technology, sit in front of the fire, and quiet your mind as you dream of good bread and good olives. (And if you want a taste of both, try this recipe of hers on Food52 for an Umbrian Black Olive Panino. It’s sublimely simple!)
The Read-About-It-Instead-of-Attempting-It Book
Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life by Angela Miller and Ralph Gardner, Jr.
I somehow stumbled last week on this book by fellow Literary Agent, Angela Miller. It’s the story of how she bought a farm in Vermont, then a herd of goats and started an artisanal goat-cheesemaking business, all while commuting to NYC and still representing clients like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Marcus Samuelsson. The cookbook world + rural Vermont + goats? I’ve never clicked the “Buy” button on a book so quickly.
The Best of the Best: Nonfiction
This book has been on a staggering 31 (!) Best Books of the Year lists, with everyone from The New York Times to Buzzfeed to Toni Morrison calling it the must-read of the year. Oh, and it also won the National Book Award. And this year Coates was a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, known as the Genius award. Read (or hear) more about his remarkable story in this NPR piece.
The Best of the Best: Fiction
Hitting 25 of the major Best Books of 2015 lists, this over 700-page book has been the surprise sleeper hit of the summer. As the WSJ writes, “The novel also sparked an unusual outpouring from editors, agents, scouts and publishers who weren’t involved with the book but called and emailed Ms. Yanagihara’s agent, Anna Stein, and editor Gerry Howard to tell them how much they loved it. Among them was Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Mr. Galassi said he spent a weekend reading ‘A Little Life’ and was reduced to tears. In an email to Mr. Howard, he said one passage in particular was ‘almost unbearably moving.’ He wrote, ‘I haven’t wept so deeply in reading a book in very many years.’”
The 2016 Kickstart
So you’re finally fully relaxed, caught up on your print book reading, and are nearing the end of your holiday? Maybe you’re starting to get that itch for a project? Kickstart your 2016 with Tim Grahl’s new book, which teaches writers, step-by-step, how to launch their book successfully. Grahl’s launched New York Times bestsellers for people like Daniel Pink and Pamela Slim, so he’s a guy you want to listen to. The book is short and only available in a digital version for now, which makes it a perfect plane read.
P.S. Are you the more visual type? Here are the Best Book Covers of 2015, according to The New York Times. The Millhauser cover is my favorite.