I love Christmas and the holiday season, but apparently I read very little in the way of holiday books. I was tempted to skip this “monthly” recommendation and call it good when I post my “year’s best” in a few weeks, but then I decided to go through my books and see which ones have a touch — however slight — of the holidays in them, or, at least, which lend themselves to a bit of quiet reflection as the days get shorter. I actually came up with five very easily. Though none would usually be considered a great holiday classic, they each are certainly classic in their own right.
- The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth (original review July 4, 2008). I’ve recommended this one before and I’ll recommend it again (because I know there are many of you out there who haven’t read it yet). It’s not a holiday book, but it takes place in the Berkshires in the winter, even though most of the time we are inside a house discussing literature with a literary hero. The reason I included it here, though, is because when it is almost over, it has one of the most memorable winter morning scenes I can think of.
- The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne (original review February 20, 2009). This one can be recommended during any season — spring for when Pooh Bear disguises himself as a rain cloud or for when Owl is in danger of losing his house on the blustery day; summer for when we celebrate Eeyore’s birthday or for when we hunt Heffalumps; fall for when we leave them all behind and Pooh and Piglet go off to the sunset. For winter, we should read Chapter Three: IN WHICH Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle.
- Ghosts, by César Aira (original review May 5, 2009). This strange book takes place on New Years Eve. A multi-storied condiminium is being framed, and, during the construction, a family of squatters resides there, along with several ghosts. If you read this week’s story in The New Yorker (my thoughts here), you know that Aira can be very strange indeed, but, as strange as this one is, it is also quite serious.
- Wait Until Spring, Bandini, by John Fante (original review January 5, 2010). One of my favorite books of the last few years, Wait Until Spring, Bandini is one of the true holiday books on this list. It doesn’t all take place around Christmas, but a memorable portion of it does, and it has the power to make us feel like we’re wearing wet wool mittens as the sun goes down.
- The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker (original review March 3, 2011). Here’s a spoiler: you’ll be seeing this one on my upcoming “year’s best” post. I loved this strange memoir where a man pushes himself out of the reach of humanity (even potentially his own) in order to track the peregrine falcons that hunted near his home in the fall and winter. It’s a beautiful nature book as well, and it certainly manages to remove the reader from society, which is one the things I like best about the holidays.