The dreaded question always comes up: “What are you doing for the holidays?” Most people mention something along the lines of visiting family or meeting friends, but some of us can’t or prefer not to surround ourselves with people. Of course, there is the look of pity the other person gives, but you can easily fend them off with the stack of books you’ve prepared for the occasion.
And if you don’t have one yet, you’ve come to the right place. This list will give you emotional reads (Warning: a few include pretty heavy topics, so make sure to look up trigger warnings on them!), funny reads, philosophical reads, and even a cookbook to keep you busy. There’s a wide range so make sure to check out the entire list to find something to add to your TBR for the holidays.
1. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle
We’ll kick off the list with a cute young adult story. When a snowstorm keeps people in their homes on Christmas Eve and others from traveling, one girl gets stranded on her train. Her story launches a chain of events that leads to three separate but ultimately intertwined stories in this heartwarming holiday story. It’s filled with love, warmth, and breathtaking moments.
2. In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
Maelyn Jones is trapped in a somewhat hilarious time loop. As she drives away from her family’s Utah cabin for the last Christmas she will ever spend there, a car accident knocks her out. She wakes up on a plane to Utah at the beginning of her trip again. And again. And again. She must figure out how to break the loop and perhaps find her true love along the way.
3. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Kimmerer is a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In this novel, she explores how animals and nature are our greatest teachers in life. They give us lessons and gifts even if we refuse to acknowledge them or forget that they do. Her main point is this: In order to finally have ecological consciousness we must acknowledge and accept and respect the reciprocal relationship we have with nature.
4. Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
In this poetry collection, Ocean Vuong explores the grief of losing his mother while also surviving it. He writes about personal loss, the meaning of family, and what it’s like being the product of an American war. He takes us to the past but doesn’t lose sight of the present making this collection a profound story of humanity.
5. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
This novel follows childhood friends Sam Masur and Sadie Green over the years as they embark on a successful and exciting collaboration. They become partners in video game design, but their success doesn’t come without hardships, betrayals, and their own personal ambitions. It’s a unique love story that captures our need to love and be loved.
6. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This is a story about four friends who move to New York and find their way held up by friendship and ambition. Taking place over decades, we see their relationships deepen and go through addiction and success as they move through life. However, they find that one friend, Jude, is their greatest challenge as they learn just how broken he really is. His mind and body are haunted by a tough childhood and trauma he can’t overcome. Warning: This is an incredibly sensitive read and not for the faint-hearted, but it can be the perfect novel to invest time in if you’re alone for the holidays and don’t mind heavy topics.
7. Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris
David Sedaris is known for his unexpected and hilarious writing and this book is no exception. As the pandemic hit, his life changed like many others and he decided to chronicle it. He captures the upheaval that transformed society – the pandemic, social movements, political issues, and personal matters. It’s an interesting perspective that conveys what it’s like to live in “these times.”
8. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Carlota Moreau is the daughter of either a genius or a madman and grew up away from the conflict of the Yucatán peninsula. Montgomery Laughton is Dr. Moreau’s assistant with a tragic past. The hybrids are the doctor’s creation: half human half animal who are meant to obey their master’s commands. They all live peacefully until Eduardo Lizalde enters the scene as the son of the family funding Dr. Moreau’s endeavors. He sets off a chain of events that become dangerous in this science fiction journey.
9. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro creates a story of a butler named Stevens who, after three decades serving at Darlington Hall, starts a journey through his past. He wants to reassure himself that he was a good person and served humanity by serving Lord Darlington. Doubts arise as he questions how honorable Lord Darlington really was and as he reflects on what his life was really about.
10. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves her two children, Byron and Benny, with an interesting inheritance – a black cake. It’s made with an old family recipe and left with a voice recording where Eleanor tells a story about a young swimmer who escapes an island after being suspected of murder. This story and everything else they discover make the siblings question everything they thought they knew about themselves and their family. It’s a powerfully written journey about relationships and secrets and Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel.
11. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
This takes place in 2025 California where small, walled-off communities must protect themselves from ravagers addicted to a drug that gives them an intense desire to commit atrocities including murder. The story follows 18-year-old Lauren Olamina as she travels north after her community is overrun.
12. The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones
If you’re spending the holidays alone, chances are you’ll order in or take on the project of cooking for yourself. Judith Jones’ cookbook is a great resource if you don’t already have a few recipes in mind. She provides tips for basic recipes and improvisation with leftovers or ingredients you may already have. Spending time alone can be fun with some time in the kitchen.
13. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
This thrilling Christmas mystery starts with death at the Lee Family’s celebrations at Gorston Hall. The patriarch Simeon Lee lies dead in a pool of blood in a locked upstairs room and Hercule Poirot offers his assistance to find the culprit. However, rather than mourning, it seems everyone suspects each other and had reason to hate the old man. Who will be uncovered as the killer?
14. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
This heartbreaking memoir is one of the most talked about books of the year as Jennette McCurdy opened up about her experiences as a child actor. Equally painful and hilarious, her story details the events of her childhood and the trauma, anxiety, shame, and self-loathing she developed while her mother’s dream came true. It’s an honest look into McCurdy’s resilience and independence.
15. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Atwood builds a new world in this novel where a character called Snowman wakes up in a tree starving and mourning the loss of his beloved Oryx and friend Crake. He searches for supplies in a wasteland where people once lived. As he tries to figure out what happened to the world he knew and the Compounds where the extraordinary resided, he takes a trip into the past to find answers to his questions.
16. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell
This café conversation takes place in 1933 Paris and consists of the viewpoints of philosophers, playwrights, anthropologists, convicts, and revolutionaries. It follows their stories from the beginning of World War II to liberation movements like anti-colonialism, feminism, and gay rights. This is a thought-provoking weaving of philosophy and biography that will have you reflecting on our society today.
17. A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
This thriller follows Chloe Davis in the midst of a murder mystery. It starts when she’s twelve years old and six teenage girls go missing. By the end of that summer, her father confesses to the crimes and leaves Chloe and her family to move on and deal with the aftermath. Years later, as an adult, Chloe starts to see parallels between her father’s story and the story of a local girl who has gone missing. Perhaps she will uncover a killer for the second time.
18. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Walden is the account of Thoreau’s time (a two-year, two-month, two-day period) living alone in a cabin near Walden pond outside Concord, Massachusetts. He reflects on what it’s like to be solitary in nature which leads to spiritual discovery and insight into the human condition of always being alone.
19. The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture by Gabor Maté
This groundbreaking book by physician Gabor Maté focuses on how Western countries are prideful in their healthcare systems and yet have chronic illness and general illness on the rise. He discusses the idea of what is “normal” in society and how it impacts our bodies and minds. At the same time, Maté provides guidance for health and healing.
20. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
As the first book in a trilogy, The Fifth Season begins at the end of the world. A woman searches for her missing daughter while hiding her own power. Become entranced in a new world in this apocalyptic fantasy novel as you pass the time this holiday season.
21. Woman Without Shame by Sandra Cisneros
Cisneros creates an honest and sometimes funny body of poems in Woman Without Shame. She captures her journey as a woman artist through memories, desires, and the nature of love. These poems are new and show her search for home and movement toward self-awareness.
22. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Set in the early 1900s, teenage Sunja falls for a wealthy stranger near her home in Korea. They seem to be deeply in love, but when she gets pregnant and finds out he’s already married, she refuses to give into his money. She accepts an offer from a man heading to Japan and has to deal with the consequences of leaving home and rejecting her son’s father. Sunja embarks on a moving journey of loyalty, ambition, and sacrifice as she survives in Japan.
For more book lists and recommendations from Bookstr, check out more articles here!