Christmas break by the books.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetToday I am heading back to DC after an extra stolen week in Kentucky with my family when James flew back to the East Coast last weekend. Even though my graduate school schedule doesn’t have the rigid hours of a lot of jobs, I still feel like vacation is ending and it is back to reality when I drive back to DC. For me, reality means reading lots of books and writing many pages. At least, hopefully many pages…. because I hear that writing a dissertation might be just a tad harder when there is a snuggly newborn in the house.

I don’t really get to read books during the semester. I mean, I read Books, Literature, Tomes of Ideas, but not books. I will spend a lot of the next couple months getting real friendly with Le Rouge et le Noir and Madame Bovary (Julien and Emma- you all were born for each other, and in my dissertation, I shall unite you at last!), but that will probably be the extent of my reading. I plow through audiobooks as I slave along to my Fitbit, but that’s not the same. There is a special magic of curling up with a book — one from which you expect nothing more than the pleasure of losing yourself for hours. My mom knows this, so every year she gives me one of my favorite Christmas gifts: a stack of wrapped library books that I request in advance, gleefully unwrap, devour in a binge of antisocial pajama-wearing on the couch, and then leave for her to return upon my departure.

And so, should you need some fluffy reading recommendations, here is Christmas by the books:

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. This book was EVERY SINGLE THING I WANTED IN A BOOK. A flu that wipes out the earth’s population in one fell swoop! A Shakespeare troupe trying to keep art alive 20 years after civilization falls! A non-linear plot! Beautiful prose! Random dogs of significance! Definitely my top recommendation from this break’s book fest.

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter. In general, I trust NPR on all things. But my trust is now shattered, because this book was reviewed on “Fresh Air” and the review was glowing- gushing even – only for the book to be pretty bad. I made myself finish it, and it was kind of a waste. Should have used that time to enjoy my parents’ cable and watch reruns of America’s Next Top Model. But then again, I read it right after Station Eleven, so the bar was impossibly high.

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart. My takeaway from this book: there is nothing scarier than rich kids who don’t have enough chores in the summer. Give them a lawn to mow, some neighbor kids to babysit, and the world would be a better place. But, I also devoured this book in one sitting, which says that it was nothing if not fascinating. Not sure I liked it, but I was fully engaged.

We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride. So many emotions about this book. I tend to like the every-chapter-is-a-different-narrator-and-they-will-all-converge-at-the-end thing, so I appreciated it. The ending was beautiful and emotional, and I am a sucker for anything with small children who have to act more mature than they are because the adults in their lives have screwed up royally.

A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson. Mostly I was eager to read this because I LOVED Life After Life (from last year’s book binge), and I just wanted more Ursula Todd in my life. It was good, with a destabalizing twist at the end that left me thinking, and well written. Not the magic of Life After Life, but a noble companion novel and beautiful in its own rite. I’m also a sucker for author’s notes that reveal some truth about how the author views fiction, literature, and reality, and Atkinson delivered, which made me love the whole thing more. (For instance, and for the record, I think The Fault in Our Stars would have been just a bland book with little to distinguish it from Lurlene McDaniel’s numerous novels about dying kids finding love if it wasn’t for the Q&A with the author that came in my addition.)

The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan. I mostly wanted to read this because I was fascinated with Keegan’s story, her tragic death days after graduating from Yale, and the posthumous  publication of the essays and stories she had written during undergrad. They are beautifully written, but also especially poignant and thought provoking from a young girl, who writes with the honesty of a young girl, but with an extra dose of wisdom and talent. The short stories were all depressing, proving that it is far harder to write a positive and still worthwhile one than it is to crank out a disturbing one (I’m looking at you Flannery O’Connor), but the essays were wonderful.

“I used to think printing things made them permanent, but that seems so silly now. Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortably tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.” -Marina Keegan

Have you all read any of these? What are you reading now? I’m keeping a list for next year’s Christmas binge… and it’s never to early to start adding the good ones!

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17 Responses to Christmas break by the books.

  1. mindygroff says:

    Thank you for the reminder that Lurlene McDaniel was a thing. So many hours of my life were spent reading about dying kids. Or, my personal favorite, dying kids who were either Amish, or who were secretly in a forbidden love affair (totally chaste, of course) with someone Amish.

  2. I totally agree about Beautiful Ruins – my expectations were high and it did not deliver. And about A God In Ruins. Definitely preferred Life After Life. I like the idea of wrapping up library books for Christmas!

  3. Danae says:

    Love this! One of my goals this year is to read more books because BAH I love them! This list has me intrigued! Thanks for sharing!!! ❤

  4. AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! Station Eleven is so good I can’t even handle it. And Beautiful Ruins was such a let down for me too! Such a deceiving cover.

    • Hannah says:

      You should know, I make my library Christmas list throughout the year, usually when people post about books on Instagram, and YOU were the poster who made me add Station Eleven. It did not disappoint!

  5. E.H says:

    Thanks for these recommendations! I’m hoping that my life will slow down just enough this semester to allow me to squeeze in more than just audio books. I must say, I’m impressed that you can read that many books so quickly!

  6. WomanLoved says:

    I loved Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson, first one of hers I ever read, but haven’t read much of her more recent stuff, I may give it a whirl.
    I am reading Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto (non fiction),and have recently re-read the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde which begins with The Eyre Affair – Brilliant! A clever, inane take on classic literature, with humour (quite a British soh) about a Spec Ops law officer,who is in the department who fight Literary crime, and recently took down the gang peddling fake Marlow on the street to the tune of £20,000. She has to fight her arch enemy Acheron Hades who is stealing characters from books, rescue her aunt from a Wordsworth poem, and figure out how to get into Jane Eyre. There are now 7 in the series and I cannot wait until there is an 8th. Brilliant on their own, but really good if you have read a lot of the classics. And not too heavy either.

  7. lee tanis says:

    Have read almost all of your stash … I call this excellent by association – when I get to a bookstore and I’ve read 80% of the books on a display table I figure the others must be excellent purely by their proximity to ones I value. Station Eleven was one of my top picks for 2015 … We Were Liars was our book club pick for December – we read YA in December every year. Not the best YA we’ve had and I totally got taken in by the narrator and totally agree with your assessment! I’m intrigued to try We Are Called to Rise – sometimes I enjoy different POV and sometimes I don’t.
    Here are my top picks for the year: and .
    Happy reading!

  8. RA says:

    A God in Ruins and Station Eleven were in my top 3 books of the year! AGIR reinforced to me what a genius Kate Atkinson is. The third was Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel, who wrote Life of Pi. I would be interested to hear what you think. I read Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian over the summer and enjoyed it immensely, even though I couldn’t bring myself to read it at night so I wouldn’t freak myself out.

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