The Lists

The Perfect Books to Read in the Month of January

Perfect books to read in January 2020

What are the best books to read in January 2020? Well, dear reader, we’ve shared our top picks of 2019 and our most-anticipated new releases for 2020. We’ve also shared a list of the fantastic new book releases in January 2020. But if you still want more ideas, here’s our take on the perfect books to read in the month of January. Any January.

recommended reads

So many books, so little time! Reading can be one of life’s sweetest luxuries. But how to quickly find the next great volume to dive into? To lend a hand, every month we’ll share our Dandelion Chandelier Recommended Reads: books that we’ve personally read and loved – some brand new, and some published long ago. Selected to suit the season, we think they deserve a place on your nightstand. Or your e-reader. In your backpack. Or your carry-on bag. You get the idea.

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what books capture the true mood of january?

January is a clean, well-lit room. It’s perhaps the time of year when many things can be seen most clearly: no leaves on the trees to block the view; no ability to hide underwater, since everything is frozen; clear lines of sight when the moonlight gleams on the snow (although happily, one can hide beneath bulky sweaters and coats until the January diet starts to show some results).

Perfect books to read in January 2020

Perfect books to read in January 2020.

It’s a time of resolve, focus, and action. A time to envision what perfection looks like, and a moment to try to achieve it, even if falling short in the end is almost certain. A time for deeds, not words – for doing, not thinking. Our better angels are on full display, at least momentarily.

The slate is clean. The snow is still fresh, the path still untrodden. Even cynics frequently feel a glimmer of hope right about now.

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so what’s the perfect read for the month of January?

We think the situation demands volumes that drive us to action, and that inspire us to strive for excellence. Challenging books, provocative books, books that make us uncomfortable. Books that educate and enlighten.

We’re thinking that a good tale of adventure – an explorer’s journey – would do nicely, even if it doesn’t end well. Also a story that unfolds in the dark of winter, but radiates light. A wintry cookbook. And a hot romance, because why not? We’re always up for a smart sexy read, no matter what month it is.

perfect books to read in the month of January

Here are 10 books that pair perfectly with January. You can dip into these after a snowball fight; as your feet dry out from a slushy commute; by the pool; during breaks at the CES, Davos or Sundance; in-between haute couture shows in Paris; or while the soup simmers on the stove.

This is the month of new beginnings – why not begin with one of these?

Perfect books to read in January 2020

1. The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. The prize for “most January of all” goes to this excellent novel. It begins, appropriately enough, on New Year’s Eve and unfolds over the course of one year. It’s the 19th century, and a small town in coastal Essex, England is plagued by rumors of a monstrous serpent that is causing deaths and disappearances.

Into this milieu comes a brilliant and spirited woman in pursuit of scientific truth and passionate about the power of reason. She encounters the local parish minister, a man who has committed his life to the power of faith. Both are engaged in solving the riddle of the serpent — and thus begins a wildly romantic and deeply cerebral relationship that affects everyone in their lives. Somehow we come to care about every single character and to empathize with their emotional lives. This is a truly accomplished novel — put it at the top of your list for an excellent winter’s read.

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2. The Friend

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. The narrator has lost her closest friend to suicide. And in the midst of struggling to recover, she finds herself the custodian and caregiver of his Great Dane, who is nearly as large as her rent-controlled Manhattan studio apartment.

It’s smart, surprisingly funny (we laughed out loud several times, despite the dark subject matter), and deeply honest about loneliness and the hard work of grieving. And the enduring power of friendship and loyalty, both human and canine. Brilliantly done.

perfect books to read in January 2020

Perfect books to read in January 2020.

3. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. In a tale that leaps in time from Holland in the 1600’s, to Manhattan in the 1950’s, and Sydney in the early 2000’s, we’re surrounded by wintry weather and cold cruelty of many types in a tale that has special resonance during the current conversations about the challenges that talented women face making their way in the world.

The fictional De Vos is a female painter reduced to extreme poverty by the sexist norms of her society. Ellie Shipley is another talented female artist who struggles in much the same way in the modern era.

Powerful men — and weak ones — have agency, but these women do not. Until they start to exert their own power. In the winter darkness, their ferocity shines like a beacon with the promise of brighter days ahead, if not for them, then for those who follow.

 

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4. Asymmetry

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. We love this novel: the format is inventive and clever (in 2018 it was listed by the New York Times as one of the books written by women that is transforming how we think about narrative fiction). The various voices are lights-out smart; the plot is emotionally riveting; and you’ll find yourself thinking about it long after you finish.

The story begins with a romance between two New Yorkers who meet cute in Central Park. But this gorgeous novel has a lot more on its mind than a spring romance. Or to be precise, an early May-late December romance. It’s about power, and empathy, and family, and character. And it contains worlds.

Perfect books to read in January 2020

Perfect books to read in January 2020.

5. All This Could be Yours

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg. Sometimes when one person dies, it serves as a moment of rebirth for many of the people around them. And so it is in this wintry and brilliantly-written novel, which happens to take place in a steamy hot summer in New Orleans.

The patriarch of a family lies dying in a hospital room. Swirling around him and criss-crossing the city are his soon-to-be-widow, his daughter and his daughter-in-law. His only son refuses to make the journey to keep watch. Through their eyes, we gradually begin to see the impact that a very bad man can have on his family for multiple generations. And how that family might begin to recover and rebuild once the weight of his cruelty is finally lifted.

Like the deep winter, this is a story of loss and sorrow. But even in the coldest depths, there’s warmth – and glimmers of hope.

6. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. This is another wintry tale of families harmed by the mistakes of the patriarch (and in this case, also the matriarch). It’s actually the perfect companion read for All This Could Be Yours.

The Butlers, an African-American family originally from Western Michigan, have dispersed across the Midwest trying to escape the heavy weight of having grown up in a household with no mother and a harsh and often absent father. But now a fresh tragedy has occurred: the eldest sister Althea and her husband are in jail for embezzlement. Their restaurant business has closed, and their two teenage daughters need love and care. The two other Butler sisters – each with deep wounds of their own – try to parent their nieces and keep the family intact. Meanwhile, their vicious brother lingers in the background with plans of his own.

Told from multiple perspectives, we come to care deeply about this family and its scars. It’s a realistic portrayal of how parents and siblings can harm each other – and how they, along with friends in truly unexpected places, might find ways to begin anew.

7. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Moshin Hamid. We adore Moshin Hamid’s writing. This novel, told in one decade per chapter, is an excellent and moving meditation on one man’s life: the losses, the choices, the triumphs, and the search for meaning are all described in spare, wrenching, unsentimental prose. It will cause you to consider what legacy you’re trying to leave and remind you that time is precious and goes past very quickly. We read this novel the year it was first published on a long plane ride to Hong Kong, and it was one of the best books we read all year.

8. Travels in Siberia

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. This is a fantastically engaging travelogue about one of the coldest and most desolate places on earth. Writer Ian Frazier made a journey across the entirety of Siberia and tells a fascinating and illuminating series of true stories about the region’s history and current occupants.

Part road trip, part sociological treatise, we originally read excerpts of this book in The New Yorker. It was a reasonably lengthy two-part series in the magazine, and we couldn’t put it down – even though if you had asked us, we would have said that we had very little interest in becoming immersed in Siberia. Such is the talent of a great writer: we’ll follow him anywhere, and feel genuinely sad when the journey has to come to an end.

9. Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. This true-life narrative of the deadliest season in the history of Mt. Everest reads like a swift-moving and well-plotted novel. The author reached the summit of Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, sleep-deprived and suffering from oxygen depletion. As he began his long, dangerous descent, twenty other climbers pushed doggedly toward the top.

Soon after, a rogue storm brought 70-knot winds and blinding snow, and five men were lost to the mountain, including two highly experienced climbers. Krakauer takes a sharp and self-critical look at the combination of ambition, hubris and thirst for adventure that has compelled so many to throw caution to the wind and repeatedly subject themselves to hardship and deadly risk on the roof of the world. You’ll feel the chill of this tragic tale deep in your bones.

10. Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. On a cold winter afternoon, nothing is cozier than curling up with a great book — or putting something savory on the stove to cook low and slow straight through to suppertime. Reading this lovely cookbook-cum-memoir is the best of both of these worlds.

Colwin describes some of her favorite meals, shares her recipes, and most of all shares her entertaining and eclectic views on life, food, and what it means to come home. Her voice is dearly missed, and this volume is part of her marvelous legacy.

Perfect books to read in January 2020

Perfect books to read in January 2020.

perfect reads for the month of January

And there you have it: ten books to accompany you as step across the threshold into a new year.

Rilke wrote: And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.

May one (or more) of these books lead you toward new discoveries, new adventures, and deeper understanding. Happy New Year, dear reader.

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