We’re always looking for our next great read – so what are the best books to read that will make us feel like December? Here’s our take on the perfect books, both novels and non-fiction, to read that capture the mood and the magic winter vibe of the month of December. These are our top picks of what to read this December – actually, any December.
recommended reads for the month of December
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 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.
In this edition: 15 perfect books, both novels and non-fiction, to read to feel the mood and the magic winter vibe of December. We think these books best capture the essential spirit of the final month of the year.
what is the essential spirit of December?
For starters, December is filled with festivals of light. All over the world, in many disparate cultures, people will gather to beat back the darkness with candles, fireworks, and lanterns released into the night sky.
The month is also filled with music and dance – choirs and orchestras and rock bands; Sugar Plum Fairies and Rockettes and angels. There will be receiving and giving – gestures of gratitude, love, forgiveness and hope. There will be attempts at seductions of all kinds — some passionately overt. And some as subtle as a discreet sprig of mistletoe.
It’s the most popular month for people to get engaged. But it can also be a time of sadness, loneliness and disappointment. Of stress, fatigue and grief. Holidays can remind us of our regrets and failures as easily as they can help us recall the brightest moments of our lives.
So what is the perfect reading list in December? We think it should encompass the world.
what makes for the best December reading list?
Here at Dandelion Chandelier, as the year draws to a close our wanderlust starts to rise. And we’re drawn to books set in foreign lands: you know, places like Paris and Seattle. On a cold winter night, we like to snuggle up with a fine book of poetry. Toss in a sexy smart romance; a tale of modern family life. A slice of history. And a hero’s journey (a real one, because we’re seeking inspiration and guidance for our own journey into the New Year. Come to think of it, let’s make it a heroine’s journey.
Hidden treasures, happy surprises, heartbreak and the start of something new. That’s December: skiing and sand; intimate gatherings and solitary reflection; raucous and serene; candlelight and starlight; an end and a beginning.
Here are 16 books to read – novels and non-fiction – that pair perfectly with a winter December mood: for reading under the tree, or by the fire, or après-ski. Under an umbrella on the beach; on the plane; on the way to the concert or on the way home.
In the world of commerce, it’s time for the accountants to close the books for the year. And time for us to open one of these.
16 best books to read to feel the winter vibe of the month of December
1. The Adults by Caroline Hulse.
The Adults is a comedy of manners set at Christmastime. What could be better for a December winter read than that? Smart, sharp, and fast, it’s just the right mix of light and serious for right now. Two couples set out for Christmas vacation at the Happy Forest holiday park: a divorced couple – each with a new partner – and their precocious daughter. And her invisible friend. Lust, envy, alcohol and forced family activities combine in explosively funny ways. Through it all runs a thread of genuine desire for love and connection that makes this a deeply satisfying read.
2. Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch.
This book arrived in our lives in mid-2020 just like the perfect holiday present. It wasn’t something we were looking for – or even that we thought we needed – and yet, it feels as if it was created just for us. It was an instant add to our list of the best novels and non-fiction books to read in December at the start of winter.
The titular Sad Janet is a smart, sarcastic and melancholy young urbanite – and to the despair of her mother, she finds it impossible to enjoy the holiday season (or as she says so memorably: she finds it quite difficult to get it up for Santa).
But then along comes the new “Christmas pill” – invented by Big Pharma to help all the misanthropes survive the holiday season with their families. Janet wears her sadness like a badge of honor, and she’s reluctant to let it go. But this pill is just temporary, right? At first, the magic meds have no impact. But as Christmas approaches, they prove to have unintended side effects. This is the “Christmas novel” for those who don’t love Christmas – and believe it or not, it’ll make you feel extremely jolly.
3. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman.
In Anxious People, it’s December 30th in a small town in Sweden and instead of holiday revelry, there is loss, desperation and melancholy in the air. A hapless robber, reeling from a divorce and overdue rent, attempts a spontaneous heist at a bank that turns out to be cash free. Now on the lam, the robber intrudes on a real estate Open House (who holds those on the day before New Year’s Eve? And what sentient criminal tries to flee by going into a 5th floor apartment with no rear exit?)
There, two married couples are bickering, and two women who have arrived separately are each wracked by grief that they’d rather not discuss. Add a father and son police duo and it’s a hostage drama unlike anything the town has ever seen.
What follows is a knowing and sharp meditation on depression, loneliness, parenthood and marital love. It’s sweet and funny and perfect for this time of year: in a chilly climate when everyone thinks they’re the only ones who can’t figure things out, an unlikely group of strangers comes together. And it turns out that when they combine forces, even seemingly intractable problems can be elegantly solved.
4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? wins the prize for the “most December” book of all on our list. It’s zany, frantic, and eventful – and filled with peer pressure, family angst, trust issues and a wild desire to escape. Plus snow and ice. What could be more December than that? It’s a guaranteed good time. This brilliant novel launched Maria Semple’s deservedly stellar career.
5. Winter by Ali Smith.
What could be a better read for the month of December than a book entitled Winter? This is the second in the series of four volumes in the Seasonal Quartet by the Man Booker Prize-nominated author. While it’s set on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it’s anything but warm and cheerful. This novel hit us like a snowball to the face – it’s hard, and cold, and demands one’s full attention.
Winter is filled with foreboding, regret and a sense of an ending. There are absent fathers, crumbling houses, estranged sisters and displaced people. There’s even a benign floating head. As when one is hit unexpectedly by ice or snow, it takes a moment to recover one’s bearings. Similarly, you may need 50 pages or so to truly get into this book – it is deeply strange, deliberately so. But it is absolutely worth the hard work. Stay with it, dear reader. And just like being showered with ice, you’ll emerge from this novel as one does from the bracing cold. Fully awake. And fully aware of the need to stay that way.
6. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.
Goodbye, Vitamin earns its place on the list of best books and novels to read in the month of December with both its tone and topic. It’s elegiac, melancholy, wistful, perfectly crafted and deeply emotional. Oh yes, and it features a family. And the holidays. Among other things.
Over the course a year we see 30-year old Ruth deal with the challenges of a history-professor father with Alzheimer’s, a mother who blames herself for his illness, a brother estranged from the family, and her own broken engagement. Laugh-out-loud funny at times, and piercingly anguished in others, Khong is brilliant at penning memorable aphorisms and also at getting to the very heart of the matter with the lightest possible touch. This should come as no surprise, as she was the executive editor of the dearly departed Lucky Peach.
7. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez.
In The Friend, the unnamed narrator has lost her closest friend (and unacknowledged object of her romantic desire) to suicide. In the midst of struggling to recover from the shock and loss, she finds herself the custodian and caregiver of his Great Dane, who is nearly as large as her rent-controlled Manhattan studio apartment. This work is cerebral, 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 about the enduring power of friendship and loyalty, both human and canine.
8. The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.
A winter’s day or evening is the perfect time for poetry, and The Anthologist is a wonderful novel about a poet with writer’s block. In other words, it is the perfect way to ease into reading an actual book of poetry.
Paul Chowder is living in New England and trying to write the introduction to a new anthology of rhyming verse. He’s failing miserably, struggling with credit card debt and losing the love of his life, Roz, in the process. He elucidates the basic principles of poetry as he wrestles with these challenges (he’s also trying to clean up his desk, and we all know how impossibly difficult that is). It’s a gentle and cerebral companion for any adventure you may have planned this month. You’ll come away more literate and more optimistic when the journey is done.
9. L’Affair by Diane Johnson.
In one of the best novels we’ve found to read in December, Amy Hawkins is a Palo Alto ingenue who made herself a dot-com fortune. She’s the star of L’Affair. As the story begins, she travels to France to gain a sheen of sophistication. And, perhaps, to have an affair that will rock her all-too-predictable and rational existence to its core. She begins her quest at a glamorous resort in the French Alps, amid an assortment of aristocrats and ski enthusiasts. Let’s see . . . a novel that includes raclette, an avalanche, off-piste adventures, love, sex, death, and travel. What could be better on a cold winter’s eve?
10. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker.
In a season of parties and gatherings large and small, with family and friends as well as professional colleagues and clients, it seems like a good moment to pause and ask: why are we doing this? The Art of Gathering is a fascinating examination of this very basic question.
The host of the New York Times podcast “Together Apart” argues that too many of the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive – and they don’t have to be. She takes us inside events of all kinds to show what works, what doesn’t, and why. This socially-distant moment is the perfect time to hit the “reset” button on how you host your future gatherings – and also how you show up the next time you attend one.
11. How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen by David Brooks.
How to Know a Person is the perfect guide for a season filled with parties, family gatherings, gift giving and social pressures of all kinds. It’s a non-fiction book about how we can change some of our social behaviors to forge deeper, more interesting, more satisfying and more lasting connections with family, friends, romantic partners – and even the stranger in the plane seat next to us. The author is a columnist for The New York Times, and reading his humane and compassionate advice, based on his own experiences and struggles, feels like a good talk with a wise friend.
12. Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.
The set-up for Everyone in My Family . . . is the same as those of many classic cozy winter mysteries. A dysfunctional family gathers at a ski resort in the mountains for a reunion. There’s a blizzard, a mysterious murder, and lots of likely suspects. The difference here? The writing is smart and sharp, the snark is real, and the emotional connections between the characters feels authentic and hard-earned. If you’re in the mood for a winter mystery to read by the fire, we highly recommend this one.
13. Flight by Lynn Steger Strong.
The setup for the novel Flight is a classic: three siblings and their spouses gather a few days before Christmas at a country house to celebrate their first holiday without their mother. With kids underfoot, sibling rivalries, the fog of mourning and loss and a holiday dinner to get on the table, tensions understandably run high. Especially because, just like in one of our favorite novels, The Nest, the siblings have been left with one valuable asset to divide amongst themselves. In this case, it’s their late mother’s Florida house. And not surprisingly, they all have different ideas about what to do with it.
Fiction involving the Christmas holidays frequently begins with a group of family members thrown together against their will. Happily, this one doesn’t hew to the usual clichés – it’s a fresh and modern look at a timeless family dynamic. And it will probably make you feel a bit a better about your own family gathering.
14. Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley.
Perestroika in Paris is the story of a young racehorse at a track west of Paris. One afternoon she makes a jail break, and is off for a sparkling adventure in the City of Light. Soon she befriends “an elegant dog, two irrepressible ducks and an opinionated raven” (is there any other kind?). Their friendship circle is soon expanded to include a young boy who lives in seclusion with his great grandmother. A lovely fable about friendship, family and freedom, this is one of the best possible novels to read on a lazy December winter afternoon.
15. Hitler’s American Gamble: Pearl Harbor and Germany’s March to Global War by Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman.
For a riveting read about a slice of history that unfolded in the month of December, you could hardly do better than picking up a copy of Hitler’s American Gamble. Two historians recount the five days that upended everything in 1941 in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor: December 7 to 11.
Tracing developments in real time, we relive the tick-tock of why two separate theaters of war – Europe and Asia – over the course of less than a week became conjoined in a global conflagration. What were they thinking when Germany declared war on the US and allied itself with Japan? Well, one of our relatives has resolved to read this book in real time on the same days in December that these events actually occurred so long ago. Such a cool way to truly immerse yourself in what turned out to be perhaps the most consequential five days of the century.
16. Fight Night by Miriam Toews.
We close our list of the perfect fiction and non-fiction books to read in the month of December with a fantastic winter novel. Fight Night is set in Toronto, where a preternaturally wise and precocious 9-year old girl, Swiv, is parenting her pregnant mother and her loveably outgoing and outspoken grandmother. The work takes the form of an extended letter to her father, who has gone missing with no word of goodbye. The three women, and “Gord,” the unborn child, are left to fend for themselves. Which they do with wit, anger, good humor and plain old stubbornness.
While this is an unsparing look at the tolls of age, sexism, religious repression and life on the economic edge, it’s also a clarion call for women of all ages to “learn to fight.” As the family matriarch advises her daughter and granddaughter, there is a flame in each of us, and it’s our duty to feed it and keep it from going out – no matter the world may throw our way. That’s the perfect message on which to end a challenging year – and to plan for the new year soon to come.
the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read to feel the winter magic vibe of December
That’s our take on the best books, both novels and non-fiction, to read to feel the quintessential winter vibe and the mood of the month of December. What’s on your list this month, dear reader?