What to read over the holidays.

string lights

Reading deeply this winter has reminded me for the hundred-thousandth time: reading really does show you how to write what you want to read.

Whether you're taking off and going somewhere warm for a holiday, driving north to a snowy cottage, or staying home and wearing fleece for a few days in a row, let yourself read a few of these books instead of watching Netflix. (You will feel happier if you do, I promise.) xo,  

Sarah Selecky

Six books to read this holiday.


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

The time being: as in, a person who lives within time. When I read this, I felt like Ozeki had seen my mind turned inside out, recognized what I was thinking, and knew everything there was to know about it. Then she wrote a book so I could have a conversation with my innermost self. I think of this book as one of my closest friends. I can't believe it exists: it's like magic.

Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

This book was a memoir that Wayne Grady started to write almost twenty years ago, when he learned that his great-grandfather wasn't Irish, as he'd always been told -- he was African-American. The story became a novel; in this case, fiction allowed Grady to tell the truest story. Try not to read it in one sitting - a book like this won't come again for a very long time (if ever). Savour the experience of reading it: make it last if you can.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

In an interview last year, Diaz said that writing one of the stories in this collection nearly killed him. In fact, he said writing the whole book was brutal, and he never wants to write short stories again. I'm not going to hold him to that. But here's the thing: when you read these stories, you can't tell. He makes it feel easy! These stories are fluent.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I hadn't read this book before. It was one of the classics that slipped past me. What? How had I managed to miss this? Read it: for audacity of language, for point of view, for structure. If you've read it already, read it again -- for real this time. How does she get away with it? And what could you get away with, if you gave yourself permission to write what you needed to write?

Dusk by James Salter

Anyone who has spent any time with me this winter knows I can't shut up about these stories. Salter's writing contains some of the most distilled sentences I've ever read. This book reminds me of why I love writing, why it can be such an honour to work with language. There are single sentences in this book that make me stop reading because my heart/mind has seized, and will overload if I don't pause before continuing.

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

This is a book of letters, inspired by the lives of Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell, but the characters of Frances and Bernard are also uniquely themselves. Their correspondence is intense: and there is nothing that I love more than reading letters written by writers who are passionately writing to each other about writing. Plus: New York City in the late fifties.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something using one of these links, I may earn a commission. I only recommend books or products I trust.

What to do if your writing feels fake.
In the Spotlight: Pam Smith


Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis

This is a great list, Sarah. I have Wayne Grady near the top of my TBR list and Ruth Ozeki just a tiny bit further down. I've added Dusk to the Salter titles on my list, and your inclusion of Frances and Bernard has proved to be the tipping point: after two other glowing recommendations (amid shouts of "buy it, buy it"), I have now actually reserved it at the library for my new year reading. :-) Thanks again for the list. Happy reading!
Read more
Read less
Dorothyanne brown

Thanks, Sarah! I loved the stories you pointed us towards in the Story Intensive and know these will also be wonderful. Thanks for sharing!
Read more
Read less
Jennifer Brilliant

Thank you so much for sharing this list. Since Tale for the Time Being is at the top - I will seriously consider all the others. Loved that book and meeting Ruth Ozeki at a book group meeting made it even more amazing. She was so open about her process, grounded and fiercely intelligent.
Read more
Read less
Beth F

Sarah, About *A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki,* I feel precisely as you do. An important novel.
Read more
Read less

Leave a comment