On Christmas Eve, Icelanders will celebrate Jólabókaflóð (Yule Book Flood) by giving and receiving books and spending the night reading while sipping hot cocoa. Perfect! As I’ve done in previous years, I’m passing along my recommendations for your own Yule Book Flood. These are books I read (or re-read) this year. I’m including some favorite board games for more family fun.
I started this year by reading dystopian novels as research for my young adult thriller The Devil Particle. The best of these were:
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – my favorite dystopian novel of the year, The Chrysalids is narrated by a six-year-old boy in a society where preserving normality is paramount. Mutations, even minor ones, are considered blasphemous and the offender is eliminated or banished to a place called the Fringes. As you read, you slowly begin to understand how this society came to be and why. Fun fact — this book inspired the song “Crown of Creation” by Jefferson Starship.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – I’d thought I’d read this in high school, but just a few pages in, I knew for sure I hadn’t. This is definitely a book I would have remembered and now I understand why it’s been banned from schools (it was probably banned from my high school). The characters were compelling as they struggled with competing societies and what it means to conform.
Feed by M. T. Anderson – In this young adult sci-fi novel, people are implanted with devices that connect them to a consumerism network. I enjoyed this book not just because a dissenting character is homeschooled, but because of Anderson’s use of futuristic slang. Creating slang for my books is something I’d like to do, too.
In the spring, I found comfort in re-reading some old favorites. These included:
The Firm and The Runaway Jury by John Grisham – and then of course I had to watch the movies. The Firm is a classic example of continually raising the stakes for a protagonist and giving him no apparent means of escape. I refer to this book in some of the writing workshops I teach.
Of course, I had to read Stephen King this fall.
Dr. Sleep by Stephen King – a classic good versus evil book. I also read King’s The Dark Half for the first time and loved that he made a pseudonym come to life. Be sure to read King’s Author’s Note at the beginning of this book where he talks about the death of Richard Bachman (King’s own pseudonym).
One of the most beautifully written books I read this year was Elizabeth Whetmore’s Valentine: A Novel. Whetmore masters the intense setting of Odessa, Texas, and the struggles of the people living there.
Throughout this year, I’d read several excellent how-to-write books such as K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs, but my favorite nonfiction book of the year is:
Humankind: A Hopeful History – as the publisher describes the book: “From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the solidarity in the aftermath of the Blitz, the hidden flaws in the Stanford prison experiment to the true story of twin brothers on opposite sides who helped Mandela end apartheid, Bregman shows us that believing in human generosity and collaboration isn’t merely optimistic—it’s realistic. Moreover, it has huge implications for how society functions.” Honestly, it’s one of my all-time favorite books. Be sure to put it on your must-read list!
My family loves to get together to play cards and board games, especially around the holidays. Here are some of our favorite games of this year.
Carcassonne – Based upon the medieval fortress town in France, players build walled towns and cities and claim resources.
Viticulture – this game takes you to Tuscany where you grow and harvest grapes and make your own wines.
Scythe – I’ve only played Scythe a couple of times, so I’ve barely scratched the surface of this very involved game full of strategy.
GamePigeon – This is actually a mobile app that you play through text messages with other players. It offers over twenty games such as darts, cup pong, billiards, chess, checkers, miniature golf, archery, sea battle, shuffleboard, and paintball. My daughters and I are hooked on it.
There you have it, some wonderful books and games to enjoy during the holidays.
Share your favorites so I can add them to my Christmas wish list!
Where I’ll be after the holidays:
March 20-21, 2021 – the Chicago Writers Association’s Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference. I’m teaching “The Benefits of Critiquing” workshop and curating the “Let’s Just Read” Live Lit Event. I have every confidence that this will be an in-person event. Join me!
Be sure to check out my new blog: Seize the Day – Homeschool! The latest edition features a college admissions essay written by my daughter, Caitlin Podemski, when she was seventeen. Titled “A Typical Thursday,” the essay describes a day in the life of a teenage homeschooler.