I love the holidays. I love twinkle lights–we even put them on the fern this year:
I love mulled cider and giving gifts and GETTING GIFTS (bookish confession time: every year I save up all my “rewards points” from my credit cards and spend them all on books for myself to open on Christmas because I’m incurably addicted to the perfectly rectangular sight of books all wrapped up yes of course I make my partner wrap them for me). But the holidays are also weirdly stressful, especially for introverts. It always feels like I skid into January 1st totally wiped out from all the socializing.
December is historically (I know thanks to my reading journal) one of my worst months in terms of “books read.” But this year, it’s going to be different! I’m more into audiobooks than I’ve ever been before, and I’m slowly getting better at improving my work-life-book balance. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned: I hope they help you make your holidays as book-filled as possible!
Tip 1: Make bookish name cards for the holiday table
This first one is just a small idea I came up with while working on the table settings for this year’s Thanksgiving: If you’re hosting and you want to dictate who sits where, make it fun by writing on the name-cards the names of your guests’ favorite authors or characters. This goes way beyond books, too– you could choose superheroes that you think reflect each guest, or singers . . . the list is endless! I’m doing this this year with magical items from the Harry Potter universe for our Friendsgiving, since we’re bringing together some people who don’t know each other very well. (I’m the fanged frisbee, obvs.) It’s a great conversation starter if you’re worried about that awkward silence when people first sit down to dinner. “So . . . why are you a Penseive?” is an excellent ice breaker.
Tip 2: Replace “Jingle Bells” on repeat with an audiobook everyone can enjoy
Avoid the debate about whether Christmas music should be played starting November 15th, Thanksgiving Day, December 1st, or (gasp) never: put an audiobook on in the background instead of music while people are hanging out in the kitchen or snacking on the cheese plate! This works best with a book many of the guests have read before, and it works especially best with children’s books (there’s actually a great Audible children’s book sale going on right now). I’ve got guests coming about an hour before dinner is (supposed to be) served, and I’ll be putting on Anne of Green Gables, narrated by Rachel McAdams. Other recommendations: any of the first three Harry Potter books; The Hobbit; A Wrinkle in Time (get ready for the movie!).
Tip 3: Keep it brief
Choose your reading wisely: this feels like the time of year to revisit an old favorite. Even when things get crazy, you can pick up a book you’ve read and loved before and use it as a retreat. Brief reads can also fit more easily into a busy holiday schedule: short stories are great, but I think essays are even better since they provide conversation fodder. The 2017 Best American series is out now, and there are some great editors this year: Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, is the editor of the Best American Essays, and Hope Jahren, author of Lab Girl, is the editor of the Best American Science and Nature Writing. Find a story that’s interesting to you, and I guarantee you’ll find a way to work it into Thanksgiving dinner conversation!
Tip 4: Try podcasts
If reading just doesn’t feel possible (and sometimes it doesn’t), catch up on your podcast episodes– or try out a new show! I think podcasts are a natural choice for readers, especially readers who listen to audiobooks– or want to start. It feels like we’re in an amazing era for podcasts: there are a bunch of great shows, whether you’re interested in true crime (shows like My Favorite Murder— SSDGM!– Someone Knows Something, or Up and Vanished), humor (shows like My Brother, My Brother, and Me— “an advice show for the modern era”– or My Dad Wrote a Porno), productivity (my current favorite productivity podcast is Happier with Gretchen Rubin, who is the author of The Happiness Project), or some other niche genre (My favorite podcast of all time is The Adventure Zone, a D&D podcast with the brothers who make My Brother, My Brother, and Me— and then there’s the inimitable and unclassifiable Welcome to Night Vale, of course). If you’re looking for podcasts with a fictional narrative, I’d recommend checking out Deadly Manners, or Homecoming (I haven’t listened to Homecoming yet, but I hear it’s great)– these are podcasts that feel more like radio plays. They have casts of characters and lots of narrative tension, but the episodes are relatively short (only about a half-hour or so). It’s easy to squeeze a podcast in while you’re making the stuffing or vacuuming the rug that literally never stops shedding even though I’ve owned it for 5 years how is this possible.
Tip 5: Go for a walk
Once the holiday meal has ended, get out for a walk after dinner and before dessert! No one will want to come with you since they’ll all be in food comas. But if you bundle up and bring your earbuds, you can get at least a half hour of listening in, and if you’re an introvert like me, you’ll come back to the table refreshed after some quiet time. If someone does ask to come with you, be honest! Say “I’m really into this book/podcast, so I’m planning to listen while I walk.” If it’s a podcast, you could even offer to download the same episode onto their device so they can listen too. In fact, an “alone together” post-Thanksgiving walk with your guests sounds like a great new tradition!
I hope these suggestions help you enjoy the holiday season as much as possible! Let me know if you tried these out or have any holiday tips that help you get more reading done– I’m always looking for ways to fit more books into these busy days.