Eight Brilliant Festive Books (that aren’t A Christmas Carol)

For winter 2020, we’re shelving books such as A Christmas Carol and Little Women in favour of modern festive fiction, soul-warming poetry and the real-life accounts that would make even Scrooge get into the holiday spirit. Season’s readings.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. We find that in the lull between films, food, family (arguments), gift-giving, etcetera, there's nothing quite so appealing as hunkering down with a good book.

In lieu of leafing through Little Women for the umpteenth Christmas in a row, we're reaching for a few more modern festive tomes. Expect fiction as heart-warming as a roaring fire, real-life reflections from big-name authors and collections of short stories that are easy to pick and choose between (three-household) get-togethers.

Season's readings: eight of the best modern Christmas books

Last Christmas

by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise

Subtitled "Memories of Christmases Past and Hopes of Future Ones", this set of personal essays brings together voices from Hollywood and London's soup kitchens. The likes of Meryl Streep, Olivia Colman, Catlin Moran and Richard Ayoade pen pieces that live alongside others by refugees and people who have been homeless. They reflect on the importance of kindness, generosity and acceptance, and why these values shouldn't just be reserved for Christmas.

The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories

edited by Jessica Harrison

You may have turned on the OOO, but finding the time to engross yourself in a War and Peace-sized novel can still feel a tad unrealistic. Instead, dip in and out of this globetrotting collection of short stories, which whisk you from midnight mass in Rio, through Sweden's enchanted forests to outer space, by way of some of the all-time greats of story writing: Shirley Jackson, Truman Capote, Italo Calvino and Dylan Thomas.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas

by Adam Kay

After a year in which we have learned to appreciate healthcare workers more than ever, it feels fitting to pick up Adam Kay's follow-up to his bestselling This is Going to Hurt. Peering behind hospital doors, it's a self-proclaimed "love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck". Often horrifying, sometimes heartbreaking, always laugh-out-loud hilarious.


by Maya Angelou

Much like a puppy, this book is not just for Christmas. It's a collection of some of Angelou's most soul-stirring poetry that reflects on our "rituals of peace and prayer". It features celebrations both public and private: verses written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UN; a birthday greeting to Oprah Winfrey; and Amazing Peace, which she recited at the lighting of the Christmas tree at the White House in 2005.

The Christmas Chronicles

by Nigel Slater

If you're the kind of person that finds a cookbook as gripping as a thriller, Nigel Slater's ode to winter food and festivities is a delicious read. There are more than 100 recipes interspersed among his chronicles that span from 1 November to 31 January. Our favourite? The pink-grapefruit marmalade. Make a big batch and gift to friends and family. If you've already devoured this book, try Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson.

Seven Days of Us

by Francesca Hornak

What would a 2020 Christmas reading list be without a touch of disease-induced isolation? The Birches are an estranged family forced to celebrate Christmas together when daughter Olivia, a doctor, returns home from treating an epidemic overseas and puts them all in quarantine. Turns out, a lot of secrets can be spilled in seven days. If you're a fan of The Family Stone, you'll love this.

Holidays on Ice

by David Sedaris

You'd be forgiven for not feeling in the most festive of spirits after 2020. Cue David Sedaris, who has put his brilliantly dark, satirical spin on the typical holiday experience in this collection of essays from 1997. Even Scrooge would snigger at the diary of a Macy's elf in a department store. Like this? Try You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs.

Christmas on the Island Hotel

by Jenny Colgan

The opportunities for real-life escapism and hotel visits have been slim this year. This new release promises a fix of both - sort of. On the (fictional) Scottish island of Mure, Flora and her grieving brother Fintan take over a disused hotel and - with the help of local islanders, a temperamental French chef and Norwegian kitchen boy - try to transform it in time for Christmas. Better yet, the book includes recipes for shortbread, scones and black bread.

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