Reading List: Books for Handling the Holidays

Six Solid Volumes by Writers Who Share Your Pain

You know how they say misery loves company? Well, we should be careful when we’re in mixed company of relatives during the holidays and we stretch that analogy any further. But in that (holiday) spirit, we tracked down books by writers who express the occasional pain that may arise while spending extended periods with those who spawned you and their cohort much more eloquently than most of us are able. And we aren’t just talking about David Sedaris. Though, to be clear, we definitely are talking about David Sedaris, but not only David Sedaris.

The true trick and gift of these writers is not to wallow in misery, but to (most of the time, at least) find the comfort and warmth at the heart of the holidays. It’s not all coal in stockings and moments that make you want to crawl under the table here (just mostly).

So sit back with a hot cocoa or whiskey, prop your feet up on the ottoman for added comfort, and commiserate with writers writing about the holidays.

Here’s our list for the best books to help you handle the holidays, complete with inspirational quotes from each work. No matter how bad you think your family is, theirs are worse.


Holidays on Ice

By David Sedaris

It makes one’s mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment.

Now more than two decades old we can comfortably call this collection of laugh-out-loud essays a classic. It includes the essay “The Santaland Diaries,” a tale of Sedaris working as a department elf named Crumpet as a 33-year-old man, the annual reading of which has become NPR’s version of A Christmas Carol.

The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays

Edited by Taylor Plimpton & Michele Clark

If you don’t have yourself a merry little Christmas, you might as well kill yourself.

A sweeping panorama of pain and misery over the years this volume brings together tales from decades past by the likes of Robert Benchley, John Cheever and Bukowski and brings in new cringeworthy hot takes from John Waters (who contributed the above epigram), Jonathan Ames, and, yes, David Sedaris. Of course.

You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas

By Augusten Burroughs

I remember, no matter how impossible it seemed that any given day would end, it always did. This one would, too.

Would you have expected that the Running with Scissors memoirist had many happy memories of Christmastime? No, you would not have. And you would not be disappointed.

I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas

By Lewis Black

This book contains, like the celebration of Christmas, only 2 percent religion. Think of it as the yuletide equivalent of low-fat milk.

Basically Black diatribing the season, from comparing tinseled trees to hookers in spangle and complaining about the “primal scream of sales,” that seem to mark the time between Thanksgiving and December 24. Definitely one where you might want the audiobook with Black himself spewing forth to pass the time on any long snowy drives to your Yuletide destination.

Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Yuletide Yahoos, Ho-Ho-Humblebraggers, and Other Seasonal Scourges

By Jen Mann

Everyone who receives the Punch family portrait looks at it and says, Huh, Jen must be looking old since hubs used the soft-focus technique this year.

The title that sounds like an unreleased Morrissey holiday album basically sums it up. Not even basically. Mann almost makes Lewis Black seem like he’s got a somewhat sunny disposition as her rants veer into Swiftian satire in this essay collection.

Murder Under The Christmas Tree


The brandy brought a tinge of color into his cheeks, and he sat with frightened eyes, staring at his accuser.

Maybe you’d stop thinking about murdering your family if you read a nice book of classic mysteries set during the season from the likes of Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie. That, or if you sit there with this book as if you are studying intently near the cutlery people are likely to leave you alone.

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror

by Christopher Moore

Because if you’re up to your navel in a snowdrift in Ohio, nothing warms your heart like the sight of California on fire.

After a 7-year-old child thinks what he’s seen is Santa murdered in cold blood with a shovel to the head, hilarity ensues. Every part of that sentence is accurate. This book’s got the titular angel who is a bit slow on the uptake there to help, a cast of characters who will be familiar to readers of Moore’s Pine Cove, California-set novels and brain-eating zombies.