Our annual Winter Reading Recommendations are here! The winter is perfect for reading – but we think that of all seasons – so we made it a little easier for you to pick what books you’ll be working through during these cold months. We’ve got a little something for everyone we hope, but feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!
Books You Didn’t Try Last Year
Some of the unread gems of 2016 that you should really get to now that it’s 2017.
The Unseen World
The moving story of a daughter’s quest to discover the truth about her beloved father’s hidden past
Ada Sibelius is raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy. The lab begins to gain acclaim at the same time that David’s mysterious history comes into question. When his mind begins to falter, leaving Ada virtually an orphan, she is taken in by one of David’s colleagues.
Soon after she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will keep the reader riveted until The Unseen World’s heart-stopping, fascinating conclusion.
The Regional Office is Under Attack
In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization—the Regional Office—and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. At its helm, the mysterious Oyemi and her oracles seek out new recruits and root out evil plots. Then a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack.
Recruited by a defector from within, Rose is a young assassin leading the attack, eager to stretch into her powers and prove herself on her first mission. Defending the Regional Office is Sarah—who may or may not have a mechanical arm—fiercely devoted to the organization that took her in as a young woman in the wake of her mother’s sudden disappearance. On the day that the Regional Office is attacked, Rose’s and Sarah’s stories will overlap, their lives will collide, and the world as they know it just might end.
There’s nothing like reading about the cold while you’re inside with a nice blanket and a cup of tea.
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes is obsessed with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel. When he discovers the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that seems to confirm the reality of Poe’s fiction, he resolves to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes with horror. Jaynes imagines it to be the last untouched bastion of the African Diaspora and the key to his personal salvation.
He convenes an all-black crew of six to follow Pym’s trail to the South Pole in search of adventure, natural resources to exploit, and, for Jaynes at least, the mythical world of the novel. With little but the firsthand account from which Poe derived his seafaring tale, a bag of bones, and a stash of Little Debbie snack cakes, Jaynes embarks on an epic journey under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries. He finds that here, there be monsters.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses
Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else.
Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother.
Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father.
Alyce is staying at home to please her parents.
Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don’t save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves?
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s extraordinary, stunning debut is both moving and deeply authentic. These intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare and wonderful talent.
Those ‘one-day’ books that I’ve been meaning to get to…
Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits. Slothrop gets excited, and then, as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his sibilant opening sentence, ‘a screaming comes across the sky’, heralding an angel of death, a V-2 rocket. Soon Tyrone is on the run from legions of bizarre enemies through the phantasmagoric horrors of Germany.
Gravity’s Rainbow is never a single story, but a proliferation of characters – Pirate Prentice, Teddy Bloat, Tantivy Mucker-Maffick, Saure Bummer, and more – and events that tantalize the reader with suggestions of vast patterns only just past our comprehension. It is a blizzard of references to science, history, high culture, and the lowest of jokes and among the most important novels of our time.
Beginning with a chance encounter with the beautiful Eliza June Watermark and ending, four days and 900 pages later, with the Events of November 17, this is the story of Gurion Maccabee, age ten: a lover, a fighter, a scholar, and a truly spectacular talker. Expelled from three Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and messianic tendencies, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a special lockdown program for the most hopeless cases of Aptakisic Junior High. Separated from his scholarly followers, Gurion becomes a leader of a very different sort, with righteous aims building to a revolution of troubling intensity.
The Instructions is an absolutely singular work of fiction by an important new talent. Combining the crackling voice of Philip Roth with the encyclopedic mind of David Foster Wallace, Adam Levin has shaped a world driven equally by moral fervor and slapstick comedy—a novel that is muscular and exuberant, troubling and empathetic, monumental, breakneck, romantic, and unforgettable.
Books That Aren’t Out Yet
But oh how we wish they were available right now!
Lincoln in the Bardo
The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War
On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.
Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.
Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogs a litany of firsts—first drink, first cigarette, first kiss—while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.
Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.
Sometimes it’s best to just lose yourself in the life of others.
The wildly popular YouTube personality and author of the New York Times bestseller My Drunk Kitchen is back! This time, she’s stirring up memories and tales from her past.
By combing through the journals that Hannah has kept for much of her life, this collection of narrative essays deliver a fuller picture of her life, her experiences, and the things she’s figured out about family, faith, love, sexuality, self-worth, friendship and fame.
Revealing what makes Hannah tick, this sometimes cringe-worthy, poignant collection of stories is sure to deliver plenty of Hannah’s wit and wisdom and hopefully encourage you to try your hand at her patented brand of reckless optimism.
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.
Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.
Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.
So that maybe we don’t escape into fiction all the way?
I Contain Multitudes
Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery.
Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. Those in cows and termites digest the plants they eat. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squids with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.
I Contain Multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships, between the creatures we are familiar with and those we are not. It reveals how we humans are disrupting these partnerships and how we might manipulate them for our own good. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.
The Romanovs: 1613-1918
Simon Sebag Montefiore
The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, with a global cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy and Pushkin, to Bismarck, Lincoln, Queen Victoria and Lenin.
Because books with pictures are a feast for all the senses.
March Book 1-3
Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.
Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).
March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.
Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea.
As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake — and her own.
Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.
Far away planets and creatures we can’t even imagine.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.
But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.
Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.
The Three-Body Problem
The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award-winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth.
Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
I just love magic and V.E. Schwab, OK?
The Bear and the Nightingale
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.
Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will.
Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?
I can’t get over how great the Vintage designs are. Just another good reason to pick up these classics.
The Master and The Margarita
One Spring afternoon the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow in Bulgakov’s fantastical, funny and frightening satire of Soviet life.
Brimming with magic and incident, it is full of imaginary, historical, terrifying and wonderful characters, from witches, poets and Biblical tyrants to the beautiful, courageous Margarita, who will do anything to save the imprisoned writer she loves.
Written in secret during the darkest days of Stalin’s reign, when The Master and Margarita was finally published it became an overnight literary phenomenon, signaling artistic freedom for Russians everywhere.
The Island of Doctor Moreau
A shipwreck in the South Seas, a palm-tree paradise where a mad doctor conducts vile experiments, animals that become human and then “beastly” in ways they never were before — it’s the stuff of high adventure. It’s also a parable about Darwinian theory, a social satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), and a bloody tale of horror.
As H. G. Wells himself wrote about this story, “The Island of Dr. Moreau is an exercise in youthful blasphemy. Now and then, though I rarely admit it, the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace. It grimaced that time, and I did my best to express my vision of the aimless torture in creation.”
This colorful tale by the author of The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds lit a firestorm of controversy at the time of its publication in 1896.
Get lost in the tales these master storytellers spin for you.
In her second book, a collection of twelve stories irresistibly seductive in their strangeness, she explores human life from beginning to end: the distress of birth into a world already formed; the brief and confusing period of “living” where we understand what is expected of us and struggle to do it; and the death-y period toward the end where we sense it is ending and will end only partially understood, at best.
The title is taken from one of the stories (“Intimation”), but is also a play on Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”—only in this case it’s not clear exactly what is being intimated, but it’s nothing so gleaming and good as Immortality. The middle, “Living” section of the book, is fleshed out with a set of stories that borrow more from traditional realist fiction to illustrate the inner lives of the characters.
At once familiar and mysterious, these stories have an eerie resonance as its characters find themselves in new and surprising situations. An unnamed woman enters a room with no exit and a ready-made life; the disappearance of people, objects, and memory creates an apocalypse; the art of dance is used to try to tame a feral child; the key to surviving a house-party lies in knowing the difference between fake and real blood.
Elegant, surprising, wondrous, and haunting, Intimations is an utterly transporting collection from one of our most ingenious and brilliant young writers.
Homesick for Another World
There’s something eerily unsettling about Ottessa Moshfegh’s stories, something almost dangerous while also being delightful – and often even weirdly hilarious. Her characters are all unsteady on their feet; all yearning for connection and betterment, in very different ways, but each of them seems destined to be tripped up by their own baser impulses. What makes these stories so moving is the emotional balance that Moshfegh achieves – the way she exposes the limitless range of self-deception that human beings can employ while, at the same time, infusing the grotesque and outrageous with tenderness and compassion. The flesh is weak; the timber is crooked; people are cruel to each other and stupid and hurtful, but beauty comes from strange sources, and the dark energy surging through these stories is oddly and powerfully invigorating.
Moshfegh has been compared to Flannery O’Connor, Jim Thompson, Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith but her voice and her mastery of language and tone are unique. One of the most gifted and exciting young writers in America, she shows us uncomfortable things and makes us look at them forensically – until we find, suddenly, that we are really looking at ourselves.
We love our YA book clubbers and we know they’ll love these.
When the Moon was Ours
To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable.
Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.
But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
History is All You Left Me
When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.
These are great to read over the span of a couple of hours!
The Language of Dying
A woman sits beside her father’s bedside as the night ticks away the final hours of his life. As she watches over her father, she relives the past week and the events that brought the family together . . . and she recalls all the weeks before that served to pull it apart.
There has never been anything normal about the lives raised in this house. It seems to her that sometimes her family is so colorful that the brightness hurts, and as they all join together in this time of impending loss she examines how they came to be the way they are and how it came to just be her, the drifter, that her father came home to die with.
But, the middle of five children, the woman has her own secrets . . . particularly the draw that pulled her back to the house when her own life looked set to crumble. And sitting through her lonely vigil, she remembers the thing she saw out in the fields all those years ago . . . the thing that they found her screaming for outside in the mud. As she peers through the familiar glass, she can’t help but hope and wonder if it will come again.
Because it’s one of those nights, isn’t it dad? A special, terrible night. A full night. And that’s always when it comes. If it comes at all.
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
To read before the next installment comes out
You’re going to be so on the ball with these.
Two teens are forced to murder—maybe each other—in the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.
Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives.
The Fifth Season
This is the way the world ends… for the last time.
A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
Read it before the adaptation comes out
Or after the adaptation came out, or during or just forever.
Margot Lee Shetterly
Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.
She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the years before when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…
These are our current Winter Reading Recommendations. Check out our previous Winter Recommendations here and share yours in the comments!