7 Life-Changing Books That Are Required Holiday Reading

Updated 12/21/16
MCG/Trunk Archive

With so many incredible novels released in 2016, it’s safe to say that fiction is having a major moment. So many incredible novels, in fact (and so little time), that we have a pile of books tall enough to function as a makeshift side table… While we were packing up for the holidays, we even considered bringing an extra suitcase exclusively for the books. Just kidding. Besides, it was time to invest in a real side table, and the heavy carry-on wouldn’t be easy on the deltoid nor our leg-room situation on the flight. We did, however, cut our reading bucket list down to eight of the best books released in 2016.

To help you narrow that down even more, we’ve organized these literary masterpieces by vibe as well as similar books you may have already read and loved. Plus, not only does the holiday vacation grant you more reading time, but also, the colder weather requires that you stay indoors. Plus, the spirit of storytelling is especially exciting amid the backdrop of holiday cheer. Once you choose your books accordingly, start your reading marathon by a warm fire and a mug of mulled wine.

A High-Drama Literary Romance

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride $20
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The Book: Here's another brilliant novel from the prolific Irish author who brought us A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Some even refer to her as the James Joyce of the iPad era (or something like that). This September, she released her anticipated second novel, The Lesser Bohemians. It follows an enthusiastic and naive protagonist as she navigates a new city and relationship with an older, potentially dangerous man. This high-drama romance with incredible attention to language will enchant you again and again.

Similar Reads: Atonement by Ian McEwan, Hotel World by Ali Smith, and The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

An Action-Packed Page-Turner

How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball $16
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The Book: Unreliable narrators are engaging, to say the least, so Vladimir Nabokov has a point when he says, "You can always rely on a murderer for fancy prose style." This thought will linger in the back of your mind as you get to know the precocious, hypochondriac teenage narrator of How to Set a Fire and Why. You'll also be left with some haunting (but important) philosophical questions: Do you need to destroy to create? What's destructive and what's creative? How can you have a fresh start without obliterating the past?

Similar Reads: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow, J R by William Gaddis, and Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

An Experimental Mystery

Nutshell by Ian McEwan $14
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The Book: Okay, so in a nutshell (pardon the pun), this book is experimental, as the speaker is a fetus. Consider it an elevated literary rendition of the Blockbuster hits Baby Genius and Look Who's Talking, which were all the rage in the early 1990s. Only McEwen could so masterfully accomplish such a distinct narration ploy. Nutshell is a fun read full of mystery, violence, and domestic turmoil, all described from the perspective of the unborn witness.

Similar Reads: Time's Arrow by Martin Amis, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

A Hilarious and Resonant Read

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple $16
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The Book: From the acclaimed author who brought you the quirky leading lady of Where’d You Go, Bernadette, here’s another female lead to fall in a love-hate (but mostly love) relationship with. Maria Semple also used to be a writer for Arrested Development before entering the world of literary fiction, so you’re guaranteed a lot of laughter with Today Will Be Different.

Similar Reads: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and Other People We Married by Emma Straub

A Coming-of-Age Masterpiece

The Girls by Emma Cline $18
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The Book: With so much crime literature about cults, it's surprisingly difficult to find narratives that don't solely pivot around sadistic group leaders. Rather than glorifying the grotesque crimes committed by the Manson-like cults, Cline gives us a coming-of-age tale with a twist, exploring female friendship and a young woman's vulnerabilities. She brings these voices out from the margins to represent the nuances involved. The Girls is set against the sometimes ethereal, dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) landscape of 1970s California bohemia. This novel definitely lives up to the hype, so if you haven't cracked it open yet, now's your chance.

Similar Reads: Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

A Fun Thought-Provoker

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler $16
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The Book: Sweetbitter traces a young woman's adventures as she moves from a small town to New York City. Working in an exclusive, high-end restaurant, the protagonist is exposed to an alluring but questionable lifestyle as well as a dangerous love triangle. Though there is potential for disaster, this book communicates that experience is the best teacher. It not only upholds the whole "learn from your mistakes" attitude but also suggests that perhaps we cannot achieve wisdom without first experiencing woe.

Similar Reads: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

BONUS: An Obscure and Deadpan Satire

Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous $9
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The Book: We admit this one initially was released a decade ago, in 2006, but it’s experienced a resurgence in popularity since it was republished by Gallery Books in June 2016. Because it was initially self-published, it's been extremely difficult to track down, and we're glad it's back. Plus, it seems fitting for the season, with a soulless snowman on the cover. Diary of an Oxygen Thief is narrated by a misogynistic narcissist lacking a filter. And as much as you hate him, you'll feel like you know him (let's face it—we all probably know some iteration of him). The most infuriating part is that he's smart and wry, forcing the reader to see their own role in the dynamic of "hurt people hurt people." Punchy, ain't it? And if that doesn't convince you, the Barnes and Noble review compares it a theoretical "novel in which Holden Caulfield was an alcoholic and Lolita was a photographer's assistant, and somehow they met in Bright Lights, Big City." What a treat.

Similar Reads: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace, Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

Once you read the books, we'd love to hear your thoughts and reviews! Let's turn the comment section below into a book club of sorts. And as always, please feel free to add to our list of must-reads.

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