The holiday season has a lot to offer for everyone — except perhaps for introverts. Oh don’t get me wrong, introverts can still enjoy the annual traditions of spending time with friends and family members, or going to their employers’ annual holiday party ... where each department sits cloistered at the same table and engages in some healthy trash talk concerning all of the other departments, with some special wine-fueled barbs reserved for the always suspicious C-suite execs.
But for quieter types, interacting with others can be a little enervating. That’s when it’s time to sit in a quiet corner with a good book, and watch your health bar rise up to full again.
To that end, we’ve put together some recommendations for your holiday reading list. This is a selection of the fiction and nonfiction books we enjoyed throughout the year. Some of these titles were released in 2023, and others are titles from previous years that deserve another look.
The Dictionary People: The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary by Sarah Ogilvie
If you are the type of person who avidly plays Wordle every day, both for the challenge and to keep your winning streak alive — an out-and-proud word nerd, in other words — then you will appreciate this biographical look at the thousands of volunteers who helped to create and expand one of the world’s most respected reference books.
Ogilvie offers several compelling snapshots of the creative (and often highly eccentric) folks from all walks of life who contributed to the creation of the OED. Lovers of the English language will truly enjoy this curious and insightful book.
Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy
American literature lost one of its best novelists earlier this year. Cormac McCarthy’s sparse technical style eschewed most punctuation and dialogue attribution, but featured richly ornate prose that romanticized this country’s wild landscapes while offering a no-holds barred look at the worst excesses of human behavior.
McCarthy’s final story is a companion to his penultimate novel, The Passenger, published in 2022. The title Stella Maris comes from the name of a psychiatric facility in which Alicia, the sister of the protagonist of The Passenger, is being treated. The story is mainly presented through transcripts of recorded conversations between Alicia and the psychiatrist assigned to her case, giving the proceedings the feel of a one-act play acted on a small spotlit stage.
Alicia’s story is dense, dreamlike, and haunting, and will keep you thinking about it long after you have finished reading.
Fire Weather: A True Story From a Hotter World by John Vaillant
In 2016 in the Canadian province of Alberta, the city of Fort McMurray was devoured by a wildfire of epic intensity and destructive power in an event made possible by a perfect storm of environmental conditions, many of which were attributable to climate change.
Fire Weather tells the heartbreaking story of the devastation of the city and its 80,000 residents while also serving as forewarning of the current annual wildfires which are destroying huge swathes of vital forestland, and turning the skies of North America into orange-hued domes full of health-threatening airborne particulates.
Fire Weather appeared on many Top 10 nonfiction book lists this year, and for good reason. It is a both a story of human tragedy and a cautionary tale about the future of fire as a destructive force in our lives.
The Silo Trilogy: Wool, Shift, and Dust by Hugh Howey
You may not have known about this dystopic science fiction trilogy until its adaptation, Silo, aired on Apple TV+ earlier this year. The first season of the series was very good, but the source material is richer and more illuminating.
The story takes place in a city of doomsday survivors housed in a massive cylindrical underground bunker, with dozens of vertical levels serving the populace as both homesteads and workplaces — and as indicators of individual social standing.
The denizens of the silo are bound by "The Pact," a set of strict rules enforced by authority figures who range from sympathetic to shady. The strictest rule is the prohibition on voicing the desire to leave the silo and go out into the surface world, the details of which have been suspiciously lost over time. To speak the words, "I want to go outside," is punishable by irrevocable banishment into a seemingly fatal wasteland.
This trilogy of novels is a great read for anyone who isn’t subscribed to Apple’s streaming service, or for fans of the Silo series who don’t want to wait for the show to eventually reveal itself over multiple seasons.
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
This delightfully subversive and satirical novel combines the gaudiest excesses of old-school sci-fi action romps like Rollerball and The Running Man with the empathy-killing brain candy offered by current reality TV shows. The result is a story full of biting social commentary that still stings long after you’re done reading.
Chain-Gang All-Stars Battleground is the top-rated show on the Criminal Action Penal Entertainment channel (CAPE), a premise that sounds disturbingly like near-future Netflix programming. Fighters from rival prisons are pitted against each other in bloody death matches. The survivors receive celebrity status and accolades, and if they are able to survive three years on the circuit, they are given their freedom from incarceration.
Chain-Gang All-Stars is an ambitious swing at everything from the U.S. prison system being run as a business venture to our unhealthy addiction to reality television and its gleeful exploitation of human suffering.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
This nerve-jangling thriller was published in 2020, but has recently come back into the spotlight with the release of Netflix’s film adaptation. A privileged upper-middle class family vacationing in a posh Airbnb are surprised by the late night arrival of an older couple who claim to be the property’s owners. They also claim that they have fled back home due to a massive blackout affecting the entire northeastern United States.
The recent pandemic gave us the shared experience of having our safe, familiar routines and readily available commodities swept away by devastating events beyond our control. Leave the World Behind takes this anxiety and amps it up to 11, showing how the complacency of a comfortable life can keep people from responding to a growing threat of imminent danger.