Books to Bring Joy | Literary Antidotes for Difficult Holidays

Oh, the holidays. A mythologized time of connection, generosity, and joy. For many people, however, the holidays highlight painful loneliness, family estrangement, and injustice. These can be some of the most grueling, grim, and wintry weeks of the year, when our personal and societal traumas are cast into stark relief against a cheery retail backdrop. If you are suffering, as so many of us are, please know you are not alone. 

Being a person who always finds comfort in stories and books, I’m sharing some titles that might bring you peace and comfort in difficult times. Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights is one of the most life-affirming books I’ve ever read, documenting day-to-day joy in short vignettes without avoiding subjects like consumerism or what it means to be a Black man in our country. Fight Night, by Miriam Toews, made me laugh and sob simultaneously, a breathtaking novel of survival. As the remarkable grandma tells Swiv, the book’s young narrator, “To be alive means full body contact with the absurd. Still, we can be happy.”  

This list also includes the mindful poetry of Mary Oliver and of Amanda Gorman, the latter having inspired an entire country with her poetry reading at the presidential inauguration. Here, too, is poet and psychoanalyst Nuar Alsadir’s wide-ranging Animal Joy, which contains essays that explore laughter and what it means to live an embodied existence. The point, after all, is not to live a purely happy life, but to find balance, to invite bursts of merriment. All the works mentioned here do a beautiful job of celebrating joy and embracing wonder without denigrating the truth about what makes life painful. As the lines in a poem by Molly Fisk state in the wonderful collection How to Love the World, “Oh friend, search your memory again—/beauty and relief are still there, only sleeping.”  

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

Check It Out: Book 

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver

Check It Out: Book

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman, Check It Out: Book 

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Check It Out: Book 

The World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Check It Out: Book 

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams

Check It Out: Book 

Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation by Nuar Alsadir

Check it Out: Book 

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times: Douglas Carlton Abrams and Jane Goodall

Check It Out: Book 

How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews

Buy the Book at a Local Bookstore