Books to Curl Up With Over Winter Break

Happy (almost) winter break to our lovely students! We asked our faculty & staff to share a text that they would recommend for students on vacation looking to relax and take a break from scholarly pursuits. Be sure to stop by Van Wylen before you leave to check some of these out, and may your next three weeks be restful & renewing!

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Image Courtesy of Counterpoint LLC

Dr. Curtis Gruenler’s Pick: Jayber Crow By Wendell Berry

Our first recommendation comes from Dr. Curtis Gruenler, who wholeheartedly recommends Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. “This is my favorite novel by my favorite living writer,” says Dr. Gruenler, “and it has everything: humor, coming-of-age story, insightful social commentary, love, friendship, and a subtle rewriting of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the genre of the realistic novel.”

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos, published by Harper Perennial

Dr. Stephen Hemenway’s Pick: Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Dr. Stephen Hemenway shares this about his selection: “I enthusiastically recommend Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. The title is Yuletide seasonal, and the fictional story highlights faith and family in a ‘novel’ way.” According to, it’s the story of a man “trying to put his life in perspective. In the expert hands of Oscar Hijuelos, the novel speaks eloquently to the most basic and fulfilling aspects of life for all of us.”

An excerpt of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn By Mark Twain, currently published by Peguin Classics

Dr. Mike Owens’ Pick: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

This one’s a classic, but transcends time and is applicable at any age. Dr. Mike Owens recommends The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain as an enjoyable read for over the holidays. “It is not a boy’s book — everyone should read it as an adult, and Chapter XXXI contains, arguably, the greatest sentence in American literature.” Think you know what sentence Prof. Owens is referring to? (Hint: it’s 7 words long.)

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, Image courtesy of Ballantine Books

Alison Lechner, English Dept. Office Manager, selects The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This one’s for all our our literary & history buffs out there! Our Office Manager, Alison Lechner, recommends The Paris Wife by Paula McLain as a great historical fiction read for your holiday break. She writes: “I love hearing old stories told in new ways. This is a fictionalized account of the real Hadley Richardson, who was Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. It explores gender roles and inter-marital relations in the context of 1920’s Paris amidst the rise of Hemingway’s now infamous literary career. The Paris Wife is a fantastic read that sheds new light on one of literature’s most famous authors — I couldn’t put it down!”

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, published by Random House

Dr. Rhoda Burton’s Pick: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Dr. Rhoda Burton’s recommendation for winter break is nothing short of a life-changing read: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. She explains that “so many memoirs show us how — how we live, how we reflect, how we make meaning. But this one shows us why.” This book tells the story of a brain surgeon who is diagnosed with terminal cancer — make sure you’ve got some tissues on hand.

Noche Buena edited by Nicolás Kanellos, published by Oxford University Press

Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño’s pick: Noche Buena edited by Nicolás Kanellos

Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño shares her choice for some fun reading for over break: Noche Buena: Hispanic American Christmas Stories, edited by Nicolás Kanellos. As she puts it: “I love picking up Kanellos’ book each year during Christmas break. It invites readers into the fullness of the season as seen through Latinx eyes. In this collection of stories, songs, poems, and a play, we experience Christmas as a season spanning from the Festival of the Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12th) to Three Kings Day (January 6th). ¡Felices fiestas!”

Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Our New Voices Young Adult Book Club chose Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Last but certainly not least, we have an excellent choice for all you YA fiction fans out there: Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Winter break is the perfect time to dig into this month’s selection from New Voices. This is a dark and riveting tale of magic, family, and adventure, a breathlessly fast-paced read inspired by West African mythic tradition. New Voices will meet on Thursday, Jan. 23rd in Van Wylen to discuss the book, so mark your calendars!

Happy Reading!

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