As the weather gets colder and the holidays start taking over our lives, more and more of our time is spent inside. Cabin fever, or that restless feeling that comes with being cooped up with the same people for days on end, is a common side effect of the winter months. Add the stress of traveling to visit extended family for holidays, then being stuck with said extended family (like that one aunt who keeps asking if you have a boyfriend, causing your mom to pipe up that she can’t wait to have some grandchildren), and all you want is an escape, if just for a few hours.
Instead of spending your time in front of a TV or with headphones stuck in your ears, why not expand your imagination or stay entertained with a good book? I know, I know — isn’t the point of a vacation to get away from exercising your mind? Trust me, a good book read for pure pleasure can be just as relaxing.
Try a few from eight of my favorite categories, or try to read one from each before the season’s end. If nothing else, a novel’s plot or a book recommendation can serve as a conversation topic switcher, or a solo activity to keep the rest of the world away.
An Autobiography by a Funny Lady
Historical nonfiction about the weaponry of the civil war or biographies of dead presidents are just for lame dads, right? Maybe, but not all nonfiction is boring. Specifically, life advice and humorous recounting of the time before many of our favorite celebrities were famous.
Comediennes release autobiographies every year that top bestsellers’ lists, and for good reason. You love the shows they write for and star in – why wouldn’t you enjoy their life story in their own words?
Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”, Rachel Dratch’s “Girl Walks Into a Bar …”, and Ellen DeGeneres’s “Seriously … I’m Kidding” show that our favorite funny gals have gone through many of the situations you and your friends have, and went on to produce Emmy award winning shows about them. That’s the dream.
An In-Depth Fantasy
There’s no sense in being ashamed of your inner nerd, dork or geek. You love video games, studying, anime, and dressing up for comic book conventions – be proud!
Once relegated to the stereotyped loser with thick glasses, fantasy series like “The Lord of the Rings,” “A Song of Fire and Ice” (Better known as the “Game of Thrones” series) and the Ender’s Saga have been popularized through movies and TV. But that’s not why you should pick up a fantasy or sci-fi novel.
The authors who create these alternative worlds stretch your imagination past your limits. Sure, it’s cool that Daenerys Targaryen can control dragons. But you should see this badass chick take down patriarchal societies and free the slaved through her deft command of armies.
They say nothing ruins a good book like an English class. Overanalyzing literature through lectures and essays can be enough to turn you away from reading anything written before the 21st century. But there are plenty of great works by now-deceased authors that you may have never heard of, or may be willing to give another shot a few years after pop quizzes about the meaning of this quote or that scene.
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen may have been on your 11th grade reading list, and movie versions like the one starring Keira Knightley may have eased away the pain of discussing symbolism in the story, but Austen has several other novels to choose from, from many of which modern movies stole plotlines. Did you know “Clueless” is based on “Emma,” Austen’s novel about a young woman who attempts to serve as a matchmaker for everyone but herself? Check it out and compare the novel’s characters to their ‘90s equivalents.
If you have an e-reader, many of these novels and other classics are free downloads from sites like Project Gutenberg, a great way to stay well-read without emptying your wallet.
A Trashy Romance Novel
Just like your body craves junk food, every once in a while, your mind needs activity that uses zero brain cells. A harlequin romance novel with a ripped shirtless dude on the cover and more than its fair share of steamy sex scenes is just the trick to let your mind wind down. But “Fifty Shades of Grey” is so last spring.
If you’re looking for a contemporary romance, Nora Roberts seems to pop out a new novel every other week. And many of her stories are trilogies, which give you an excuse to continue your mindless reading spree.
If you’d prefer a saucy historical romance, Elizabeth Hoyt’s “Thief of Shadows” and Sabrina Jeffries’ “A Lady Never Surrenders” are recent bestsellers with female heroines who take their destinies into their own hands, not damsels in distress.
An Old Favorite
Never underestimate the power of a re-read. A character you hated the first time around may seem more relatable if you’re already familiar with a novel’s plot, and an adult joke you didn’t really understand when you read a book as a kid may now be hilarious, as was your naivety.
Think back to your favorite book from five or even ten years ago. Whether it was something as lowbrow as the “Twilight” series, your favorite “Harry Potter” book (heck, re-read all seven!), or even further back to your elementary school Judy Bloom and Beverly Cleary days, a novel from when your favorite school supplies had Lisa Frank designs and advanced algebra was the most difficult part of your life will bring back some nostalgic memories to occupy your mind while sipping hot cocoa by the fire.
A Book-Turned-Movie or a Movie That Was A Book First
Fall is Oscar season, or when most movies that hope to be Academy Award contenders are released in theaters. Because Hollywood has run out of ideas, many of these movies were first critically acclaimed novels. “Life of Pi,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Anna Karenina” and “The Great Gatsby” (see: Classics), “The Silver Linings Playbook,” and “The Hobbit” (see: Fantasy) are all eagerly awaited films that are based on novels of the same name. Read the book first and imagine the characters, then see how the movie matches up.
A few of the movies you may have seen earlier this fall, and even some of your favorite movies of all time, were also books first. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a profound piece of young adult fiction. Chick flicks “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and “The Notebook,” cult classics like “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Fight Club,” and TV shows like “Gossip Girl,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “The Walking Dead” were all books or graphic novels before their acted adaptations. Is the book always better than the movie? You’ll have to read to find out.
A Young Adult Novel
In the publishing world, one genre that isn’t suffering from lack of sales is young adult fiction. And these books aren’t just about petty high school drama – Most of these novels are enjoyable for readers of any age, either because of their mature subject matter or themes we all went through during our adolescence.
“The Hunger Games” in particular is a head scratcher, because while the book has simple language to span reading age levels, parts of the “young adult” series are freaking terrifying! The Japanese film adaptation of “Battle Royale” couldn’t be released in U.S. theaters, but as long as spears going through character’s stomachs isn’t shown in the movie, kids can read about it in the book?!
Moving on, there are plenty of YA books that hardly seem different from adult fiction, minus younger characters. John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking For Alaska” are heart-tugging tales of love and loss. Anything by Meg Cabot (famous for “The Princess Diaries” series) is fun and spunky. And the aforementioned “Hunger Games” series is a must-read.
A Feminist Manifesto
It’s hard to move forward without knowing where you come from. The foremothers of the feminist movement and current leaders in what some think is the fourth wave of feminism, documented their strife and accomplishments, as well as their goals and motivations, in many works of nonfiction.
Betty Friedan’s second-wave book “The Feminine Mystique” described life as a woman in the 1950s. Gloria Steinem’s article about posing as a Playboy Bunny, and Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” are also seen by some as feminist classics. Ms. magazine and the Women’s Media Center are excellent resources about feminism from its inception to today. Naomi Wolf’s “The Beauty Myth” examines the social pressures of modern women to be impossibly perfect. And newer books such as Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” Julie Zeilinger’s “A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word,” and Caitlin Moran’s “How To Be A Woman” each take on different modern feminist topics.
This is by no means an encompassing or definitive list. So many wonderful women have written about their experiences, feminist studies and theories, and histories of the feminist movement, and many books overlap topics, contradict one another, and challenge current and former notions of women’s rights and feminism. It’s up to you to read as much as you find necessary to determine your own stance on individual issues.
What books are you planning on reading this winter? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Lauren Slavin