RJS: Well, my little snuggle bug, it’s the most wonderful time of the year again: the season of lights and spiked cider and compulsory family togetherness. I love me some holidays, but sometimes they can be stressful. And since it’s frowned upon to start drinking at breakfast, we need some books to help us cope with family craziness. What’s your flavor: books about families that are even crazier than yours, or good old-fashioned escapism?
LH: I have the perfect book to start with: the aptly-named All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland, a darkly funny novel of a seriously messed-up family that will make your situation look a little more normal. The members of the Drummond family are reuniting after a long estrangement – but absence doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. This is not just my favorite of his books, but it’s one of my favorite books, period.
RJS: Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel Instructions for a Heatwave might be set in the middle of a sweltering summer, but the dysfunctional Riordan family is chillingly realistic. When Gretta Riordan’s husband of four decades goes out for the paper one morning and doesn’t return, the children gather at the family home to air some long-hidden dirty laundry and try to figure out where their father went. I read it on a family beach trip this summer, and I can vouch for its ability to take you away from wherever you are and transport you to 1976 London.
LH: Yes! I love that book. And it takes place on the day I was born.
RJS: While we’re talking about the-gang-gets-back-together family stories, we also have to mention Seating Arrangements. Family dysfunction during a wedding weekend! That’ll give you some perspective when you think holidays are hard.
LH: I love that book, too! And I’m super-excited for her new one. Moving on, a recent favorite of mine is Handling Sin by Michael Malone. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read. This is a madcap road trip book, in which a free-spirited, ailing old man runs away from home, and tells his son that he will come back if his son completes a set of tasks that require him to drive around the country. There are some of the craziest, zaniest characters and encounters in this book. It’s my go-to book at the store when someone requests a “funny” read.
RJS: My go-to funny rec, particularly for people who work in books, is How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. A dude sets out to write a bestseller based on advice from formulaic books, and it actually works. It’s a hilarious satire about some of the all-too-true patterns in publishing, and it’s a rollicking good time. In a totally different vein, I want to love on Rosie Schaap’s memoir Drinking With Men. If you’ve gotta booze your way through the holidays, Rosie Schaap is the best company you could ask for. Do you have any fun favorite memoirs for holiday reading?
LH: First I would just like to point out for the court that I love both those books! (Are we the same person?) Also, if you want to know how NOT to behave at a wedding, read the Hely. I’m cringing just thinking about it. As far as memoirs, if you like fun family nuttiness, there’s one of my favorites, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History by Helene Stapinski. In it, Stapinski recounts how she grew up in a family of criminals in Jersey City during the height of the city’s political corruption. I absolutely adore this book to pieces. Getting back to fictional families, there’s The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, one of the oddest. The Fangs are into staging performance art pieces, and the parents are really wacky. The Fang children just want to be normal, but have to go along with their parents’ crazy ideas. There are some laugh-snort moments, for sure.
RJS: Family Fang is so, so great, and it’s going to be a movie starring Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman, and I just cannot contain my muppet flail excitement about that.
LH: Holy cats, that will be crazy!
RJS: And so awesome. I really hope they cast some kids as well and do flashbacks to the Fang family’s bonkers childhood. Speaking of bonkers childhood, maybe our readers should take David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs along for their holiday travel?
LH: Any of their books of essays will do, but they both have hilarious holiday-related books, too: Holidays on Ice and You Better Not Cry, respectively. I can’t speak for the Burroughs, but I know the Sedaris is worth getting on audio – no one reads their own work better than he does. Now, for more dysfunctional fictional fun, I just read Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet, and it was fantastic! It’s about a brother and sister whose beastly professor father mostly leaves them to their own devices in a big rambling house, stopping by just on weekends to home-school them. This book is delightfully smart and disturbing in equal measure. Loved, loved, loved it. It’s a little Cement Garden, a little Secret History and a whole lot of awesome. Now, kitten cheeks, there’s another effed-up family favorite that’s about to be a new Lifetime movie, right?
RJS: No book puts the fun in dysfunctional quite like Flowers in the Attic. Lifetime’s movie remake (with Ellen Burstyn, Heather Graham, and Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka) looks deliciously dark and twisty. It comes out in January, so you can dig out your tattered copy from middle school and give it a re-read over the holidays under the guise of brushing up before the flick. It doesn’t get any weirder than this, so we’d better call it a day.
Tell us, readers, what will you be reading this holiday season?
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