Newsletter 1

Booksmas: A New Bookish Holiday Tradition

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Hannah Engler

Staff Writer

Hannah lives in New York and works in publishing. In addition to Book Riot, her articles have appeared on, the American Writer's Museum blog, Feminist Campus, and more. When not writing or reading (which is hardly ever), she tweets, eats, and watches Nora Ephron movies. Twitter: @caffeinehannah

I had all sorts of grand ambitions about the holiday parties I was going to throw this year. I had notions of cooking a big Tex-Mex Christmas feast, complete with homemade tamales, even though it has been multiple generations since anyone in my family made the tamales from scratch. My roommate and I brainstormed having an “Office Christmas Party” theme and speculated on where to get a Xerox machine, for decoration. I even kept a stockpile of holiday cocktail recipes. When the time came, though, it was finals week, the first draft of my thesis was due, and pretty much everybody’s energy – and money – was dwindling.

Not wanting to forgo celebrations altogether, I decided to kill multiple birds with one stone, and have a Booksmas party. Throwing a Booksmas allowed me to a) ensure that I was set for pleasure reading once the hell of finals was over, b) shed some weight in my suitcase, c) clean up my room, d) foist book recommendations on people in person, with the added ability to literally press a book into someone’s hands, so that they had no choice but to take it and couldn’t make vague excuses like “I haven’t been to the library/bookstore/on Amazon in a while.”

I got the idea for the party from interview with Amy Sedaris where she said that every so often, she invites her friends over and they all exchange half-used bottles of beauty products, sometimes for free and sometimes for laundry quarters. This kind of event makes a lot more sense with books than with shampoo (so much more, in fact, that Amy Sedaris may have gotten the idea from a book exchange in the first place – you could say that it’s a chicken-and-egg situation). First, I went through my bookshelves and took out all of the books I no longer needed: books I hadn’t liked, books I’d liked but wouldn’t reread, books of which I had multiple copies, etc. Then, I encouraged my friends to do the same with their books. I then organized all the books by genre, made genre labels, and laid them out in my living room like a bookstore. I put the Netflix fire on the TV, laid out a cheese plate, brewed some coffee and hot cocoa, and voila! It was Booksmas, and I was Santa.

Here are some things that happened during the party:

  1. It started to gently snow right as I put the finishing touches on the food spread. My goodness, it was perfect! Everything was so cozy! I couldn’t believe my luck! Then it started to really snow, the hardy Midwestern kind that piles up into dense, knee-high walls, and my elation faded into worry. When my friends began to show up, they were red-faced snow monsters who took a minimum of five whole minutes to shed their excess clothing. Hey, at least they showed up! What was intended as a sort of drop-in, drop-out event didn’t turn out that way, though: once people were in the warmth, with a book in one hand and some Brie in the other, they were really in. It was as if the weather had conspired with me to trap everyone. I loved it!
  2. Three of my friends who had taken the same poetry course brought their assigned book, an anthology of Romantic poetry. I kept one, but the other two remained in the castoff pile at the end of the event. I had placed a ban on school books, but I think each of these friends assumed there would be a lot of Keats fans at the party, or that assigned books didn’t really count. They don’t, but guess what else is in the castoff pile? A lot of Shakespeare.
  • Some controversy arose. My friend Miranda, a poet herself and something of an expert, brought Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey after ranting that she hadn’t liked it at all and needed to be rid of it. Later in the event, several others talked excitedly about how much they loved Kaur and how excited they were to read the book, while Miranda shot me significant looks. Similarly, my friend Tori brought Paper Towns by John Green and had it immediately snatched up by someone else, while I cringed at the idea of a John Green book in my house. Thankfully, these books went to loving homes, with people who could appreciate and provide for them.
  • Nobody wanted to take Tampa by Alissa Nutting, even though I protested that it was as extremely well-written and compelling as it seemed disturbing and upsetting. After reading the back cover, so many of my guests threw the book down as if it had burned them, and gave me weird looks for saying that I had read it in one sitting. Finally, my friend Emma bit the bullet and took it. A few days later, she realized that she had seen Alissa Nutting speak at a Midwestern book fair only a few months before. It was fate.
  • Everyone left with at least one book. Some left with a whole stack. I took five, realizing as I did so that the whole point for me had been to get rid of books, not to acquire more, but who could blame me? My haul included the Romantic poetry book, The Heart Broke In by James Meek, Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (I can’t remember the fifth book, so it will have to serve as a pleasant surprise when I get back to school.)
  • They ate all my cheese. Termites.