Five Must-Read Books During the Holidays

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For many of us, the holidays mean enforced time with our family of origin. And for many of us, that also means trying to retreat into something (work, exercise, drugs) to retain our sanity.

My recommendation is books.

They don't require a lot of money or energy, and reading is not illegal. Here are my top picks for holiday escape reading:

5. David Sedaris, Holidays on Ice

Not all great holiday escape reading is actually about the holidays, but reading "SantaLand Diaries," David Sedaris' account of his job as an elf at Macy's in New York City, is especially delicious during the 12 days of Christmas.

Again this morning I got stuck at the Magic Window, which is really boring. I'm supposed to stand around and say "Step on the Magic Star and you can see Santa!" I said that for a while and then I started saying, "Step on the Magic Star and you can see Cher!

 Also included are "Jesus Shaves" and "Dinah the Christmas Whore."

4. Art Spiegelman, MetaMaus

This is the book I want for Christmas/Hanukkah. Spiegelman's graphic Holocaust memoir "Maus" changed the landscape of non-fiction when it came out 25 years ago. 

The newly published "MetaMaus" delves into the big questions behind "Maus": Why mice? Why the Holocaust? Why comics? There's a DVD included, for fun family watching, and you may even be inspired to interview your own family members and create a graphic memoir of your own. Or not. 

3. Patti Smith, Just Kids 
That Patti Smith can write as well as she does everything else should not come as a surprise, but there's an honesty and self-possession to her voice that gives Just Kids real staying power. 

This memoir of her long friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, which covers her early life and her years in New York City hanging out with people like Sam Shepard, is a reminder that the world can be a marvelous, generous place, and that we have a choice in who we become. 

2. Erik Larsen, "Devil in the White City."
My personal favorite for family gatherings: books about real-life psychopaths who manage to elude the authorities, leaving a gruesome trail behind them. 

Larsen's has everything: good writing, a fascinating backdrop (Chicago during the World's Fair), and a charming, sadistic serial killer with a prodigious and awful appetite.

1. William Golding, "Lord of the Flies."
Golding's classic, brutal, riveting examination of human nature, as played out by a group of school boys stranded on an island. Everything -- anything -- will seem civilized by comparison.

Deborah Sussman leads the Downtown Phoenix Book Group at MADE.

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