You’re Baking Christmas Cookies
Need your next long read or love humble-bragging holiday letters
Hi Book Lovers,
Welcome to the last What To Read If of 2021. I’m taking next week off to enjoy the festivities with my family. And, let’s be honest, squeeze in a few more books this year.
This tweet really resonated with me as I packed for my parents’ house:
I, proudly, brought only three physical books and my e-reader. I’m hoping to finally work through the enormous list of digital holds I have available from the library.
I hope the final eleven days of the year are joyful and stress-free for you! Writing this newsletter and getting to know you all has been one of the highlights of 2021 for me. I’m looking forward to 2022.
And, now, what to read if …
You’re Baking Cookies for Santa
100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer
Each year, my mom, cousin and I bake 600 or so cookies to share with friends and family during the holiday season. It’s an absurd, over-the-top tradition that I love for many reasons — the time we spend together, the look on people’s faces when we deliver cookie platters and, of course, the deliciousness. (If you want to read more, I wrote an essay for my friend Jolene’s delightful baking newsletter, Time Travel Kitchen, about our cookie day tradition.)
Whether you’re baking a few hundred cookies or a dozen to leave for Santa, Sarah Kieffer’s 100 Cookies is a great resource, filled with recipes for old favorites and new options destined to become old favorites. The chocolate crinkle cookie has become one of my go-tos since adding 100 Cookies to my cookbook shelf. More adventurous bakers might be intrigued by the olive oil sugar cookies with blood orange glaze or the lavender cookies with white chocolate-crème fraîche glaze.
Kieffer is the veteran cookie writer behind the delightful Vanilla Bean Blog, and her expertise shines throughout the book. New or unconfident bakers will find a lot of information to help them get started, while experienced bakers will up their game with Kieffer’s “pan banging” method that leads to gooey cookie centers and crispy edges.
You’re Looking for a Long, Winding Saga
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
With short days and long, cold nights, now is the time to immerse yourself in an epic tale. Beasts of a Little Land*, spanning 40 years of Korean history, fits the bill.
The epic, Juhea Kim’s debut, opens with an impoverished, starving Korean hunter saving a Japanese military officer from a tiger attack on a snowy mountain in 1917. From that moment on, their lives are linked, and Kim chronicles the two men and their descendants as they attempt to survive Japan’s occupation of Korea and the war that followed.
Kim introduces a rich cast of characters, ranging from a young girl named Jade sold to a famous courtesan school to JungHo, the orphaned son of the hunter now trying to survive on Seoul’s streets and Kim HanChol, a rickshaw driver who becomes one of Korea’s first car manufacturers. While the novel doesn’t suffer for lack of plot — with war, romantic entanglements, the fight for Korea’s independence and more — it was the characters that made me keep listening.
Beasts of a Little Land is an ambitious first novel with dozens of characters and an epic scale. I’m eager to see what Kim does next.
You’re Swimming in Holiday Cards
Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony
One of the best parts of being in my early 30s is that I get holiday cards featuring single women with their dogs and families of five in matching pajamas. I love all of them and leave them on my refrigerator all year long. (If you’re reading this and you sent me a Christmas card, thank you! I love it!)
Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, a celebration of messy families of all kinds, is structured around matriarch Viola’s annual Christmas letter. For roughly thirty years, Viola has sent a letter, opening with “Dearest loved ones, far and near--evergreen tidings from the Baumgartners!” detailing the family’s triumphs in the humble-brag tones that epitomize Christmas letters. At the novel’s opening, Viola is planning her husband, Ed, a retirement party worthy of being memorialized in the annual letter. At the fête though, Viola learns her daughter, Cerise and her female partner Barb, are expecting a baby and keeping the identity of the child’s father a secret. So, the grandmother-to-be launches an investigation, and inadvertently uncovers secrets her community has been keeping for years.
The novel is warm, cozy and funny, with quirky characters that jump off the page. It’s a plot that could quickly go off the rails or veer into the unseemly or clichéd, but Anthony writes each of her characters with such empathy, it works. Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners is perfect for fans of “Schitt’s Creek” or “Kim’s Convenience” or anyone who wants a book about a family learning to grow together. (One note: It appears this book is being republished in April under the title Behave Like Adults.)
That’s it for me this week (or this year, I guess). I’ll be back in January! In the meantime, you can catch up on last week’s recs and my Q&A with author Julia Claiborne Johnson. Happy New Year, all!
*I received a free audiobook of Beast of Little Land from Libro.FM in exchange for an honest review.
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I love Sarah Kieffer! Thanks for the shout-out, Elizabeth, it’s been such a pleasure meeting you this year! Merry Christmas! 🎄 🍪