Home for the Holidays: 6 Books to Spark Conversations with Every Family Member

Because you can only binge-watch so much before your eyes glaze over.

The family that silently reads together, stays together. That's my theory, anyway. There's no certifiable proof, but there's also no harm in trying, right?

While the holidays can be a wild, maddening, frenzied time full of one too many gingersnaps and three too many glasses of spiked cider, a simple way to calm the chaos is by bonding over a book or two.

Not only are audiobooks the perfect travel companion for that endless trip home (Oh, my flight's delayed six hours? Terrific!), they can also provide a necessary cultural touchstone-also known as "talking points"-to connect with people you haven't seen in awhile. Why not transform a holiday get-together into an impromptu book club? You can suggest a title or narrator you love, while opening up a new narrative world for someone you love.

Here's how to spark conversations with every member of your family-may this guide you through all the ham-carving, pie-eating, and cocktail-downing you'll be doing through January.

Principles

For Your Rule-Following Father: If your Dad is always trying to slip you twenty bucks when you go home (for cab fare! for a hot meal! for health care!), here’s your chance to show Pops that you’re doing just fine, and that you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. So good, in fact, that you’ve decided to learn from the best—in this case, billionaire hedge-fund manager and philanthropist Ray Dalio. Any pragmatic Dad will jump on the chance to discuss how to be a more effective manager, or how to set up and tactically execute your goals. Narrated by Dalio and Jeremy Bobb, Principles is full of insider tips from Bridgewater Associates’ renowned founder who possesses a great portfolio and even greater reputation. If you’ve toyed with the idea of starting your own business, this will provide some essential motivation (and armor for when things hit the fan). But it will also keep you humble—Dalio calls himself a “dumb shit” who doesn’t know much. True? Doubtful. But Dad will respect that Dalio keeps a cool head on his shoulders.

Talking as Fast as I Can

For Your Wise-Cracking Mother: From one-half of the world’s greatest mother-daughter television series in history comes a memoir that will make you want to book a ticket to Stars Hollow. Hot tip: Don’t delude yourself; it doesn’t exist. Fans of Gilmore Girls, including, of course, your own hilarious mother, will enjoy this book of essays from Lauren Graham, who seems like a spiritual soul sister to her fast-talking alter-ego Lorelei Gilmore (aside from that minor I-had-a-daughter-at-16 plotline). You and your Mom can chat about Graham’s early days working at restaurants in Brooklyn or shooting commercials, and her confession that being a judge on Project Runway was horrifying because a) she doesn’t like being a critic and b) she also doesn’t know much about fashion. Another hot tip: Listening to the book at 1.5X speed exactly replicates the rat-a-tat Gilmore dialogue. You’ll find it impossible to resist watching one episode (or seven) together with Mom after the final chapter is over.

Leonardo da Vinci

For Your Brainy Brother: Brothers like biographies. I feel like with most generalizations, this one has to be true, right? And no one does bios better than Walter Isaacson, who’s previously turned his magnifying glass on Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. Dude has a type! The brainer the better. But Isaacson’s insanely detailed research also gives you a rich well of knowledge in which to dive—and discuss—with your equally brainiac bro. Da Vinci was a study in contrasts, a master of both the left and right brains, and his unusual blend of art and science is what made him such a remarkable genius. Feeling tension at home? His ability to bridge gaps that were insurmountable to other people may inspire you in your familial relationships. Plus, the details are divine. Did you know da Vinci was a vegetarian who never killed a flea? And was the rare brilliant soul who was able to dream up the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper but was also very kind and generous and good-humored? If those details don’t jumpstart your sibling’s curiosity, just tell your bro that the book’s voiced by a Spider-Man villain. Alfred Molina was a great Doc Ock, but makes an even better Leo.

The Power

For Your Kickass Sister: Few books feel as timely as this one, and don’t you want to prove how with-it you truly are? A work of mind-boggling speculative fiction, The Power imagines a future world in which teenage women are able to channel a form of electricity—called their “power,” naturally—through a muscle near their collarbones, and what they do with it… well, it feels like an essential course correction to modern events and an eerily prescient and physical manifestation of last year’s march and the #MeToo movement. Drawing worthwhile comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel ricochets around the globe with clever interpretations of rich characters, while upping that familiar Beyoncé refrain to the next level: what happens if girls really did run—and shock—the world? Global upheaval! The reversal of millennia of entrenched power dynamics! But, of course, plenty of corruption and sexism, too. There are enough blurred lines here to discuss for weeks. Your sister will be pleased.

Wonder

For Your Precocious Niece or Nephew: If you don’t have children, it’s easy for entire genres or wonderful authors to pass you by. That’s why the holidays are the perfect time to discover this Audie Award winner, which was turned into a film this year starring two new up-and-coming talents named Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay. Tremblay plays Auggie, a fifth grader with a severe facial deformity dealing with the challenges (and cruel middle-school judgment) at his new school. If you’ve never broached young adult fiction before, this one’s a wonderful entry point, and can open up necessary conversations about diversity and inclusion with your mature 8-to-12-year-old (or even much older!) family members. Funny, sweet, a little weepy—sounds just like the holidays, no?

The Last Black Unicorn

For Your Childhood Best Friend: First, you might want to grab some hot cocoa (or a hot toddy) and stream Girls Trip together. This year’s funniest film featured Haddish’s breakout role (not including her other breakout role, a Jimmy Kimmel appearance where she told a ridiculously amazing story about taking Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a Groupon swamp tour). But as her hilarious and sometimes shocking memoir makes clear, what looks like a swift comedic rise came after decades of struggles growing up in South Central Los Angeles, time spent in foster care after her mom was in a horrific car accident, and so many twists and turns you might actually gasp. (I did!) The self-described “last black unicorn” (named for a forehead wart she had as a child) started practicing her comedy routine when she a teenager, and it shows in her pitch-perfect narration. Her timing is golden, but her resilience is even more impressive. Everyone has an unapologetic friend who’s the life of the party—this book will inspire you to plot some Haddish-level world domination together in 2018.

Principles

For Your Rule-Following Father: If your Dad is always trying to slip you twenty bucks when you go home (for cab fare! for a hot meal! for health care!), here’s your chance to show Pops that you’re doing just fine, and that you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. So good, in fact, that you’ve decided to learn from the best—in this case, billionaire hedge-fund manager and philanthropist Ray Dalio. Any pragmatic Dad will jump on the chance to discuss how to be a more effective manager, or how to set up and tactically execute your goals. Narrated by Dalio and Jeremy Bobb, Principles is full of insider tips from Bridgewater Associates’ renowned founder who possesses a great portfolio and even greater reputation. If you’ve toyed with the idea of starting your own business, this will provide some essential motivation (and armor for when things hit the fan). But it will also keep you humble—Dalio calls himself a “dumb shit” who doesn’t know much. True? Doubtful. But Dad will respect that Dalio keeps a cool head on his shoulders.

Talking as Fast as I Can

For Your Wise-Cracking Mother: From one-half of the world’s greatest mother-daughter television series in history comes a memoir that will make you want to book a ticket to Stars Hollow. Hot tip: Don’t delude yourself; it doesn’t exist. Fans of Gilmore Girls, including, of course, your own hilarious mother, will enjoy this book of essays from Lauren Graham, who seems like a spiritual soul sister to her fast-talking alter-ego Lorelei Gilmore (aside from that minor I-had-a-daughter-at-16 plotline). You and your Mom can chat about Graham’s early days working at restaurants in Brooklyn or shooting commercials, and her confession that being a judge on Project Runway was horrifying because a) she doesn’t like being a critic and b) she also doesn’t know much about fashion. Another hot tip: Listening to the book at 1.5X speed exactly replicates the rat-a-tat Gilmore dialogue. You’ll find it impossible to resist watching one episode (or seven) together with Mom after the final chapter is over.

Leonardo da Vinci

For Your Brainy Brother: Brothers like biographies. I feel like with most generalizations, this one has to be true, right? And no one does bios better than Walter Isaacson, who’s previously turned his magnifying glass on Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. Dude has a type! The brainer the better. But Isaacson’s insanely detailed research also gives you a rich well of knowledge in which to dive—and discuss—with your equally brainiac bro. Da Vinci was a study in contrasts, a master of both the left and right brains, and his unusual blend of art and science is what made him such a remarkable genius. Feeling tension at home? His ability to bridge gaps that were insurmountable to other people may inspire you in your familial relationships. Plus, the details are divine. Did you know da Vinci was a vegetarian who never killed a flea? And was the rare brilliant soul who was able to dream up the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper but was also very kind and generous and good-humored? If those details don’t jumpstart your sibling’s curiosity, just tell your bro that the book’s voiced by a Spider-Man villain. Alfred Molina was a great Doc Ock, but makes an even better Leo.

The Power

For Your Kickass Sister: Few books feel as timely as this one, and don’t you want to prove how with-it you truly are? A work of mind-boggling speculative fiction, The Power imagines a future world in which teenage women are able to channel a form of electricity—called their “power,” naturally—through a muscle near their collarbones, and what they do with it… well, it feels like an essential course correction to modern events and an eerily prescient and physical manifestation of last year’s march and the #MeToo movement. Drawing worthwhile comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel ricochets around the globe with clever interpretations of rich characters, while upping that familiar Beyoncé refrain to the next level: what happens if girls really did run—and shock—the world? Global upheaval! The reversal of millennia of entrenched power dynamics! But, of course, plenty of corruption and sexism, too. There are enough blurred lines here to discuss for weeks. Your sister will be pleased.

Wonder

For Your Precocious Niece or Nephew: If you don’t have children, it’s easy for entire genres or wonderful authors to pass you by. That’s why the holidays are the perfect time to discover this Audie Award winner, which was turned into a film this year starring two new up-and-coming talents named Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay. Tremblay plays Auggie, a fifth grader with a severe facial deformity dealing with the challenges (and cruel middle-school judgment) at his new school. If you’ve never broached young adult fiction before, this one’s a wonderful entry point, and can open up necessary conversations about diversity and inclusion with your mature 8-to-12-year-old (or even much older!) family members. Funny, sweet, a little weepy—sounds just like the holidays, no?

The Last Black Unicorn

For Your Childhood Best Friend: First, you might want to grab some hot cocoa (or a hot toddy) and stream Girls Trip together. This year’s funniest film featured Haddish’s breakout role (not including her other breakout role, a Jimmy Kimmel appearance where she told a ridiculously amazing story about taking Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a Groupon swamp tour). But as her hilarious and sometimes shocking memoir makes clear, what looks like a swift comedic rise came after decades of struggles growing up in South Central Los Angeles, time spent in foster care after her mom was in a horrific car accident, and so many twists and turns you might actually gasp. (I did!) The self-described “last black unicorn” (named for a forehead wart she had as a child) started practicing her comedy routine when she a teenager, and it shows in her pitch-perfect narration. Her timing is golden, but her resilience is even more impressive. Everyone has an unapologetic friend who’s the life of the party—this book will inspire you to plot some Haddish-level world domination together in 2018.

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