December Book Chain

The Great Minds that Shaped the Holiday Season. Red background with "polaroid images of a victorian christmas tree, a white country house covered in snow, Golden bells chiming, a clock with nutcrackers, and a vintage santa claus.

What inspired composers Handel and Tchaikovsky to create the music we play on repeat each and every December? What drove Dickens to write his memorable Christmas stories? What are the origins of modern holiday classics like White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life? This year’s reading focus has been on learning about talented, visionary people whose unique gifts have influenced the world. Many of our favorite and most beloved holiday traditions were shaped, often unintentionally, by fascinating people.

Who are the voices that wrote the music, books, and movies we savor during the holiday season? If you’re in the mood for some holiday – or at least holiday-adjacent – reading, this reading list is for you.

The People that Created Christmas

These biographies highlight how six different people from vastly different backgrounds changed forever how we celebrate Christmas. Discover the contributions these fascinating and talented people made to the way you celebrate Christmas today.

Charles Dickens: A Life

Claire Tomalin, 2011

Charles Dickens A Life by Claire Tomalin book cover

What do you know about Charles Dickens? The characters he created are certainly well-known, including the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge. But the author himself is worth getting to know. 

Biographer Claire Tomalin does a wonderful job painting a portrait of Dickens in this brilliant biography. Dickens was complicated, as you’ll soon discover. 

You’ll love your favorite version of A Christmas Story (my favorite is the musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney) even more after reading more about Dickens.


Christopher Hogwood, 2007

Handel by Christopher Hogwood book cover

If your celebrations don’t feel complete without attending a Messiah sing-along and experiencing the thrill of standing for the Hallelujah chorus, then diving into this biography of George Friedrich Handel certainly needs to be on your list. 

While you may have heard rumors and myths about how the Messiah oratorio came to be, author Hogwood presents the facts clearly and enjoyably. This book must be on your bedside table this month if you love great music and biographies. 

Francis of Assisi: A New Biography

Augustine Thompson, 2012

Francis of Assisi A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P. book cover

Why does a biography of St. Francis of Assisi belong on this list? This revered Catholic saint is actually credited with being the first to host a live nativity scene, so when you attend your congregation’s Christmas play this year, you can thank Francis of Assisi. 

If you’ve heard of Assisi, it’s likely in the context of his devotion to animals, poverty, and following the teaching of Christ. But Francis was a typical man living in Italy in the thirteenth century who faced challenges, made critical decisions, and worked through complex relationships with family and friends. Whether or not you’re a believer, this biography has something for you.

Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man

Alexander Poznansky, 1991

Tchaikovsky The Quest for the Inner Man by Alexander Poznansky book cover

Is listening to or attending a performance of The Nutcracker another of your favorite holiday traditions? The music is glorious and was written by an extraordinarily talented musician. Poznansky’s biography is a skillfully told account of Tchaikovsky’s life. So much controversy has surrounded Tchaikovsky’s life and even his death. Poznansky provides testimonies and evidence to debunk much of the myths surrounding this incredible composer.

Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Affair

Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan, 2017

Victoria & Albert A Royal Love Affair -
written by Daisy Goodwin (actress who played Victoria on Masterpiece) and Sara Sheridan

Have you seen the PBS Masterpiece series about Victoria? Actress and star Daisy Goodwin co-wrote this delightful biography of Queen Victoria and her romance with Prince Albert. While their relationship is the focus of this bio, Ms. Goodwin also shares details about the food, clothing, and traditions – including holiday traditions – that made the Victorian era so unique. Many of our modern Christmas traditions, such as having a Christmas tree, can be traced back to Victoria, Albert, and their family.

Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title, an Autobiography

Frank Capra, 1971

Frank Capra The Name Above the Title An Autobiography book cover

Cold, dark winter months are the perfect time to curl up and enjoy the works of Frank Capra. I highly recommend It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, and the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. If you love movies and old Hollywood, you’ll relish the stories in this autobiography of Capra, a six-time Academy Award-winning director. 

His story is truly the story of the age: Hollywood glamor mixed with the drama of world wars and personal struggle. While his stories about movie-making are delightful, his accounts of his service and patriotism during WWII are possibly even more entertaining. Capra was a man of high ideals and standards; he was one of the good guys. Knowing that will only add to your enjoyment of his remarkable movies. His was a Wonderful Life.

As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin

Laurence Bergreen, 1990

As Thousands Cheer The Life of Irving Berlin by Laurence Bergreen book cover

Irving Berlin wrote over 1500 songs in his lifetime (he lived to be 101), one of which is a holiday favorite – White Christmas. His other claims to fame include numerous show tunes and classics such as God Bless America. Does any American get through a year without enjoying the music of this extraordinary musician? Bergreen brings Berlin to life in this evocative biography that traces Berlin’s life from a Jewish neighborhood in the Lower East side of New York all the way to a big Hollywood tycoon.

Holiday Reading

With these biographies whetting your appetite, you might be in the mood for more holiday reading. These books are certain to spark the Christmas Spirit.

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

Stanley Weintraub, 2001

Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub book cover

On Christmas Eve in the early days of WWI, soldiers on both sides of the trenches put down their weapons, lit Christmas trees, and met in No Man’s Land to sing carols, play games, and share food from home with each other. Stanley Weintraub shares the story of this astonishing moment in history using the words of men who were there.

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Stories: A Classic Collection for Yuletide

Charles Dickens, 2019

Charles Dickens' Christmas Stories A Classic Collection for Yuletide

Charles Dickens wrote four Christmas-themed stories or novellas. If Scrooge and Tiny Tim and the brilliant writing of Dickens have you craving more, give this collection a try that features all five of his Christmas tales:

The Chimes

The Cricket on the Hearth

The Battle of Life

The Haunted Man

As you expect from Dickens, these books are filled with memorable characters and good triumphing overall.  

The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle

Joanne Huist Smith, 2014

A True Story of a Christmas Miracle The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith

The 13th Gift is a true modern story about the effect an act of kindness had on a bleak moment in one family’s history. Joanne Huist Smith struggled to keep herself and her children together after the death of her husband when gifts began appearing on their doorstep twelve days before Christmas. What followed can only be described as a miracle and served to remind all of us of what’s truly important during the holiday season.

Take Another Look at Christmas

Here’s one holiday tradition we can all agree on: reading. Yes, December can be a hustle and bustle month with parties, shopping, and everything else (let’s not complain about any of it – we’ve done two seasons without, and it stunk.) But here’s the real challenge: take time to read. Take the time to slow down and settle in with a wonderful, rich, satisfying book that makes you forget about everything else that’s going on, if only for a moment. 

At Discover Books, that’s our holiday wish for you: hours of reading that satiates and fills you and leaves you ready for whatever lies around the corner. Give yourself the gift of reading time this month with a selection or two – or three – from this reading list.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the 2022 reading challenge. There’s more to come in 2023. And, with low prices and free shipping on orders available, accepting the challenge is the easiest thing you’ll do all day. Shop today and start reading!

Looking for more holiday ideas? Check out our Holiday Reads by Decade, Or try holiday from Around the World.

%d bloggers like this: