A stack of books surrounded by Christmas ornaments and candles, with a tree to one side and a fire in the background.

Image: Aashfaria A. Anwar T/A Studio Aash

Shopping, cooking, eating, catching up with friends and family, watching Christmas specials – there is no shortage of things to do during the festive season.

So where does reading fit in? Perhaps, you think, you might have to sacrifice time with a book if you want to do all the other things the winter months call for. But we have good news for you: there's still time to read.

We've picked a selection of books that you can dip into if you have a spare five or 10 minutes, whether it's reading a short story or a poem, inhaling a few pages of a graphic novel, or choosing a recipe for your next meal.

Greek Myths by Charlotte Higgins, illus. Chris Ofili (2021)

You might be familiar with the stories of the Greek heroes and gods, from Heracles and Perseus to Theseus and the tale of the Trojan War. But in Charlotte Higgins' retelling, it's the women who take centre stage, from the goddess Athena and the face that launched a thousand ships, Helen, to the witch Circe and Penelope, the cunning and clever woman who was more than just Odysseus' wife. Take it one retelling at a time with this book, perfect for when you've only got a short window in which to read. And if you're really, really short on time, use the few minutes you have to admire Chris Ofili's original drawings, and whet your appetite for when you can indulge in a little more reading time.

A Scandinavian Christmas (2021)

What better to get you in a festive mood than a Christmassy short story? From Hans Christian Andersen to Karl Ove Knausgaard, this collection is all about the spirit of Christmas, à la Scandinavia. From toys and trees that come to life to trolls causing chaos, this book is great if you want to escape and relocate your Christmas spirit. And it's also a brilliant chance to bring everyone together; choose a short story to read aloud with your loved ones, and watch calm and peace descend on everyone.

Sapiens A Graphic History 2: The Pillars of Civilisation by Yuval Noah Harari, David Casanave and David Vandermeulen (2021)

Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens is one of the most fascinating reads of recent years. But if you haven't got time over the festive period to read the book, why not take a look at the graphic novel instead? This second volume follows The Birth of Humankind, the first graphic novel adaptation of Harari's book. Accessible and perfect to read in short bursts, both graphic novels condense Hariri's book into easily digestible bites. And we can guarantee that after reading them, you're going to want to read Sapiens in full, so make sure it's on your Christmas list.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman (2021)

It's been almost a year since Amanda Gorman first came to most people's attention (we know, time goes fast) with her inauguration poem, 'The Hill We Climb'. In this collection, Gorman expands on the ideas of that poem, exploring history, language, identity and erasure. If you only have a few minutes each day to read, pick a poem from Gorman's Call Us What We Carry. A warning though: it might not take you long to read each poem, but we can guarantee you'll be thinking about it and feeling its impact for a long time afterwards.

The Swan by Stephen Moss (2021)

Learn more about one of the most magnificent – and scary – birds with Stephen Moss' guide to the swan. Exploring the swan's position in our national consciousness, as well as its long history in myths, legends, art and more, Moss delves into the fact and fiction around these charismatic birds. Swoop into this book whenever you have some spare time, and you'll soon find yourself scheduling a trip to go and see some of these brilliant birds.

Blueblood by Malorie Blackman (2020)

If you're looking for something short, sharp and surprising to read, then try Malorie Blackman's Blueblood, a retelling of the classic Bluebeard fairytale. This book is part of the Feminist Fairytales series, where well-known authors take on classic stories; Kamila Shamsie retells The Ugly Duckling story in Duckling, Rebecca Solnit takes on Cinderella with Cinderella Liberator, and Jeanette Winterson tackles Hansel and Gretel in Hansel and Greta. Make sure to get all four books so you can have four chances to escape and read this festive season. All four books are beautifully illustrated by Laura Barrett.

Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson (2020)

You'll likely be doing plenty of eating and cooking during the festive period, but there's still time to read about food, particularly when the words are written by Nigella Lawson. You can read through the recipes in Cook, Eat, Repeat to find inspiration for your next meal or to just dream about the dishes you'll one day eat (there's even a Christmas chapter which will give you some new ideas). Or you can take a few minutes out of your day to read the chapter introductions, where Lawson writes mini essays about everything from the humble anchovy to rhubarb. Either way, have some snacks on hand, because you'll be hungry while reading.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (2021)

Alison Bechdel's third graphic novel memoir – following Fun Home and Are You My Mother? – focuses on her relationship with exercise. Funny and poignant, The Secret to Superhuman Strength chronicles her forays into skiing, running, karate, cycling, yoga, weight lifting and more, and examines what happens when you and your body get older. Whether you're looking for a little inspiration for your New Year's resolutions or just want to be entertained, spend a little time with Bechdel's book.

The Promise by Damon Galgut (2021)

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021, Damon Galgut's novel is a story in four snapshots, each one centred around a family funeral and giving an insight into family, conflict and more. Escape into the audiobook, red by Peter Noble, a chapter at a time. Or, if you're sneaky, you can listen WHILE you're doing other things. We won't tell.

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