Revealed! The Happiness Project Book Club Picks for December. Happy Reading.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, I’ve started a book club (of sorts).  Each month, I suggest:

  • One outstanding book about happiness.
  • One outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature. I have a crazy passion for kidlit.
  • One eccentric pick. This is a book that I love, but freely admit may not be for everyone.

I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds. So I won’t describe these books, but I love all the books I recommend; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely loved.

I’ll post these recommendations here, or to make sure you don’t miss them, sign up for the monthly Book Club newsletter.

Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD,, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness: Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  Buy from WORD;; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book: Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is RisingBuy from WORD;; Amazon.

An eccentric pick: Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. Buy from WORD; Amazon.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Did you enjoy the choices? Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Enright’s The Saturdays, and Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.

Happy reading!

  • Robin from Frugal Family Times

    I read the Pattern Language when I was designing our home Reno (a second floor addition plus reworking the main floor). It was invaluable to create a home that feels so good to live in. We hear that all the time about our house, and I am thankful to that book for the pathway there. (the Not So Big House is a more reader friendly book with a similar message.)

  • S_ifat

    Cause of you I read into the wild. It was interesting but Alex was just thinking so different from the way I see things so I couldn’t feel where he came from. And it seems to have a lot with how young he was. We all went to extreme thoughts when w were younger. But when I read this kind of thinking it seems part of not being mature enough. All and all I enjoyed it. Still want to read Andy warhole book. Thank you Gretchen I really enjoy your picks

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that you found it thought-provoking. The Warhol book is SO fascinating – I hope you agree.

      • Carole-Ann

        I so enjoyed the insight that Into the Wild gives of the adventurous type, that I have asked my 22 year old son to read it so he can get the parental perspective, do you think it would work at his age?

        • gretchenrubin

          Absolutely. I think it would be a great book to assign in middle or high school.

          • Carole-Ann

            Yeah I agree, thanks for the confirmation. Looking forward to Carl Jung’s read this month and A Pattern Language, not too big a fan of children’s books – still wading through Golden Compass!

          • Carole-Ann

            Oops, sorry for the double reply, didn’t see the first one come through,

          • Carole-Ann

            Yeah I agree, thanks for the confirmation. Looking forward to Carl Jung as well as Pattern Language – not a kidlit fan (still reading Golden Compass)

  • peninith1

    Just bought A Pattern Language and find it really interesting and potentially very helpful in arranging my home as best I can. Memories Dreams and Reflections would be on my list of books that have done most to ‘change my life’ and shape my mind and soul. Jung’s experiences as a child and particularly his memories of ‘big dreams’ freed me to acknowledge and really know parts of myself as REAL that I had always thought were just weird and not acceptable. After reading this I went on to read a great deal more of Jung’s work, and continue to find him a great teacher.

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  • Dalia

    Growing up, I loved ‘The Dark is Rising’ series–I would read and re-read it on weekends if I had no new novels to devour. I still occasionally pick it up when I visit my parents. One of the things I so love about it was the symbolism, the magic, the suggestion of so many things we couldn’t understand…it gave me shivers and made me dream of grander things, and it shaped what I viewed as real, quality writing from a young age. I so rarely see it on any children or YA reading list, and I’m so glad you mentioned it here. Great pick!

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy to hear from a fellow fan. LOVE that book.

      • frances

        So, so glad to find other Dark is Rising fans! Will Stanton remains one of my favorite YA heroes of all time. The many layers of this series – Arthurian legend, the Wild magic, the hero’s journey, the power of choice – are themes that continue to fascinate me. It’s a great example of “symbols beyond words”, too. There are a couple of scenes, especially in the final book, Silver on the Tree, that are just indelible for me and evoke an emotional response every time I reread.

        • gretchenrubin

          Okay, now I must go re-read THE ENTIRE SERIES.

          I remember crazy symbols beyond words in “Greenwitch” too.

          • frances

            Yes, and it’s the only one to prominently feature the main female character, Jane (although she does have a privileged role in Silver, too). What I loved about Greenwitch was how much hinged on simple human kindness. Such a powerful message.

    • Lydia Woodroff

      my favourite line still remains with me from the book of Grammarly (?) ‘the wrinkled sea beneath him crawls’. wonderful!

      • gretchenrubin

        Ah, I remember that scene. Love it.

  • Krakauer’s book is terrific, and The Saturdays has alsways been a favorite. The opening of The Dark Is Risin is one of best openings in literature!

  • Holly

    I love the Dark is Rising series! It’s one of my favorites from childhood, and I was pleased to rediscover it a few years ago.

  • Christie360

    I’ve just started reading “The Dark is Rising” to my children. We won’t be watching the appalling movie version that came out a few years ago. The books are so good! I debated about reading “Over Sea, Under Stone” first, but I think I made the right choice. Thanks for spreading the word about this fantastic series.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, Over Sea Under Stone comes first, but I think TDIR is the best book of the series.

  • marlyss

    Were you thinking of The Dark is Rising because of Good King Wenceslas?! Because I was after your post yesterday! I feel similarly about that Christmas carol and I’m sure it’s partly because of how well Cooper does the scene in the book when Will and Merriman sing it together.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! That’s right! I love that scene in the book.

    • Guest

      I love that scene – it is so beautiful in the midst of all their terror in the mansion. But I actually have always liked Greenwitch and Over Sea Under Stone best. I think I liked reading about the three siblings, since I am one of three myself. =)

  • Oh, man, I’ve loved the Dark Is Rising series since I was a kid. All that Welsh-ness! And such fun imagery.


  • I’m re-reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections after almost forty years. I’d forgotten how great it is. Since my first reading of it in college, I’ve learned a lot more about psychoanalysis and the unconscious, so my second reading has more resonance and meaning for me.

    I used A Pattern Language to design my house, and I’m so glad I did. It works.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear those books resonate with you.

  • Jane Boone

    I asked for and received A Pattern Language for my birthday in June and have been skipping around reading and re-reading chapters ever since! It is fascinating and will be my go-to resource when we begin building our long-awaited getaway cottage in the mountains!

  • gs

    I love A Pattern Language. How wonderful it would be to have homes, neighborhoods and cities all designed on its principles! That said, I also read a review of the book by William Saunders, editor of Harvard Design Magazine, which has some harsh but insightful comments on Alexander’s outlook. Saunders argues that Alexander has a middle-class sensibility. Here is a fairly long excerpt that is an accurate summary of his critique:
    “. . . the goals of [Alexander’s] design prescriptions—comfort, ease, legibility, sociability, pleasure, mental health, peacefulness, opportunities for both solitude and participation in family and community life—can easily be seen as bourgeois, encouraging complacency, passivity, and parochialism. . . His life well lived is
    Californian/Mediterranean—slow, relaxed, sociable, pleasure-seeking, affectionate, spontaneous, healthy, communal, cross-generational, sensually gratifying, comfortable, and full of leisure time for mingling and for solitude. Assisi without the tourists. Frequent and unsuperficial social contact is his primary value: “the whole meaning of life shows itself only in the process of our intimate contacts.”(5) . . . The point here is that Alexander presumes to know what people want. He can’t seem to imagine that some people might not share his values and might want lives that are, say, monastic, work-centered, or fast-paced.(6) Could we live Alexander’s ideal life? Not without a good income, accommodating friends and family, and some willingness to cut ourselves off from the common world of telephones, long work days, popular culture, environmental and social problems, and so on. In the world Alexander imagines, there is neither debilitating poverty nor isolating wealth, only easy-going lower-middle to upper-middle
    class people. Alexander’s life well lived—precisely because it is so utopian—is
    disengaged, so pleasant and comfortable that the world’s problems can fade from

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting. That’s part of what I love about A Pattern Language – it gets you thinking about what you want your experience of “home” to be.

  • Judith Fertig

    I’ve read and re-read The Dark Is Rising over the years. Last week, I was in Atlanta with a driver from the former Yugoslavia. When he talked about the dark times that befell his country, I was reminded anew that we always have to be watchful of “the dark rising.” And to make sure that there is much more happiness. I’m a new subscriber and love it.

  • The Dark Is Rising is one of my most favorite books ever. I’m 40 years old and for years as an adult I had a habit of rereading it each December. That moment when Will first steps out into the new snow of another time while his own time stands still behind him never fails to give me a thrill, and Merriman Lyon is such a brilliant character as well. This is one of many books (including Harry potter) that I have loved that follow the same theme: a person, usually a child or young adult, is secretly and intensely “special” and someone else recognizes that and acknowledges it. I was always looking for that kind of recognition as a child (who am I kidding, I’m still looking for it!) and books that fulfilled that fantasy were particularly cathartic to the shy, quiet child I was. Thanks for putting the spotlight on this book. (And by the way, I refused to see the movie when it came out–from what I read about it, it sounded dreadfully unfaithful to the original story.)

    • gretchenrubin

      I didn’t even know it had been made into a movie!

  • psahakian

    I just finished “Memories, Dreams and Reflections” and was blown away. Following Jung’s evolution as he became one one the most creative thinkers of the last century was fascinating but not always easy. The chapter on alchemy and the gnostic view of cosmology as contrasted to the christian view was a lot to digest. Still it is a great read & has fostered some interesting conversations. I only wish I had read it before “His Dark Materials”, Pullman’s daemons might have seemed even more ingenious. Thanks for some great reads.

  • Dendy

    I love your book suggestions and have just finished The dark is rising. WOW wonderful couldn’t put it down.. I loved the symbolism and language used. Susan Cooper is a master story writer! I grew up in the Chilterns and know the area well so it was lovely to have that visual imagery to add to the enjoyment of Coopers detailed descriptions the countryside Will Stanton was having his adventures in.