I don’t think I am alone in loving Christmas books, it is one of my seasonal guilty pleasures along with Lindoor chocolates, mince pies and chestnuts.
What is it I wonder about these Christmas stories that bring us back to them again and again? For me I think it’s the chance to return to a simpler time, so many of my personal favourites written in a different era. Other books, perhaps remind us how Christmas can be difficult, fraught with family tensions – it’s nice to know we aren’t alone in finding it tough. Some cosy Christmas reads tease us into believing that the perfect Christmas is achievable in the same way as Christmas movies and those big budget Christmas adverts do, while some show escape from the madness might be the way to go.
So, if you’re looking for some seasonal inspiration for your reading pleasure, I have some recommendations for you – from me – and from others.
Often Christmas is not the focus of an entire novel – but just one part of it. Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) and Little Women (1868) – would feature on my Christmas reads list, they each open at Christmas time. While neither novel is wholly about Christmas, the Christmas scenes are so beautifully written and so evocative that they have stayed with me. Hardy’s depiction of the Mellstock Quire carolling through the village, is simple perfection, it is then on Christmas Eve that Dick the tranters son falls in love with Miss Fancy Day – the relationship which drives the remainder of the novel. Little Women; is twee and preachy I know – but there is something oddly comforting about this old fashioned Victorian novel (I tend to ignore the preachy tone) and when Jo says ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents’ we feel for her – because however ideologically flawed that statement might be – it is true. When the March girls each receive a book, and take pleasure in reading it slowly to make it last – all book lovers nod in simple agreement – which of us hasn’t done that. Both those novels I feel I have known for years, others I discovered more recently.
Ten days of Christmas by G. B Stern (1950) – Set at Christmas 1946 in a country house. Two sides of a complicated family are gathered for ten days over Christmas. The children: Roddy, Lal, Erica, Terry (a girl) and Clare visiting from America decide to produce a play. They are helped by aspiring theatrical producer Jonathon the 19-year-old Son of the local doctor – who’s sister Judy is also one of the gang rehearsing the play. I read this five years ago – I will definitely re-read it one year, though I doubt it will be this year. I love my old 1950s hardback, but they can be hard to find. I have just learned that this is currently available via kindle in the UK for 99p.
Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford (1932) There is in fact something slightly Wodehousian about this society comedy, in which Christmas only plays a very small part. For here we have an impoverished writer, an infamous and enormously popular society beauty in her mid-forties, a young Etonian baronet, a romantic heiress, a devoted couple with a new baby, an eligible, though slightly dull lord and a slightly terrifying mamma who devotes herself to all things hunting. Bright young things, and landed gentry, a world Nancy knew well, and there is just a hint of Mitford’s bitter streak – but naturally it is suffused with humour. I read it two years ago, on Christmas day and Boxing Day – it was an effervescent joy. Not to be taken too seriously – but fun.
The Very Dead of Winter – Mary Hocking (1993) – With the countryside and surrounding woodland deep in snow, a fractured family gather for Christmas at a remote country cottage. The cottage is where sisters Sophia and Florence spent childhood holidays and was once owned by their grandmother. Sophia – who now owns the cottage has not seen Florence in years. Florence her dying husband Konrad and their adult children Nick and Anita gather at Sophia’s cottage for the season and to ease Konrad’s passing. While Florence is dominating and confrontational, Sophia used to living alone, is unorthodox, guarding secrets and managing to keep herself somewhat distanced from the turmoil around her. Not a cosy read, Christmas is something of a backdrop, one reason to bring everyone together. I read this three years ago – 2013 was I think the year I discovered Mary Hocking. (This of course now available as an e-book or print on demand edition from Bello books).
The Visiting Moon by Celia Furse (1956) which I read last year is an autobiographical novel about an eleven-year-old girl’s two week Christmas visit to her grandparents’ house sometime around the mid-nineteenth century. It can be a difficult book to find, and I was fortunate my edition came with gorgeous illustrations.
Some other favourites include: Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope (2014) which I also read last year – one of those gorgeous Penguin Christmas classics, that all look so very collectable. Golden Age mysteries; (who doesn’t like murder at Christmas?) Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938) by Agatha Christie and Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1937). Also a surprise read several years ago was The Inn at the Edge of the World (1990) – by Alice Thomas Ellis – “Five strangers gather at Eric’s inn on a remote Hebridean island after he advertises in the London weeklies for “Christmas at the edge of the world.” A really good psychological read.
Recently I asked on Twitter for Christmas reading recommendations, and ended up with a lovely list – which it would only be fair to share.
Some of these were books/stories I had read, some I have heard of, but just haven’t read – but quite a few are completely new to me. A mix of children’s books, adult novels, stories and collections were recommended to me.
A couple of other people shared my love of Christmas Pudding and Christmas at Thompson Hall and other stories.
One title I hadn’t known was; Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S Buck – recommended by Robin.
The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden – recommended by Kerry, who also loves A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (also recommended by Amy and me!), The Chalet School, end of term by Antonia Forest, The Tailor of Gloucester, and Jostein Gaarder’s Christmas Mystery.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (how have I never read this) got a number of mentions, as did The Hogfather by Terry Prachett.
Bellezza recommends a collection – The Everyman Christmas stories which include Dickens, Gogol, Tolstoy and O Henry.
Anbolyn mentioned A Christmas memory by Truman Capote – a story I have wanted to read for a while, I read lots of Capote stories a couple of years ago, but that wasn’t in my collection. I have ordered a little hardback edition of three Capote Christmas stories – though I’m not sure when it will arrive as it was out of stock.
Bagfulofbooks highlights a children’s book called The Box of Delights by John Masefield.
I loved all these recommendations, thanks to everyone who took the time to tweet me – if you have any other Christmas recommendations please let us know.
This year I am looking forward to read Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Days which I bought recently, and those Capote stories if they come in time. Whatever you read this Christmas – I hope it sparkles for you.