#second thoughts: Reading seasonally – does it improve the experience?

christmas-tree-at-windsor-castle-from-the-illustrated-london-news-christmas-supplement1848-croppedIn the past year, I’ve seen so many mentions that reading books at the “right” time of year can add hugely to it’s enjoyment, I felt I had to give it a try. It’s not something I’ve done before and, in particular, I was profoundly ashamed to recount this time last year that I’d never read seasonally at Christmas-time. Shameful because, as a reader, I’d had to admit my cosy Christmas memories are all visual – of films, of Hollywood’s idea of ‘The Holidays’. And I’m a reader, damn ‘n blast it, there should be books!

So last year, I asked for recommendations. There are so many wonderful Christmasy reads for children, yet most lists I’ve seen struggle to mention more than one or two adult novels. I read a couple of the recommendations last Christmas and picked up the seasonal reading again this November.

A Christmas Carol came first and was surprised how entranced I was, as I’ve long loathed anything written by Dickens. Whilst I wonder if there’s a person alive who doesn’t know the story, it was the simply luscious writing that did it for me. You see, I could see, smell, almost feel the sights Dickens was describing. The seasonality of the book is unmatched – both in its depiction of winter and of Christmas itself. As so many of our current Christmas traditions originated from this era, it provides a visual feast of imagination. A winner all round and a quick read to boot – which at a frantic and overfull time of year can only be appreciated.

This was followed by Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I remember reading some Christie in my youth, although the big film adaptations are now probably more clear in my memory. Luckily, there hasn’t been a film adaptation made of this book, so the story was entirely new to me. I found it an entirely enjoyable read and was especially delighted that Ms Christie didn’t disappoint – for no, I didn’t guess ‘who dunnit’! Whilst there was some description of the season, this was a murder mystery which simply happened to coincide – I can’t say that the seasonality added anything to my enjoyment of the read but, more importantly, nor did its reading add anything to my anticipation or enjoyment of the Christmas season.

Christmas at Great Madden followed. A wonderfully old-fashioned read. Lots of snow, lots of Christmas ‘stuff’ taking place – people shopping and wrapping, an old house being decorated, presents being exchanged. It was a lovely gentle read – one I’m pleased to have experienced. But like the Poirot, it didn’t add to the anticipation of my favourite time of year and I’m sure I’d have happily enjoyed reading of cold weather and snow if sitting poolside in the tropics.

I started to read The Christmas Mystery – but it was November and so I stopped. Why? Because I think the idea of reading it as an advent calendar is utterly enchanting and I plan to re-start it come December 1st. This one I can see becoming a special seasonal read and I’m already planning to purchase a lovely hardback copy for my grandchild-to-be.

There have been others – fluffy romantic novels, or just amusing and lightweight – some well-written, some not so. But none of them made me feel Christmassy. So, what is it that I find lacking in reading stories set in winter/at Christmas? Why don’t they add to my seasonal anticipation, my build-up-to-Christmas joy? I’ve wondered if it’s the fact that I’m already so filled with anticipation that it couldn’t get any higher, but the films – whilst almost always light and fluffy – they hit the spot. So why not books of the same sort?

It is true that I generally set a higher standard for books. Also, in a film, a thin plot and clunky writing can always be disguised with gorgeous scenery, lots of songs and a good dance routine!

But, when I think of those two books which have come out tops for me in this session of seasonal reading, the difference is clear: they are about Christmas – the spirit of it, the very essence of it. I am not religious, but every year my nativity set comes out and takes pride of place. Despite taking pleasure in the gifting and be-ribboning, for me the real joy is about family getting together, sharing food, wine, company, stories, laughter and love.

So, for now, I’ll doff my metaphorical cap to Jostein Gaardner and the man Dickens for producing truly magical christmassy reads.

And last, but certainly not least, may those of us at Fiction Can Be Fun wish you A Merry Christmas and – in true Tiny Tim fashion – may God bless us, every one!

© 2016 Debra Carey

 

Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My personal blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics. I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun, where my #IWSG reflections can be found; and my Life Coaching business can be found on DebsCarey.com.

8 thoughts on “#second thoughts: Reading seasonally – does it improve the experience?”

  1. Thanks for these “Second thoughts”: it is always interesting to hear other people’s opinions, and I have discovered some exciting new authors that way. You might like to try Elizabeth Goudge’s ‘The Dean’s Watch’ which, although it is not exactly a seasonal novel does have a climax at Christmas. On the other hand Georgette Heyer’s ‘Envious Casca’ is very much a Christmas crime novel (and not a Regency cosy!) – but then you’ve probably already read both those anyway.

    I hope that you find ample time over the forthcoming festival to enjoy a goof read.

    Alan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alan, I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed reading my ramblings. I don’t know the Elizabeth Goudge and will add that to next year’s seasonal reading virtual pile, thank you. I have read the Georgette Heyer, although it’s been re-released/re-branded as “A Christmas Party”. Sadly, December is one month of the year when I struggle to find reading time, but I continue to dream of that open fire, cup of Earl Grey and a week of uninterrupted reading. May I wish the same to you.

      Debs

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Struggling to find time … yes! Although to be fair I am doing a *lot* of reading at the moment. The only snag is that it is such scintillating stuff as ‘The Chronicle of Convocation’ for the 1930’s and ‘Minutes of the Bishops’ Meetings’ and ‘ Queen Anne’s Bounty, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Church of England’!

        However, I recently found forgotten in a drawer a Waterstone’s gift card that was given to me when I retired four years ago. I expected that it had long since expired but finding myself recently a) near a Waterstone’s and b) with the card in my pocket, I checked and it was still live and I bought Ben MacIntyre’s history of the SAS which is sitting by my armchair until I have finished ploughing my way through these records.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a bit trite now, but it is amazing to think how much of an influence a few ‘unseasonal’ Christmases when Dickens’ was a child have had on our perception of Christmas! He clearly evokes a Victorian Christmas in all stratas of society, but it’s that snowy mantle sitting over the top of it that really sets the tone. It has to be said, but Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather represents the perfect antidote to the sentimentality in Dickens’ Carol, without being too bah humbug!

    The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is a Poirot with a more distinctly Christmassy feature to it.

    Oh, and I think I’ve just come up with next year’s Christmas writing prompt…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that Christmas is the only time of year I actually like a bit of sentimentality ;o) But that may be due to being one who’s early Christmases were entirely tropical in nature, although I have swallowed the smaltz wholesale too!

      I was put off by the TV adaptation where I watched a little bit, had no idea what was going on, and so didn’t complain when himself begged to change channels. I suspect that TP may be better read. As I’m still adding to be my wish list for next year’s seasonal reading, I’ll add that Poirot.

      Will you be keeping that prompt as a surprise? From your co-host I mean, of course …

      Like

      1. I’ve been a bit disappointed by the Sky adaptations. The radio plays are usually quite good, and I think the am-dram performances are often truer to the work in some way that big budget special effects miss somehow.

        Prompt for next Christmas in drafts :0)

        Like

  3. Alan, when you do get a chance to read the SAS history, I’d be really interested to hear your feedback.

    Like

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