In 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