One of the few – the very few – advantages of 2020 is like to be that there will be time for reading at Christmas this year.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I love doing all the Christmassy things, from putting up the tree, with or without feline intervention, to packing presents at the last moment.
Homegrown Christmas Traditions
Christmas cards go wherever I can throw a washing line to drape them over. I usually fill the house with greenery for the solstice. By Christmas Eve the house smells of pine and foliage and oranges.
And I decorate the tree. Ah, my dear tree. Family tradition was to decorate it on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, while we listened to Carols from Kings on the radio. (It’s still available on BBC3, and also on BBC TV and probably I-player and podcast too.) It was ready, but without lights, for when my father came home from work.
The lights were A Man’s Job. At least one of the little bulbs would need be replaced and he was OIC technology.
Actually so was putting the fairy on top of the tree. These days, the fairy is entirely my job, from dressing her to fixing her in place.
Currently she is her Duchess of Malfi incarnation, at the instigation of a dear friend who channelled the Jacobeans a lot. My handiwork wasn’t quite up to the concept. She looks OK from a distance. If a touch inebriated.
Sadly, I’m not as good at fixing her in place as my father was. Pretty soon she starts to list to port. I straighten her throughout the day. And every morning she has returned to that same drunken angle. Waving. I blame the elves. With possible feline assistance, of course.
Child’s Time for Reading at Christmas
I was an only child with a high proportion of visiting relatives of 80+. They were gossipy and volatile and played games after dinner sitting round the table. They also sang a lot.
BUT they had their own routines and took a long time negotiating the stairs. Not these exact stairs, you understand. Any stairs, including your basic semi–detached 2 storey suburban house staircase. Though at least one of the great-aunts regularly Made Entrances any diva would envy. She would have liked these stairs a lot.
Fundamentally, my mother needed me to park myself somewhere and stay there until they were all settled. And no, not in the kitchen (size of very small narrow boat galley).
Christmas Reading Then
I was deeply into historical adventure the year of the Aunts. Some came from my parents’ book shelves, some from the library. One or two were Christmas presents I’d asked for: The Children of the New Forest, The Eagle of the Ninth.
But the absolute star for that particular Christmas was a present I hadn’t asked for and rather looked askance at when I opened it – Tales of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest.
I think it may have been a gift from my godfather. He had twin sons who had fixed in stone his idea of children’s preferred reading.
My mother shook her head over it. Lots of fighting and competing and plotting against the enemy – not my Sort of Thing, she thought. But my parents never censored what I read. So I got to take it into my quiet corner. It kept me absolutely spellbound until the Aunts were settled and I was allowed out of my box. And every night, when Mother put me to bed, I’d tell her one of the stories. With relish.
The book is long gone, sadly. But I remember clearly that it was hardback, with a dark green cloth binding that had a design of little black fleur de lys on it. I can’t remember the paper jacket at all.
Anyway, I hated pictures on my books. I knew what Robin looked like. By the end of that Christmas I was Robin.
Time for Reading At Christmas Since
As an adult, whether guest or host, there’s much to do – prepare, cook, eat, play games and generally sharing. Time to read? Really?
Well, I’m a lark. Pre-dawn I clean the kitchen – SO much better with no one else Being Helpful and I can sing. Well, quietly. Then I can make a pot of tea and cuddle up with cat and book in front of the fire. Bliss.
To me, it’s always a time for reading something new. Maybe it’s simply the season, the turning of the year, the faint whiff of spring and new life to come. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been racing madly not just to Get Ready for Christmas, but the hurly burly of pre-Christmas junketings with colleagues and neighbours. Suddenly all is still and you have time to think at a sensible pace again.
So my reading could be a Christmas present, for instance, like Jane Glover’s Handel in London of a few years ago. Oh, there’s whole world to walk around in inside that book.
Or it could be something borrowed from a fellow guest or even my hosts. Other people’s bookshelves are a great source of discovery.
I’m pretty sure that was how I found my first Temeraire by Naomi Novik. This is a wonderful series, a proper fantasy with dragons, philosophy, alternate history and some cracking characters. And proper heroic dilemmas that our heroes, dragon and human, have to grapple with.
The downside of borrowing, of course, is usually you can’t take the book home with you. The upside is that, when you track it down to buy, you find others in the same series or by the same author. I bought four Noviks at Hatchards the very next week!
Time for Reading at Christmas 2020? A small present to our readers
Next week’s blog is a new venture for us, starting on Boxing Day. A serial mystery story, written by me, set right here, right now, London December 2020. It’s a little bit of intrigue to take you out of yourself with your own morning coffee and cat, or relaxation of choice.
Thereafter, there will be an episode a day until Twelfth Night.
We hope it hits the spot.
This was written before the news of the virus mutation and consequent Tier 4 restrictions on so many people who will feel devastated, some of the Libertà Hive and our friends among them. Let us be gentle with each other in this dark time and nurture our dear ones in every way we can, including virtually.
The Safest and Happiest Possible Christmas from all of us at Libertà Books
What a lovely post! Yes, reading is a solace, taking you away into some other world for a while. It’s a very different Christmas this year, but I am sure we will all strive to enjoy it regardless. Just seeing the tree lights every morning gives me a lift. Adore your inebriated fairy!
That’s exactly what I think about reading, Liz. It really does take you to a place where you leave the bad stuff to get on with it on its own for a bit.
Glad you like my fairy. She started off as a classic – white filmy dress with gold bits and a wand. But we’ve been together since I was small and she’s had several changes of gear since then. I suppose you could say she’s grown with me. Um…
Lovely post. Thank you for yet another recommendation, which may compensate for the fresh disasters. I’m really looking forward to the Mystery, as, of course, I would. And I, too, have a fairy. My godmother gave her to me when I was about eight, so she is a Venerable Fay – still in her original costume. I have always put her on top, but can no longer stretch that far, sadly. Luckily, I have a current lodger son, who did it for me. Happy Christmas.
Sophie introduced me to Naomi Novik some years ago now and I loved Temeraire and its sequel. She creates a brilliant and (for me) totally believable alternate reality. Yes, of course I’m prepared to believe in dragons. Who isn’t? 😉
For our US readers, Temeraire was retitled His Majesty’s Dragon for the US market, presumably because some publisher thought US readers wouldn’t “get” the original title. (Shades of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, possibly?)
That’s fascinating, Joanna. I didn’t know that. Naomi Novak confirms in a really interesting interview on Youtube that the book first came out – in hardback – in England, although she is clearly American. So well done, that editor and publisher, whoever they were!
Love the idea of a Venerable Fay, Lesley. She must have seen some times!
Sophie, I loved Robin Hood as a child. I have no idea where my copy of the book came from, but, like you, I found it pure joy. So many great childhood reads were about heroes, rather than heroines. I remember buying a copy of The Black Arrow from Woolworth… My granddaughters are so lucky to have great female heroes in their reading lives. I am going to seek out Temeraire.
Oh, Robin Hood was marvellous. I think it’s that business of living in a camp and making do and knowing the forest. Which, of course, was part of the charm of Children of the New Forest, now I come to think of it. That was another childhood favourite. But Robin Hood was tops.
Wishing you all hours of happy reading, a safe Christmas and a healthy 2021!
Thank you Ros. I can only echo the sentiment. Or right back at ya, as one of my less literary mates would say.
I, too, loved Children of the New Forest. My copy is a Victorian hardback which once belonged to my Great-Uncle, John Hawksley, who was brought up on the Isle of Caldy.. (He was killed on the Somme in 1916.) It is illustrated by Sir John Gilbert, R.A. (Who he?) When you look at the book when it’s closed you realize that the rims of the pages are gold! It is a thing of beauty.
I loved that story – though I have to say that the conversation clunks – and I never liked the way that the gypsy Pablo was made to speak – in a sort of infantile English which made him come across as an amusing, child-like foreigner. I doubt whether Edward, Humphrey, Alice or Edith’s Romany would have been any better!
Still, I loved the way that the children had to learn to survive in the forest. I just wish the girls ended up doing something more interesting than being fine ladies at the court of King Charles II.
A happy and healthy Christmas to you all.
I particularly loved Humphrey, who was always interested in learning stuff and working out how to do something new or in a new way. Didn’t he design a cage to catch eels? Much more exciting to me than stuffy elder son Edward.
A very happy Christmas to you, too. May it be better than its advance PR suggests.