Two traditions that have taken root in our household at this time of year:
1. Each of the kids’ ‘Christmas Eve box’ contains new pyjamas, a fizzy bath bomb – and a book.
2. Boxing Day (i.e. what we call 26th December or St Stephen’s Day in the UK) is Reading Day. It’s a bank holiday (except in Scotland) and , spat out from the cyclone of Christmas preparation and celebration, I sit – or more probably lie – around and make major inroads into the pile of books I got given as gifts.
Below is a sample of what’s on my list this year. There are more factual than fiction books here – mainly because I buy myself novels and stories throughout the year.
The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paul Byrne
Another tradition of sorts – I always get at least one biography of a writer. Usually a female writer. Often a twentieth-century female writer. This year, English novelist Barbara Pym 1913 – 1980). I have not read much by Pym, best known for her social comedies – okay, only Quartet in Autumn, but I intent to rectify that. She is an author often seen now as neglected or ‘forgotten – see this article in the New York Times, for example. And poet Philip Larkin said of her: ‘I’d sooner read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen.’ First though, a look into her mid-century life, which traverses a fascinating period of history and change.
Patricia Highsmith – Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995
Factual again, biography (of sorts) again. A twentieth-century female writer, again. I cannot get enough. A ground-breaking writer on several fronts, and what a life. Writer, traveller, hard drinker, chain smoker, unapologetic lover of many, mainly women. Ms Highsmith could, notoriously, be unpleasant (though reviews of these diaries suggest, apparently, this was not always the case). She has been described variously as ‘rude’, ‘misanthropic’, and ‘bloody-minded’. Was she more harshly judged because she was a women? I’ll be better equipped to decide after reading this.
Lily: A tale of revenge, by Rose Tremain
I love Rose Tremain, and must have read most of the novels by this contemporary writer (plus, yes, of course, Tremain’s own autobiography). This one is set in mid-19th-century London, a picaresque novel with a female protagonist.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
I’ve been wanting to read this for months – late to the party. It was a big success in the summer – and in many ways, a ‘summer read’. Just needed it to come down in price a bit (sorry). One of the things that interests me is that it looks to be a circadian novel, i.e. one set in the course of a single day. More examples here.
Everything: A Maximalist Style Guide by Abigail Ahern
How I admire minimalism. And how I cannot live like that. For all that I continually weed books, plants (in more than one sense), and a host of objects with more decorative that utilitarian value, still there is – stuff. I know myself by now. Let’s give in to it. And another part of the tradition – at least one non-fiction / non-biography goes on the list.
What books are on your gift wish-list?