Ah, Christmas break. That glorious time in which our very hard-working team has several days off work in a row, and therefore the opportunity to sit back and do what we love best: read! We thought we’d share what we’ll be reading with you, and we’d love to hear what you’ll be reading as well! Let us know in the comments or tweet us @turnarounduk.
This festive period, I am finally abandoning all hope that I’ll ever bother reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, after three years of trying. In spite of having the awesome Pulp! the Classics edition (with cover art by our fabulous colleague, David Mann, and that major weakness of mine, sprayed edges), it’s a story that I know well enough through a kajillion re-tellings, and therefore I really can’t be arsed to wade through the boring prose. (Yes, I realise this is a literary heresy, but I simply cannot get into Dickens!) So I’ll be skipping the novel and watching a far better version of the story instead, like Scrooged or The Muppet Christmas Carol. A great way to spend Christmas Eve evening, if you ask me!
In spite of my distaste for Dickens, I will certainly spend a large amount of time with my nose in a book – don’t you worry!
For dipping in and out – ideal for the long train journey to Devon or while feeling dozy after Christmas dinner – I’ll be reading Fantastic Night & other stories by Stefan Zweig. Over the past two years, reading Zweig has changed my life and I will continue to get my hands on every Pushkin Press edition of his books that I can (the covers are phenomenal and Anthea Bells’s translations are an absolute dream to read). I bought this one and a slew of other similarly beautiful books I couldn’t afford while drunk at a book launch in Holland Park (as you do), and now I will finally be able to give it the attention it deserves! It feels hugely poignant for someone going through their quarter-life crisis at the moment: “I alone know that I am only just beginning to live…”
For something a bit more serious, I’m finally going to read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, this is another classic that passed me by. I’ve spent much of the year saying I need to read it, and it feels all the more necessary now that my fellow Americans have decided it would be a good idea to let a misogynist pile of vomit be president (I guess there’s also a TV series coming out, but I’m the only human in England who doesn’t have Netflix so I’m not up to speed on that!). Happily, a borrowed copy of this book has been on my shelf for years and I only just realised it, so I’ll be kicking of my 2017 of reading only women writers with this feminist classic. I’m well excited! (Oh also, if I’ve borrowed your copy of The Handmaid’s Tale within the past six years and haven’t given it back, sorry! And let me know!)
Christmas to me is all about nostalgia for a time when I actually enjoyed it! That is, a longing for something – a sensation mostly – that encapsulates what I think Christmas should feel like, but it’s not something I’ve experienced in a while. I even don’t know if I actually really like Christmas anymore – the build-up goes on for too long and (maybe it’s all the many, many years I spent working in retail) just seems a bit preposterous to me now. Don’t get me wrong I love the food and time spent with family but it strikes me that all of the strongest memories I have about Christmas are in fact those times when things went wrong… The year my dad dropped the turkey on the floor; the time my Gran’s dog ate an entire dish of brandy butter then vommed everywhere; the one where my mum had food poisoning; and, who could forget, the year we played the Family Fortunes game and no-one understood how it worked and we just ended up shouting at each other. The rest of the years, when everything ran smoothly, and nothing overly exciting happened, seem to blend into one.
I long to recapture that exhilaration that Christmas morning used to mean when I was a kid – the nervous excitement of presents, the festive feel of the day and having loads of people around. All of these reasons are the reasons why almost every Christmas I re-read The Hobbit, or at least the opening part of it. At my parents’ house, where I now spend every other Christmas, the bookcase with all my childhood, adolescent, and young adulthood treasures is at the foot of the bed. The old, 1960/70s battered editions of both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings Trilogy are on the near side, second shelf from the bottom – the perfect level for reaching out of bed to grab when it’s cold and I’ve all-too-soon run out of other things to read.
From the beginning with the arrival of the Dwarves – I always remember and can recite their names and the colours of each’s cloak – and the impromptu feast, it feels like people arriving on Christmas Eve, and gathering together for a real – and very eventful – festive family dinner. The other reason I always turn to it is that, for me, the feeling I get when reading Tolkien (the only other author that evokes the same tingly feeling is J.K. Rowling) is the closest thing to how I wish I could feel about Christmas.
This, I think, comes from the nostalgia for how I felt the first time I read these books… my enchantment with those worlds but also from the nostalgia deliberately evoked by the authors – a self-conscious sense of the archaic. I think what I really want is to go back in time and have an old fashioned, stripped back Christmas – one without the months long build-up, ridiculous amounts of over-preparation and stress, commercialism and hype and (mostly) terrible music – so, if, anyone needs me I’ll be in The Shire. Or at Hogwarts. I’m happy either way.
Is it terribly stereotypical of me to say that I love Christmas? The lights, the music, the markets! All the ludicrous bits and bobs that we buy… People singing in the streets… What other time of year would you get hordes of people dressed in red suits with long white beards, belting out carols in the middle of the street, and it not be utterly mad?! The child inside me is finally allowed to run free and I gladly let her go!
Having a little more spare time, (and a lot of pesky family members to manage), Christmas is also the perfect time to give all those wonderful books that I’ve neglected over the year some attention. They usually tend to be fantasy, and generally have something or other to do with magic. I find myself enjoying the genre even more so at Christmas when everything has that magical feel to it. I’m sure you can imagine that after so many months of unread titles building up, I’m usually left with a list that’s practically drooping off the pages. This is why I normally select my top three books to devour over the holidays and then of course, I completely disregard that list and find myself picking up a familiar title, and greeting it like an old friend… What can I say? Old habits die hard.
I end up in bed, with a little heater on the side, a cup of steamy tea, (possibly a biscuit or two, or three…), flicking through Brian Froud’s, Faeries collection; an array of enchanting books filled to the brim with information on the ethereal world of the Fey. We’ve all heard of goblins and dwarves, but have we ever come across the Fachan, a one-armed, one-legged oddity from the Scotland highlands? I’m guessing not. There is so much we don’t know about the world of Faerie and I find Christmas is the best time of all to explore their world…
Naturally, where there is light there must also be darkness; just like there are good faeries and bad ones. It seems the dark can rise up around this time, causing families to bicker, to be constrained by duty and tradition. A time of forced ties; forced smiles; pretences of laughter and light where none truly exist. Christmas can be a hard time for some, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced this at one point or another, but in this period, books prevail.
With Brian Froud’s bewitching titles, one can look at them again and again and never get bored. His illustrations are so life-like; they almost seem to jump off the page. If you listen closely, not just with your ears, but with your whole being; you can hear them… They sound faint at first, just a whisper in the darkness, and then they appear like ghostly apparitions. There are the Faerie Queens, the Consorts, the Tricksters, the Goblins, the Sprites; so many creatures to revel in and each with their own unique characteristics!
Perhaps, if I’m feeling especially adventurous, I may even venture into an alternative realm of Faerie, in the form of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. Set in Ireland and deeply rooted in the world of the faerie folk, Karen’s series is one of my all-time favourites. Her story is so convincing, so real; I could almost believe that I’ve witnessed the events happening before…
I suppose over Christmas you will find me lost to another world entirely. Don’t try to pull me out. I’ll only hold on tighter, until the holidays are over and back to reality it is.
Throughout the year I go through periods of intense whinging about the fact I have no time to read. My commute is shit for reading, weekends are busy, and the before-bed stage I always used for books is now usually replaced with unwarranted pub trips, obsessive compulsive flat cleaning, or (cough) The Gilmore Girls. I crave more than two days off in a row spent somewhere relaxing all year, and so when Christmas approaches and I’m faced with actual time off, my reading plans are worthy and large. Unfortunately, things never really pan out. My family enjoys a drink. There are people to see and passive aggressive board game marathons to be had. I sleep. A lot. And when it’s over I’ll be lucky to have read the first ten pages of a book.
I’m just not very good at relaxing most times. I miss the days of reading every single story in a Beano annual, or the afternoons spent looking for Macaulay Culkin in the 1992 literary hit Where’s Kevin? As an adult at Christmas I’m too bleary eyed to actually find Kevin (much like the real Macaulay Culkin as it turns out), let alone spend time with the pile of serious literature I’d planned to read.
Before you all think I’m a total killjoy though, this year there is a plot twist! This year I’ll be spending Christmas in Bangkok and the rest of the festive period on a beach. Lucky me! It does feel a bit weird to imagine Christmas day in 35 degrees. But it also means that I will definitely be able to read plenty. My girlfriend and I overestimated our abilities and thought we’d be able to read (and also lug around) eight books in two weeks. Having narrowed it down to four, we’re taking: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, Mislaid by Nell Zink, and The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith. I can’t wait to be in a hammock with one of these and a bottle of Chang.
Bonus book: to try and distract myself from the plane horrors, I’m reading Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950’s. It’s a biography by one of Highsmith’s lovers, the lesbian pulp fiction writer Marijane Meaker. I’m not sure how factually accurate it is, but I’m hoping it’ll read like a piece of real life queer pulp.
Christmas with my family is always complete chaos; relatives descend from God knows where (Gloucestershire? Manchester?) and my parents have to find the requisite floor space for eleven people and a dog (the cat is sensible enough to jump ship this time of year). It is a holiday of queuing for bathrooms, bumping into people in corridors, listening to grandparents bicker in very loud whispers from a floor away and a whole lot of cheer (liquor).
Emotions – and volume levels – run high, so it becomes necessary to find some refuge from the frequent arguments about how washing up should be stacked and exactly who was cheating at Who’s In The Bag (everyone). My favourite places to do so are under the Christmas tree – the smell! – and in the bath, where I resurface hours later, resembling a 5th grandparent.
There are many books I aim to catch up on at this time of year. Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different springs to mind, especially as the tone from her last so perfectly matched the vibe of my family. Another is Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, with the intriguing premise very apt for this time of year, when we gorge without thinking.
Intentions are intentions, but I really know that I’ll end up embracing the same well-thumbed favourites that I revisit every year – I love powering through The Edge Chronicles, as Twig wanders the deepwoods in search of his people, while I am surrounded by mine. Similarly I like going back to Little Women – it used to all be about Jo for me, but now I adore Amy and her pettiness. Bridget Jones’s Diary is also a classic Christmas read, and I feel like it sets me up for the New Year.
For me Christmas is about predictability, and I most look forward to these familiar moments – my grandfather crying with laughter at the table, the flame on the pudding going out before anybody has seen it, the outrageous conning/bare-faced lying of the evening board games. When I wake up on Christmas morning – to my dad’s annual piano performance of Silent Night, which begins shaky, played with one finger, and ends with crescendo and flourish – this is what will make me smile.