A festive welcome to The Shelf today! Yes, it’s that time of the year again – the season of goodwill and books to all men. As Mariah Carey should have sung, All I Want for Christmas is Books so, in the spirit of the season, I thought this week I’d share a few of my festive favourites, as well as some details about what I’ll be reading this Christmas.
The Christmas Tradition Read
Whether that’s mince pies by the fire, singing carols around the crib, or getting grandma tiddled on sherry by 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we all have our favourite Christmas traditions. One of mine is starting my regular re-read of my favourite book, J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There’s something about the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring that I find really festive – the party, the lights, the copious amounts of food and merriment. It gives me all the festive feels. I’m lucky enough to have some gorgeous softcover editions to curl up with and, this year, I’m hoping I might persuade my husband to start reading and finally attend Bilbo’s long-expected party with me.
The Classic Christmas Crime Novel
It seems so odd to choose to read crime at Christmastime but it has become something of a thing for me. That said, I’m not a fan of the dark and gritty at this time of year. As the nights go crisper and the sound of jingle bells fills the air, I turn instead to classic crime. The British Library Crime Classics have been producing some brilliant re-issues of neglected crime classics for some years now, including several festive titles. This year I’m planning to finally pick up their Christmas bestseller, Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon, a classic country house murder mystery featuring a trainload full of strangers, a deserted country manor and, you guessed it, a murderer amongst them.
I’ll also be dipping into P D James’ short story collection The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories. I love James’ writing – she balances the ingenious plotting and classic scenarios of the golden age with a keenly observed psychological drama – and she is a real master of the short story form, so I’ve been saving this festive collection of four of her stories to read at the most appropriate time of year.
The Festive Ghost Story
A Christmas Carol is, of course, the grandfather of festive ghost stories and is, I feel, what probably puts us in mind of spooky happenings at this time of year. I’m not a huge fan of Dickens’ writing but I make an exception for the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit (although I’ll admit to still preferring the Muppet version every time).
This year however I’m hoping to get to some more modern ghost stories. Laura Purcell’s The Corset has been on my TBR for far too long now. Having read and loved her debut, The Silent Companions, I’m hoping that this second novel, which focuses on a young seamstress who believes she can kill with a supernatural power imbued within in her needle and thread, demonstrates the same ability to send shivers creeping gradually up your spine.
And although not strictly a ghost story, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, a tale of a mysterious dark-robed figure that haunts the complicit and the cowardly, promises gothic vibes in abundance. I adored Perry’s The Essex Serpent and have almost been avoiding this follow-up in case it don’t love it quite as much. Now however might be time to face my fears and dive in.
The Book I’m Giving. And the One I Want to Receive!
I’m urging everyone I know to read Stuart Turton’s fantastic genre-bending crime novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – it’s a brilliant blend of Agatha Christie and Quantum Leap with a dash of Groundhog Day thrown in. Quite how he managed to plot the whole thing I have no idea but it’s an absolute marvel and will definitely be making my Books of 2018 list. So that might be appearing in a few stockings with my name on the tag!
As for what I’d like to receive, I do like a humour book at Christmas. They’re the sort of books I’d never buy myself but that I enjoy chuckling over whilst I polish off the last of the cheese board on Christmas Day. As I’m currently up to my eyeballs in work for my MA, the thought of reading Academia Obscura: The Hidden Silly Side of Higher Education appeals, so that’s gone on my list to Santa. And although it might raise a few eyebrows on Christmas morning, I love the idea of New Erotica for Feminists: Get What You Deserve, Again and Again and Again, which features the brilliant line ‘He calls me into his office and closes the door . . . to promote me. He promotes me again and again. I am wild with ecstasy.’ I need no other reason for wishing to read it.
I also want to take this opportunity to mention the annual Booktrust Christmas Appeal. For a donation of £10.00, Booktrust will send out book parcels to children who are vulnerable or in care this Christmas. The parcels include an age-appropriate book, a letter (this year it’s been written by Jacqueline Wilson) and a festive postcard. Many of the children get no other post or may have no books of their own so the campaign is an opportunity to spread the joy of reading this festive season. Please do consider making a donation if you can.
So that is it for my Christmas reading this year. What will you be hoping to get to? And what books will you be giving this year, or asking Santa to bring? Do let me know in the comments, or come and say hi on Twitter (@shelfofunread).
Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas – do eat, drink and be merry and I’ll be back again after the festivities for my Best Books of 2018 list. And until then…
Happy Reading! x
NB: I’ve previously done quite a few other festive posts, including Bookish Christmas Gift Guides and reviews of seasonal crime classics. I’ve linked the blog posts down below for anyone who wants more festive reading picks, so please do check them out!
Review: The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin (Faber Christmas Crime 2018)
Review: A Very English Murder by Cyril Hare (Faber Christmas Crime 2017)