December is already here, which means it’s time to get cosy by the Christmas tree and grab a book. Christmas is definitely my favourite time of the year and it’s usually when I read the most; everything during this season seems to me inviting to stay inside and read: warm beverages, comfort food, blankets, cold weather, twinkle lights. So this year I chose for you some of the books that never fail to make me feel christmassy.
8. The Trick is to Keep Breathing, Janice Galloway
“No matter how often I think I can’t stand it anymore, I always do. There is no alternative. I don’t fall, I don’t foam at the mouth, faint, collapse or die. It’s the same for all of us. You can’t get out of the inside of your own head. Something keeps you going. Something always does.”
This is Galloway’s first novel, published in 1989. It tells the struggles of 27-year-old Joy Stone, a drama teacher who lives in Irvine, Scotland. This is a very bleak yet surprisingly hopeful book. After the death of her lover Michael, a married man, Joy struggles with her mental health and basically has a really rough time. Told with mastery in a stream-of-consciousness style, this book is both a social critique and the story of a young woman trying to find the trick for surviving pain and loss. Spoiler alert, the trick is to keep breathing.
7. The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick
“Life is not a PG feel-good movie. Real life often ends badly. Literature tries to document this reality, while showing us it is still possible for us to endure nobly.”
You’ve probably seen the movie (and if you haven’t, you should). Pat Peoples has moved back with his parents after some years at a psychiatric institution following the separation from his wife. The only thing in his mind is getting back together with her, but along the way he meets Tiffany, whose husband recently died. Now, Tiffany and Pat couldn’t be more opposite, but together they devise a plan to get Pat and his wife back together… through a dancing competition that is to take place at Christmas. This book is funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming, filled with unique, quirky and complex characters throughout.
6. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”
This one doesn’t even need an introduction. Ghosts, desolated moors, jinxed lovers, revenge and forgiveness—that’s the stuff of Christmas right there.
5. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie
“There is at Christmas time a great deal of hypocrisy, honourable hypocrisy, hypocrisy undertaken pour le bon motif, c’est entendu, but nevertheless hypocrisy!”
Agatha Christie has a book for every season, situation and setting you can imagine. In this one, a millionaire named Simeon Lee invites his four stranged sons and their wives back home for Christmas. His intentions are, however, not christmassy at all— he just wants to tell them he’s cutting off their allowances. But before he can act, he’s murdered, and his four sons are the main suspects. Enter Hercule Poirot.
4. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
“Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying,
and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.”
Another classic that needs no introduction. Get ready to cry though.
3. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
“One moment several things are possible, the next moment only one happens, and the rest don’t exist. Except that other worlds have sprung into being, on which they did happen.”
This book is just amazing. Everything Pullman has written is definitely good, but the first one of His Dark Materials trilogy is simply extraordinary. This book is set in Oxford, not our Oxford, but a similar one. Lyra Belacqua has grown up at Jordan College, being told her parents died when she was just a baby. But Lyra has seen someone trying to poison his only relative, her uncle Lord Asriel, and starts suspecting it has something to do with her. At the same time, children in Oxford have begun disappearing, including her best friend. Lyra’s curiosity and stubbornness take her on an adventure wilder than anything she could have imagined. From a boat ride with gypsies to the inhospitable regions of Svalvard, this book is simply otherworldly, both complex and engaging. One of my favourite books of all time, with lots of snow and polar bears.
2. The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”
This is a recent discovery. Set in Northern Russia, where it is winter for most of the year, it tells the story of another stubborn girl (honestly, stubborn girls make the best characters), Vasya, who is soon to be married. But these are hard times for everybody in Russia: the political situation is unstable, the winter is specially cold and famine is on its way. And Vasya is the only one who seems to know what is happening. Something is changing, ancient spirits whisper things in the depths of the woods. The wonders and terrors of fairy tales come together during the religious revolution that began to swept the Russian wilderness in the 17th century. This is a delightful read.
1. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
Dickens at his best. Young Pip lives with his sister and her husband, a blacksmith, before being adopted by a rich spinster, Miss Havisham, who has “great expectations” for him. This turn of fate will not only alter Pip’s future, but also reveal many things about his past. As it happens with most of Dickens’ novels, every detail in the narrative comes to play a major role at the end of Great Expectations. A wonderful novel about love, rejection, good fortune, loyalty and temptation.
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