I can’t believe it’s December already! This year went by so fast, but I hope I’m not too late to recommend some of my favorite reads for these bleak and short days. Although I don’t really have vacations now, I remember December being my favourite month to tackle my reading list, back when I studied and was home for the holidays. Anyways, nostalgia aside, here is a short list of my favorite and coziest reads for the season:
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Okay, I absolutely love this novel. I even named one of my dogs after Lucy Snowe, the protagonist. By now it is a tradition for me to read something by the Brontës in the winter and Villette is one of those books that don’t get the attention they deserve. I would go as far as to say it’s one of the best novels of the 19th century, along, of course, with Jane Eyre. Villette is the name of a small town in an unnamed country in Europe —possibly in Belgium— to which the young Lucy Snowe arrives one cold evening. Lucy, just like Jane, has nothing but an indomitable self reliance, intelligence and hope.
All her life, Lucy has been taking care of an old lady for a living and now she finds herself in a strange land, a teacher in a girl’s boarding school. Like any good 19th century novel, there’s love, mean old people, class-based obstacles and even ghosts. A blending of sadness, hope and rebellion from the perspective of one of the greatest characters in literature. This is also a somewhat nostalgic book. Similarly to Jane Eyre, Villette is the narrative of Lucy Snowe’s memories, tinted sometimes with regret and sadness. If I had to name a theme for this book, it would be courage. Think of reading about ancient châteaus where eerie occurrences take place, of lonely musings by moonlight and of turbulent nights spent on a boat during a storm. Tempting, isn’t it?
One Day in December by Josie Silver
If you’re looking for a lighthearted yet well-written book, this is it. The plot: a girl falls in love at first sight with a stranger at a bus stop one day in December. Then she spends a whole year looking for this guy everywhere, just to find out later that he is her best friend’s boyfriend… This is funny and cosy book about friendship and love. I found it very charming and it’s a very quick read.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This is one of my favorite Dickens. In it, a child named 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… and all of that set in wonderful and snowy Victorian London.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
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 this Oxford, really, but another Oxford). 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.
The Book of Dust also by Pullman
So, the trilogy that continues Lyra’s story is called The Book of Dust. The first two books are out, but not the third one. Both La Belle Sauvage (the story of Lyra’s infancy) and The Secret Commonwealth (the story after His Dark Materials, when Lyra is a young woman) are FANTASTIC books. They have intrigue, secret conspirators, betrayal, friendship and an amazing set of characters working together in a plot that only Philip Pullman could have pulled together. I’m not exaggerating when I say these books are some of the best fantasy books ever written. They’re actually a great read any time of the year, but I figure most of us have more tie for sagas during the holidays.
Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
As you probably know, the story is about a young man in St Petersburg, who decides to kill an old woman “for the common good”. Most of the book revolves around the time after the crime and Dostoevsky dwells into the disturbed mind of Raskolnikov and his guilty wanderings around the city. Raskolnikov is however suspected by inspector Porfiry, and the plot thickens as their encounters become more and more frequent. At the same time, the protagonist meets Sonya, a poor girl who is forced to prostitution to sustain her brothers and mother, and her story will play a crucial part in Raskolnikov’s future. Dostoevsky’s novel is rich in characters and descriptions, and it constantly dwelves on moral matters and christian values, and it is, in my opinion, a novel about salvation through faith. It is, too, a thrilling read, at times grim and heartbreaking, and, sometimes, even cheesy (in a good way). Nothing better than a good redemption story for Christmas.
Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
A wonderful little book. These tales are basically Shakespeare plays adapted for children by the great essayist and poet Charles Lamb and his sister, Mary Lamb. But they’re much more than that, for they add all the warmth and wit of Lam to these already awesome plots. If you, like me, enjoy children literature, you can’t miss this. Sharing it with the younger ones is also a great idea, for it is a great book to read aloud.
What are you reading for Christmas? I am now reading The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit (and loving it!) and my plans for the holidays include a spinoff of His Dark Materials called Once Upon a Time in the North and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.
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