8 Books to Get Into the Christmas Spirit

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.

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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.”

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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.”

9781447291480_lYou’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.”

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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!”

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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.”

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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.”

A1gACmqyxSLThis 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.”

61quFkzBe5L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_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.”

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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.

Best reads of 2018 (so far)

June is over. Although I’m way behind on my reading, I have had the chance to read a few amazing books this year. I chose six I would love to discuss further with anyone interested, here they are:


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Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

To be honest, before he won the Nobel Prize, I had never read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro. I had watched the movie for this book some years before and I liked it, so I decided to read Never Let Me Go to get acquainted with Ishiguro. And I loved it. This is one of the most sadly beautiful novels I have ever read. Narrated from the perspective of Kathy, a girl created for the purpose of becoming a “donor”, along with many other children, for sick people. The whole purpose of these artificially conceived children is to one day give all their functioning organs to deadly ill humans. However, Kathy becomes first a carer for other donors and so delays her own donations.

The setting of the book is an England where kids like Kathy are raised in boarding schools away from society, where they learn about their “mission” and how they’re different from “normal” people. Kathy’s best friends there are Rachel and Tommy. Apart from the romantic triangle between them, Ishiguro builds through Kathy three of the most complex characters in literature who, despite of being told repeatedly that they are not human, love and cling to life bravely and painfully. Kathy herself is a very interesting character, her narrative mixing an honest recollection of the past as well as some reflections on memory and the arbitrariness of it, a topic with which dominates the whole novel and accounts for the generally nostalgic tone of the book. A must read, really, an overwhelming reflection of what it means to be human.


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MAUS, Art Spiegelman

This graphic novel was recommended to me many times before I finally got to it in January. It is one of the most inventive and heartbreaking pieces of graphic literature I’ve read. Spiegelman represents every race with different animals, Jewish people being mice (hence the name), and narrates, through text and mostly blank and white, simple drawings, his own creative process as a first generation American in New York, as well as his father’s recollections of WWII, Poland and the concentration camps. The simplicity and raw honesty of the stories told is at times painful and heartbreaking, but hopeful and even fun too.


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Into the Wild
, Jon Krakauer

I’ve written about this one in other posts and that’s because I’m OBSESSED with it. I think this book changed my life. Jon Krakauer, with honesty, tact and journalistic mastery narrates what he found about the life and death of young Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, an American who hitchhiked his way to Alaska to live in and from nature only. I love this book because I think the critical job Krakauer does to distance himself from McCandless, without idealising or ridiculing him, is amazing. He talked to people who met him on the road, to his family and friends and collected other anecdotes from people who did similar things, and in the end this book is about more than McCandless, it’s about the urge that moved him and people like him to get away from “civilisation” and find a deeper meaning in life through a restored connection with nature and the hard work of survival. The book does not idealise nature either, it shows it at its best and worse, at its majesty and it’s moodiness and lethality. I recommend reading this to anyone interested in hiking, nature, ecology or American transcendentalism (Thoreau’s writings are a great companion for this).


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The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman

Last year I discovered Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and fell in love with it. I only wish I had read it younger, although probably I wouldn’t have understood its critique of Catholicism and institutional religion. So this year I got my hands on a beautiful edition (the UK edition) of the first volume of The Book of Dust. This story is set in an earlier time than  The Golden Compass, and tells of Lyra’s Oxford while she was a baby. The protagonist is a young boy called Malcolm, whose parents own an inn and has a canoe called La Belle Sauvage. The lives of Malcom and Lyra will become intertwined when a creepy (very creepy, really) villain and Mrs Coulter try to steal her from the convent where Lord Asriel placed her. If you haven’t read , it doesn’t really matter, although they give a lot of information about how this universe works. I recommend this for any fantasy readers, Pullman is a master of the genre.  


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Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

This is actually a reread for me, but still one of the best reads of the year. I absolutely love this book. Around a thousand pages, and still a complete page turner and a complex reflection on what it means to be brave and the different kinds of courage people can possess. Scarlett O’Hara is both one of the most hateful and greatest characters ever written, and equally complex and wonderful are Rhett Butler and Melanie Hamilton. Set in Georgia during the American Civil War, the book tells the story of a slave-owner’s daughter, her loves and struggles when her way of living suddenly disappears. Perhaps this book wouldn’t be that interesting if Scarlettn was not so selfish, mean, stubborn, wilful… and brave. What makes the book for me are the characters, and although I really like Mitchell’s descriptions of the old south, they’re obviously idealised and very politically incorrect nowadays. However, this is a novel that must be read once in everyone’s life. 


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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë

This one I just finished. My main reason to read this unpopular piece of nineteenth century literature was that I love both Emily and Charlotte Brontë’s writing, so I had to read Anne too. And she’s great as well, this family was something else. The book starts with the arrival of a mysterious young widow in a small country town in England. She’s a bit rude and very reserved, so obviously the most handsome dude in town falls for her. Oh, and she has a child. However, people soon start talking about her, as no one knows where she came from or if she’s really a widow, and handsome dude needs to know the truth, so she gives him her diary to read. And her diary composed most of the book. Anne Brontë reflects on many things in this novel: first, the social position of women; second, the implications of marriage both as a political institution and as a love affair; third, human nature’s propensity to vice; and fourth, religion’s role in both the submission and the liberation of women.

I must say this book is not quite as good as Wuthering Heights in feeling or Jane Eyre in style, it is very different from them in the way it uses literary devices like the letter and diary format, prayers and such. Nevertheless I found it a good companion, never too dull in its reflections and never too dramatic in its depictions of the sorrows of marriage. A very recommended for classic literature lovers as well as feminists (this might be Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House antecesor).

Have you read any? I’d love to hear what you think of these on the comments! 

Which have been your best reads so far?