Christmas is a time for eating, drinking and spending time with your family. All of this is true, but it’s also a time to sit and read. To snuggle up by the fire, to wrap yourself in a blanket, to smell the scent of the fresh pages, to hear the crack of the book and immerse yourself in an imaginary world. For me, there’s nothing better than doing this with a glass of mulled wine and a scented candle by my side.
I appreciate that not all of us are exactly festive or merry at Christmas. Christmas, for those of us without our loved ones, can be a chore, a time of fake-merriment, all the while trying to get through it. Added festivities don’t help. So, with that in mind, this list is for both types of people. There some are books here that have helped me when I feel lonely, sad or confused.
- A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
I know it’s an obvious one but I came to this novel rather late. Yes, I’d seen the many versions of Scrooge, I knew who Bob Cratchit was, I mumbled along with the lines, but it wasn’t until I sat with an illustrated version of Dickens’ novel that I truly felt like it was Christmas. Dickens is a creator of worlds. Even if you’re not in the festive mood, here is a book to shut out all the noise. And if Christmas isn’t your thing just stop reading after Scrooge meets the last ghost.
(Also, by reading it you’ll be able to catch people out on the common misconception. Four ghosts visited Scrooge, not three.)
- The Child Thief, Brom
You won’t find any Christmas trees in this book and it is a strange one to have on the list. It’s here because I remember receiving my first book by Brom as a Christmas present. It was a big, beautiful, illustrated book called The Plucker (imagine Toy Story with demons). I remember spending that Christmas being engrossed by Brom’s world. The next Christmas I got another one of his books, The Devil’s Rose. A year after came The Child Thief, an epic reworking of Peter Pan. I remember sitting on the sofa, reading whilst everyone else watched the specials. Like I said, this isn’t a book to feel festive, but it is a book to help you take your mind off the family drama. (If you do fancy something a bit more festive – try Krampus, also by Brom).
- The Cost of Living, Deborah Levy
I’ve always loved reading about writers. From the descriptions of their desks to their journeys to and from work, it is all interesting. So when I opened Deborah Levy’s memoir on divorce, motherhood, moving house and identity, I was immediately hooked. So now you’re wondering why this is on a Christmas book list. For two reasons. The first being I encourage you all to go and buy it for your family and friends. The second is the lovely descriptions of snow. Levy rents out a shed in her friend’s back garden as her studio. She details clumps of snow gathered outside, specks of it falling as she writes from her desk, looking out. Bliss. And what better way to feel cosy, festive even than reading about such things while wrapped up, warm, inside?
- The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg
The opening page of The Polar Express makes me think of snow: ‘On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets. I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound – a sound a friend had told me I’d never hear – the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh’. And so begins the story of the boy’s adventure with the Polar Express. This picture book is simply magical. Not just because of the beautiful illustrations by author Chris Van Allsburg but because of the story itself. (And if you really want to feel extra Christmassy, watch the film afterwards.)
- The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas
This book ends up on nearly every list I write, regardless of the occasion. I have very fond memories of my mother coming home from work one evening with two books under her arm. She ferried them upstairs and presented them to me. One was The End of Mr. Y. It’s a book I always go back to and re-read when I’m feeling lonely and in need of company. I relate to Ariel, a broke, lonely, PhD student. She and I keep each other company. She’d rather read her books (she spends the last of her money on books and ‘good coffee’) yet she aches for human contact. This is a book for those of us that feel lonely this time of year. Reading of another lonely person, strolling around dark Kent, dodging the mouse in her apartment, made me feel less alone.
(Another great book for being cosy is Our Tragic Universe, also by Scarlett Thomas. Reading about Meg – the main character – write in her moleskin notebook by the fire, occasionally knitting and reading, it’ll make you want to do the same.)
- The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, CS Lewis
…Or as I like to think of this book – Christmas in a wardrobe. Narnia, the place of perpetual snow, the place the four Pevensie children accidentally stumble upon, a place of magic and wonder. As I’ve said before, we need magic at Christmas and CS Lewis has given us that. A classic tale with witches, talking lions and whimsical creatures. One for both kids and adults. (And again I’d recommend watching the film with the family at Christmas).
- How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr Seuss
Dr Seuss is a writer for every age. He delivers lessons on identity, gender, politics. And we need that at Christmas. Not just a family favourite, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, is a story of redemption. I give it to both children and adults for Christmas. Highly recommended.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
For children, Christmas is a magical time. For us adults, we need to be reminded of that magic. There’s nothing quite as magical as the boy, Harry Potter, discovering he’s a wizard and we, along with him, discover the wizarding world with all of its quirks and beauties. There’s also a Christmas chapter and we get to spend a Christmas at Hogwarts. (And if you really want to up the magic then you should listen to the audiobooks narrated by Stephen Fry.)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
Christmas means chocolate. And what better place to go than a chocolate factory? Roald Dahl has been one of my favourite authors since I was a child. This was mainly because he never patronised his readers. Children were in on the joke and if adults chose to hang around, that was their decision. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is essentially a slasher film based in a chocolate factory – the kids get picked off one by one and the hero is rewarded – but like all of Dahl’s books the mania is part of the fun. (If you wish: think of this as a source of chocolate inspiration).
- At My Table, Nigella Lawson
It wouldn’t be Christmas without Queen Nigella Lawson. Her recipes are simple, accessible and delicious. Not many cookbooks can make you feel better about yourself but with this one, you became an expert at making cookies, chicken, prawns and so much more. As I said before, Christmas is about food. There’s no better way than to sit around, collect your thoughts, think and plan some great Christmas recipes.
Narrate (verb) a spoken version of a story.
Audiobook (noun) an oral recording of a written book, typically a novel.
Perpetual (adjective) never-ending or changing.
Chapter (noun) a main division of a book, typically with a number or title.
Identity (noun) the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.
Gender (noun) the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).
Politics (noun) the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power.
Broke (adjective) little or no money.
Hooked (adjective) suddenly interested in something.
Clump (noun) a rough group of something.
Divorce (noun) the legal end to a marriage.
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This blog was written by Intrepid English teacher, Tom.
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