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Christmas and Literature

It is Christmas Eve.  What better way to unwind from the hectic preparations for tomorrow, than to read about Christmas in literature, and the holiday as seen through the eyes of some of our most beloved writers?  I have collected several articles and stories from around the Internet, which I sincerely hope you enjoy.

Photo credit: The Advertising Archives

1. Virginia Woolf Goes Christmas Shopping (The Telegraph)
2. A Feast of Christmas Authors by Sue Wilkes
3. ‘A Luckless Santa Claus’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald (short story)
4. A Christmas card inlay which Sylvia Plath sent to her English Literature teacher
5. A selection of excerpts written by Katherine Mansfield around Christmastime

Merry Christmas, one and all!

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More New Releases

The wonderful Powell’s in Portland, Oregon has released a list of their picks of the year.  As any good reader, I immediately perused this, and furiously scribbled down around half of their choices.  These are the real standouts for me, and those which I hope to get to during 2016.

97805474858501. 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor
‘”The Best American Short Stories”is the longest running and best-selling series of short fiction in the country. For the centennial celebration of this beloved annual series, master of the form Lorrie Moore selects forty stories from the more than two thousand that were published in previous editions. Series editor Heidi Pitlor recounts behind-the-scenes anecdotes and examines, decade by decade, the trends captured over a hundred years. Together, the stories and commentary offer an extraordinary guided tour through a century of literature with what Moore calls all its wildnesses of character and voice. These forty stories represent their eras but also stand the test of time. Here is Ernest Hemingway’s first published story and a classic by William Faulkner, who admitted in his biographical note that he began to write as an aid to love-making. Nancy Hale’s story describes far-reaching echoes of the Holocaust; Tillie Olsen’s story expresses the desperation of a single mother; James Baldwin depicts the bonds of brotherhood and music. Here is Raymond Carver’s minimalism, a term he disliked, and Grace Paley’s secular Yiddishkeit. Here are the varied styles of Donald Barthelme, Charles Baxter, and Jamaica Kincaid. From Junot Diaz to Mary Gaitskill, from ZZ Packer to Sherman Alexie, these writers and stories explore the different things it means to be American. Moore writes that the process of assembling these stories allowed her to look thrillingly not just at literary history but at actual history the cries and chatterings, silences and descriptions of a nation in flux.’

2. Slade House by David Mitchell
‘Born out of the short story David Mitchell published on Twitter in 2014 and inhabiting the same universe as his latest bestselling novel The Bone Clocks, this is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night. Turn down Slade Alley – narrow, dank and easy to miss, even when you’re looking for it. Find the small black iron door set into the right-hand wall. No handle, no keyhole, but at your touch it swings open. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn’t quite make sense; too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies. A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. This unnerving, taut and intricately woven tale by one of our most original and bewitching writers begins in 1979 and reaches its turbulent conclusion around Hallowe’en, 2015. Because every nine years, on the last Saturday of October, a ‘guest’ is summoned to Slade House. But why has that person been chosen, by whom and for what purpose? The answers lie waiting in the long attic, at the top of the stairs…’

3. After Alice by Gregory Maguire 9781472230430
‘When Alice fell down the rabbit-hole, she found Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But how did Victorian Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance? Gregory Maguire turns his imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings -and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, sets out to visit Alice but, arriving a moment too late, tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself. Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world. The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and the bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts interrupt their mad tea party to suggest a conundrum: if Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or if Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is After Alice.’

4. Felicity by Mary Oliver
‘Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, celebrates love in her new collection of poems ” If I have any secret stash of poems, anywhere, it might be about love, not anger, Mary Oliver once said in an interview. Finally, in her stunning new collection, “Felicity,” we can immerse ourselves in Oliver s love poems. Here, great happiness abounds. Our most delicate chronicler of physical landscape, Oliver has described her work as loving the world. With “Felicity “she examines what it means to love another person. She opens our eyes again to the territory within our own hearts; to the wild and to the quiet. In these poems, she describes with joy the strangeness and wonder of human connection. As in “Blue Horses,” “Dog Songs,” and “A Thousand Mornings,” with “Felicity “Oliver honors love, life, and beauty.”‘

97814746022425. The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
‘It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s daughter started to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbours accused neighbours, parents accused children, husbands accused wives, children accused their parents, and siblings each other. Vividly capturing the dark, unsettled atmosphere of seventeenth-century America, Stacy Schiff’s magisterial history draws us into this anxious time. She shows us how a band of adolescent girls brought the nascent colony to its knees, and how quickly the epidemic of accusations, trials, and executions span out of control. Above all, Schiff’s astonishing research reveals details and complexity that few other historians have seen.’

6. Atlas of Cursed Places by Olivier de Career
‘This alluring read includes 40 locations that are rife with disaster, chaos, paranormal activity, and death. The locations gathered here include the dangerous Strait of Messina, home of the mythical sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis; the coal town of Jharia, where the ground burns constantly with fire; Kasanka National Park in Zambia, where 8 million migrating bats darken the skies; the Nevada Triangle in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where hundreds of aircraft have disappeared; and Aokigahara Forest near Mount Fuji in Japan, the world’s second most popular suicide location following the Golden Gate Bridge.’

7. The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson 9780374298470
‘The spirit of our times can appear to be one of joyless urgency. As a culture we have become less interested in the exploration of the glorious mind, and more interested in creating and mastering technologies that will yield material well-being. But while cultural pessimism is always fashionable, there is still much to give us hope. In “The Givenness of Things,” the incomparable Marilynne Robinson delivers an impassioned critique of our contemporary society while arguing that reverence must be given to who we are and what we are: creatures of singular interest and value, despite our errors and depredations. Robinson has plumbed the depths of the human spirit in her novels, including the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning “Lila “and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Gilead,” and in her new essay collection she trains her incisive mind on our modern predicament and the mysteries of faith. These seventeen essays examine the ideas that have inspired and provoked one of our finest writers throughout her life. Whether she is investigating how the work of the great thinkers of the past, Calvin, Locke, Bonhoeffer–and Shakespeare–can infuse our lives, or calling attention to the rise of the self-declared elite in American religious and political life, Robinson’s peerless prose and boundless humanity are on display. Exquisite and bold, “The Givenness of Things” is a necessary call for us to find wisdom and guidance in our cultural heritage, and to offer grace to one another.’

8. The Marvels by Brian Selznick
‘In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories-the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose-create a beguiling narrative puzzle. The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage. Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past. A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect, “The Marvels” is a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation.’

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Winter Reads

As some of you might already know, winter is my absolutely favourite season of the year. With Christmas being less than 10 days away and the weather here in Greece finally starting to feel like winter, what better opportunity to cosy up with a blanket, a hot beverage of your liking and a great wintry book.

Therefore, here I come with a list of books that I plan to read during December (and perhaps January). Some of them I’ve already read in the two weeks of December that have gone past and some of them I haven’t got the chance to savour just yet.

1. ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey snow-child

‘Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone—but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.’

2. ‘Wintersmith’ by Terry Pratchett

Tiffany Aching put one foot wrong, made just one little mistake …

And now the spirit of winter is in love with her. He gives her roses and icebergs and showers her with snowflakes, which is tough when you’re thirteen, but also just a little bit … cool.

If Tiffany doesn’t work out how to deal with him, there will never be another springtime …

Crackling with energy and humour, Wintersmith is the third title in a sequence about Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men – the Nac Mac Feegles who are determined to help Tiffany, whether she wants it or not.‘

3. ‘A Winter Book’ by Tove Jansson

Following the widely acclaimed and bestselling The Summer Book, here is a Winter Book collection of some of Tove Jansson’s best loved and most famous stories. Drawn from youth and older age, and spanning most of the twentieth century, this newly translated selection provides a thrilling showcase of the great Finnish writer’s prose, scattered with insights and home truths. It has been selected and is introduced by Ali Smith, and there are afterwords by Philip Pullman, Esther Freud and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

The Winter Book features thirteen stories from Tove Jansson’s first book for adults, The Sculptor’s Daughter (1968) along with seven of her most cherished later stories (from 1971 to 1996), translated into English and published here for the first time.‘

6901464. ‘The Snow Sister’ by Emma Carroll

Ever since her sister, Agnes, died, Pearl has a tradition every time it snows. She makes a person out of snow. A snow sister. It makes Christmas feel a little less lonely.

On Christmas Eve, her father receives a letter about a long-lost relative’s will. Is their luck about to change? In anticipation of a better Christmas, Pearl goes to beg credit at Mr Noble’s grocery to get ingredients for a Christmas pudding. But she is refused, and chased down the street where she is hit by a hansom cab. The snow is falling so hard that they can’t take her home. She’ll have to stay at Flintfield Manor overnight, in a haunted room… Will Pearl make it home for Christmas?

This gorgeously evocative Victorian Christmas story is the perfect stocking filler for girls ages 9-12.‘

5. ‘Hogafather’ by Terry Pratchett

It’s the night before Hogswatch. And it’s too quiet.

Where is the big jolly fat man? There are those who believe and those who don’t, but either way it’s not right to find Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho. Superstition makes things work in Discworld, and undermining it can have Consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. Susan the gothic governess has got to sort everything out by morning, otherwise there won’t be a morning. Ever again…‘

6. ‘The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding’ by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s seasonal Poirot and Marple short story collection, reissued with a striking new cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a.k.a The Theft of the Royal Ruby)
The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
The Under Dog
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
The Dream
Greenshaw’s Folly‘

7. ‘Winter Siege’ by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman

‘A powerful historical novel by the late Ariana Franklin and her daughter Samantha Norman, The Siege Winter is a tour de force mystery and murder, adventure and intrigue, a battle for a crown, told by two courageous young women whose fates are intertwined in twelfth century England’s devastating civil war.

1141. England is engulfed in war as King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda, vie for the crown. In this dangerous world, not even Emma, an eleven-year-old peasant, is safe. A depraved monk obsessed with redheads kidnaps the ginger-haired girl from her village and leaves her for dead. When an archer for hire named Gwyl finds her, she has no memory of her previous life. Unable to abandon her, Gwyl takes the girl with him, dressing her as a boy, giving her a new name—Penda—and teaching her to use a bow. But Gwyn knows that the man who hurt Penda roams free, and that a scrap of evidence she possesses could be very valuable.

Gwyl and Penda make their way to Kenilworth, a small but strategically important fortress that belongs to fifteen-year-old Maud. Newly wedded to a boorish and much older husband after her father’s death, the fierce and determined young chatelaine tempts fate and Stephen’s murderous wrath when she gives shelter to the empress.

Aided by a garrison of mercenaries, including Gwyl and his odd red-headed apprentice, Maud will stave off Stephen’s siege for a long, brutal winter that will bring a host of visitors to Kenilworth—kings, soldiers . . . and a sinister monk with deadly business to finish.’

8. ‘Letters From Father Christmas’ by J.R.R. Tolkien 51nwzhwkqjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Every December J.R.R. Tolkien’s children would receive letters from Father Christmas. From the first note to his eldest son in 1920 to the final poignant correspondence to his daughter in 1943, this book collects all the remarkable letters and pictures in one enchanting edition.

This revised edition of Tolkien’s famous illustrated letters from Father Christmas to his children includes a number of pictures and letters that have not been seen in print before.‘

9. ‘Winter’s Tales’ by Isak Dinesen

In Isak Dinesen’s universe, the magical enchantment of the fairy tale and the moral resonance of myth coexist with an unflinching grasp of the most obscure human strengths and weaknesses. A despairing author abandons his wife, but in the course of a long night’s wandering, he learns love’s true value and returns to her, only to find her a different woman than the one he left. A landowner, seeking to prove a principle, inadvertently exposes the ferocity of mother love. A wealthy young traveler melts the hauteur of a lovely woman by masquerading as her aged and loyal servant.

Shimmering and haunting, Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales transport us, through their author’s deft guidance of our desire to imagine, to the mysterious place where all stories are born.‘

Have you read any of these books? What does your winter reading list consist of?

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Help!: What to Read Next

I set up an OpenLibrary account some time ago to aid my reading and, as I was perusing this wonderful resource, I, of course, created several lists of books I wanted to read immediately, but have – perhaps unsurprisingly – not done so to date.  As the lists are relatively vast, I thought that I would note down a few titles to ask for your advice of which are the best texts to read first over the Christmas break.

1. The Castle by Franz Kafka
2. Tree and Leaf 
by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Plague
 by Albert Camus
4. Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood
5. Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson
6. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
7. The Beach by Alex Garland
8. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
9. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
10. Burning Bright by John Steinbeck
11. The Innocent and the Guilty by Sylvia Townsend Warner
12. Sarah Bernhardt
 by Francoise Sagan
13. Book of Blues by Jack Kerouac
14. Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols
15. Mrs Miniver by Jan Struther
16. Beatrix Potter by Elizabeth Buchan
17. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
18. Nothing by Henry Green
19. Ignorance by Milan Kundera
20. My Happy Life by Lydia Millet
21. The Far-Away Bride by Stella Benson
22. A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively
23. The Balloon Man by Charlotte Armstrong
24. Celebrating Katherine Mansfield by Gerri Kimber & Janet Wilson
25. Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson

Thanks so much for your help in narrowing down my list!