Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Seasons Readings

 

Because there are certain books that can only be read at this time of year. I’ve tried to read The Box is Delights in summer, The Dark is Rising in spring. It doesn’t work, they don't fit and trying to read about snow so deep you could lose livestock in it, or dark forces abroad under a wintry moon, whilst it's 30 degrees out and your toes are sweating, just means you lose something of the magic of them. 

You need the cold nipping at your toes, frost etching the skeletal bones of trees and the promise of a hearty stew on the hob for them to work.

Delights and Rising are, obviously and very definitely, Christmas Books. Or rather, they are midwinter solstice books, conjuring pagan worlds beyond our reach but tantalisingly glimpsed. A world of fires and snow, old gods and wolves, and should only ever be read in the run up to the solstice. 

My favourite, and never bettered, author, Terry Pratchett wrote Hogfather and Wintersmith in his Discworld series that are very definitely Christmas and winter themed. The former is hilarious and yet serious in its exploration of why humans need myths, why humans persist in irrational thinking, why we just need some bloody...magic. 

" WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN'T SAVED HIM?
'Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?' 
NO
'Oh, come on. You can't expect me to believe that. It's an astronomical fact.'
THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN...A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD. 
'All right,' said Susan. 'I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need...fantasies to make life bearable.' 
...NO. HUMAN NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE." 

There are some books that I save for winter reading, just because they have passages that capture it perfectly, I only ever reread Wind in the Willows during this season. It’s invocation of home and longing taking hold in snow blown trudges is so breathtakingly perfect, it’s forever a winter book for me. Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, while it might linger over hay-strewn, cider-sparked Midsummer dalliances, contains some of the best winter passages you could hope for. The childhood joy of snow and how it transforms your familiar world is so beautifully realised, you’ll want to be 8 years old, stout in many scarves, setting off carolling with a tin can full of smouldering rags.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a splendid read, but I tend to save for deep winter. January, when the cold has an iron grip on the ground outside, and the tree branches are stern lines in a glowering sky. That’s when I can hear the wolves* howling in the hills. 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey will make you shiver, feel the cold deep in your bones as she perfectly captures what it just be like in the long hard winters of the deep north. The worry of ice creeping into the house with long scratchy fingers, of falling through frozen rivers, of just being damn cold All Day Long. Read with a hot chocolate, under a blanket. 

It goes without saying that now is the time to bring out the Gothic. Oh, not Dracula or Frankenstein (October and November only). No, I mean Bleak House, Wuthering Heights. Let long descriptions of fog, howling storms, snow deep enough to swallow roads, flow past you and make your duvet feel all the warmer for it. 

Of course, there is the greatest of them all, the Christmas Carol, but I actually prefer to watch that. Be it Patrick Stewart, Michael Caine or Bill Murray in the Scrooge role, I prefer those to the book. 

Writers of detective stories have always pulled out all the stops for Christmas. Agatha Christie, Nicholas Blake, Mary Kelly and more, bring out all the trimmings: evil domestic tyrants, dysfunctional families, chippy young gels who can be trusted to be ever so clever and neat at finding clues. There will be a feast, missing treasures, strange family traditions that no one understands, long held resentments, dastardly people getting their comeuppance. Snow will scatter, misunderstandings will occur, mild romance may even take place. If you are very lucky, your detective will be faintly comedic, entirely at sea in terms of manners and traditions. But good will always triumph and chippy young gels will go orff to do splendid things. 

Unless it's le Carre's Murder of Quality where there is not a jot of redemption for anyone, not even the heartbreakingly poignant George Smiley. Still, winter book.

I don’t really venture out of my comfort zone for Christmas reading. It’s a time for cracking open pages and welcoming old friends back in. For knowing what’s going to happen but still feeling gripped by it. This is nostalgia at its best - no false remembering of the past, but a revisiting. Turn the page and, oh hey, there you are! So good to see you again, come and tell me everything. 

Come and let me stay with you a while. Watch you eat the plum pudding, sing carols to the squire, defeat the villain and celebrate with a glass of something warming with your restored or newly created family. Let me feel the sneaking chill while safe under my own roof. Let me feel like a child for a moment before my own tumbles through the door, fresh from a long train journey back south. Let me remember what it was like to wake to a full stocking at the end of the bed and a tree that sent magic to every corner of the house. 

The best Christmas reading transports you to the before times. Before life admin, before work, before grief. It reminds you that danger lurks but comforts you with happy endings. 

" OH, THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING IN THE STOCKING THAT MAKES A NOISE, said Death, OTHERWISE WHAT IS 4:30 A.M. FOR?"

What are your season's readings?

*Disclaimer - I LOVE wolves and will continue to do so until I inexplicably become a 19th century homesteader with chickens and sheep to protect

Edit: I forgot the Moomins! How on earth could I forget the Moomins, the greatest wintery creations ever to venture forth with a sensible handbag?? I blame the fact that I currently don’t have any copies on my shelves. Mine are missing, I don’t know where, and have been for a while. I shall be buying myself some replacement copies. This absence will not do. 
 

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