Dec 6, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Midwinter Reads

The Sunday Salon.com Midwinter

I've been trying to decide which book to read for Christmas this year since mid-November, but I haven't been able to come up with anything that feels right. I only started this whole Christmas Book tradition a few years ago, but it's only that has become important to me. I've done A Christmas Carol, of course, and The Nutcracker, and A Christmas Memory, and anthologies of Christmas short stories. I've done ghost stories too, and winter-y fairy tales like "The Snow Queen".

Last year I read the most perfect book of them all: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, which I thought perfectly captured the mood of the season: it's dark and haunting and snow-filled and silent; it's slightly menacing and melancholy; but it's warm and cosy all the same. I absolutely loved all the mythical undertones, and I found that it put into words - or better yet, into images - things I'd always associated with this time of year but had never really been able to articulate to myself. It was a perfect read, and part of me just wants to pick it up again and call it a day.

...but of course, another part of me is going, "but there must be other perfect books out there! Find them! Read them now!". Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made On posted an excellent list of Christmas books today, yet none feel quite right. I've very tempted by The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford , which was recommended to me by Kailana. When in doubt, after all, turn to the Victorians. I always did want to read a book on the origins of Christmas traditions, only I'm not sure if history is quite what I'm in the mood for this year. I'm also considering A Winter Book by Tove Jansson. Has anyone read that? Does it have the kind of mood I'm looking for?

So, dear Interwebz, time to pick your brains. Do you know of any books set around Christmas (or Midwinter, or Yule, or any other celebration) that is both unsettling and comforting, mythical and human? A book, that is, other than The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I'm sure there must be other fantasies that revolve around midwinter celebrations and old myths. I just need to find them. If you don't know of any, feel free to just tell me to shut up and read The Dark is Rising again. And meanwhile, tell me what your favourite holidays read is anyway.

39 comments:

  1. Good luck Ana on finding your perfect book. I always plan to do thematic readings during the holidays, but lack at the follow through! I missed Halloween completely!

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  2. I'm sorry I won't be much help. I've never been very organized. The fact that I am reading all of my Shelf Discovery books in December is a big step for me! You do make the Susan Cooper book quite tempting!

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  3. I went for Hogfather for my Christmas read this year but I am pretty sure that does not fit the bill for what you want. I can't think of any right now but if I come up with something I'll let you know

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  4. I am afraid that I have no suggestions for you, although I thank you for offering two recommendations to me (The Man who Invented Christmas and The Dark is Rising.

    I wanted to say that I absolutely LOVE the snowy picture you posted today. It totally captures my image of the perfect December weekend.

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  5. I got nothing. I've been recommending Rumer Godden's The Story of Holly and Ivy all over the blogosphere, but it's not exactly mythical fantasy. It's just sweet. My father used to read it to us every year around Christmas-time, around the fire if nobody was having asthma problems. (So mostly not around the fire.)

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  6. There's always the O.Henry short story The Gift of the Magi — *very* Christmasy.

    Last year I read In the Deep Midwinter, and while it's not actually centered on any holiday, it is dark and haunting, melancholy and cold somehow. But it's also very human, touching and true. I think you might like it. The review's on my blog.

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  7. I am read The Dark is Rising out loud to my children for the first time this year, and even though I've read it zillons of times myself, it's still making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end!

    I've not read A Winter Book, but Moomintroll Midwinter by the same author is a lovely winter story!

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  8. For some reason I associate A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with Christmas. I know I've said that before but can't remember if it was you or someone else I told. It's not ALL about Christmas, but some of the most memorable scenes are, and it just has a cozy Christmas feel to it.

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  9. I've never been one for themed reading, but I so enjoyed doing the RIP challenge that it might be fun to do a Christmas read, too. Good luck finding another book as perfect as The Dark is Rising! I love that, and I wish I had it with me to read it again around now.

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  10. Wish I could help you out here but consider my brain picked clean!!! LOL!!

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  11. Hi,

    I've just discovered your blog and am enjoying browsing among your books! I loved The Dark is Rising as a child and started re-reading it to my son last night. It certainly is the perfect December book but I do have two other recommendations. I have read and enjoyed both at this time of year.

    Missing the Midnight by Jane Gardam is a wonderful collection of short stories, the first half with a Christmas theme. They are poignant but not sentimental!

    The Inn at the Edge of the World by Alice Thomas Ellis is about a group of people who congregate at a remote Scottish island in the hope of escaping Christmas. It may have a more cynical tone than you're looking for but there is real magic there too!

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  12. A good Christmas or solstice read.....Have you read Tolkien's The Father Christmas Letters? He wrote them for his children, and it was collected and printed long after his children had grown up and left home. It's illustrated by him, and includes some reproductions of the actual letters he wrote - and it's very funny and a little scary, because it's not just Father Christmas, but it's also his helpers including the North Polar Bear, Snow-elves, red gnomes, and eventually goblin attack...and the Polar bear is his chief helper and cause of many of the accidents around the household of Father Christmas It really is beautiful and funny and magical. Not a novel, but unusual and very fun for adults and children. I love the illustrations!!

    The Dark is Rising is good for Christmas, though, you are right. Maybe it could - or wants to become - part of your annual seasonal reads?

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  13. I've never thought to read something in particular around the holidays but it sounds like a lovely idea. For some reason I think reading a good ghost story would be nice but maybe that just seems to go with winter. I look forward to reading more about your choice, whatever it ends up being. Sorry I couldn't be more help!

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  14. Can you believe I've never read The Dark Is Rising? I will read it for Solstice this year! I think of "A Child's Christmas In Wales" when I remember beloved Christmas books.

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  15. I read the Winter Book last year and loved it. Unfortunately I read it when the weather was actually nice and warm, but I would certainly recommend reading it over the frosty months. Jansson's writing is lovely!

    http://troubles-melt-like-lemon-drops.blogspot.com/2008/08/snow-tove-jansson.html

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  16. The book isn't centered around a winter celebration, but if you haven't read Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, I think that would fit your criteria! Kind of fantastical, but I guess would be "literary fiction."

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  17. I usually read sweet books this time of year, so I can't help you.

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  18. I've been seeing a lot about THE DARK IS RISING lately, and I must say I'm intrigued. Good luck finding your perfect book.

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  19. Sorry, all my Christmas books are quite sentimental. I do have a couple of Christmas mysteries on the shelves but haven't read them yet. But thanks for recommending "The Dark is Rising."

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  20. THE FALL OF THE KINGS by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman is a fantastically unsettling/comforting, mythical/human book in which a winter celebration plays a key role... but unfortunately, that winter celebration is a fairly small part of the book as a whole. And other than that, I'm afraid I'm coming up blank.

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  21. I wish I had the perfect suggestion for you Ana! One I can think of is Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy. None of the stories are Christmas themed that I can think of, but they are absolutely beautiful stories that fit in just right with this time of year. I feel like I should know more about what you're looking for...I'll come back if I have more suggestions!!

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  22. Ooooh, I also just bought Matchless and it should be coming in on Tuesday! If you pick that one up we can do a buddy read as I plan on diving into it right away ;) I got a picture book of The Little Match Girl while I was at it!

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  23. good luck finding the perfect read nymeth :) I wish I had suggestions for you.
    My favorite holiday time read is Little Women. There's something cozy about it.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  24. I always like to read Harry Potter books during the holidays. No, they're not entirely set during Christmas, but they are dark and mysterious and yet warm and cozy all the same time.

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  25. I completely agree with you about The Dark is Rising. I think I'm due for a reread of that one myself. And now I want to follow Dee's suggestion and pick up The Inn at the Edge of the World. Pretty much anything set on a Scottish island works for me! I'm not sure about other atmospheric winter reads though, apart from seconding Susan's suggestion of The Father Christmas Letters--a beautiful and unusual book.

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  26. Was going to recommend the Helprin book, but Aarti beat me to it! If anything can be said to be an annual holiday read around here it is (unimaginatively)Dickens'Christmas Carol. My mother read it to my brother and I when we were kids, and I read it to the CS. Keep meaning to read Mr. Thomas--perhaps this will be the year for that! Happy reading!

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  27. I will most likely listen to a David Sedaris audiobook for the holidays - either Barrel Fever or Holidays on Ice.

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  28. I'm plannig to read Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifler for Christmas- it tells the story of two German children who get lost on Christmas Eve and is published by NYRB, whose editorial judgement I trust.

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  29. Sorry can't help you out. The closest examples I could think of is The Autobiography of Santa Claus as told to Jeff Guin (I think there is a series but that's the only one I've read) and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum.

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  30. I've been intending to begin reading John Masefield's The Box of Delights as a Christmas read, because I'm told it's very good.

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  31. Ana, I don't have a suggestion for you, but I do have a question. The Dark is Rising sounds really good, but do I have to read any of the other books in the series first, or can I just dive right in with The Dark is Rising?

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  32. The Man Who Invented Christmas was interesting, but it might not be what you want at all...

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  33. Good luck in finding your books!

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  34. In the past, I've always read A Christmas Carol. Last year I read Dickens' other Christmas novellas, of which I'd recommend the Cricket on the Hearth. The Ghost's Bargain is a good ghosty story, but not as happy.

    Someone else mentioned that their Christmas tradition is to pick a big clunker of a classic and read it over the holidays, that way the season is remembered with the book, since it takes a while to read!

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  35. That is such a great tradition! Have you read East by Edith Pattou? It's pretty wintery.

    I think I'm going to adopt your tradition this year. Keep up informed on what you pick.

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  36. I see that someone recommended The Winter Book, but there's also Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. The Good Master and The Singing Tree, by Kate Seredy, both have a lot of Christmasiness to them.

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  37. Argh, I hate that I'm SO behind on replying to comments! I wanted to say thank you for the recommendations anyway, though. Last week was crazy busy, and now it hit me that if I want to order a book to read for Christmas, it might be too late anyway :( But there's always next year. I really do appreciate everyone's suggestions.

    Also! To Terri and anyone else who might be wondering - even though The Dark is Rising is the second book in the sequence, you can safely start there. It introduces a new character, and it's only by book 3 that everything is tied together. It doesn't matter whether you read Over Sea, Under Stone or The Dark is Rising first, as long as you read them both before Greenwitch.

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  38. Oooo ... I'm off to the library to check out The Dark is Rising! Thanks Nymeth :o)

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  39. Oh, yes, I agree with Vasilly, East is a great novel, and thanks for the information on Susan Cooper series.

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