I love Christmas. I love books. Naturally, when you combine the two you end up with the following conclusion: I love Christmas books. I have been picking up books devoted to Christmas since I was in college. It all started with a facsimile of the original Christmas Carol. I bought one for myself and one for my Grandpa in 1979. A few years later, I found another facsimile, this time the book was Washington Irving’s Old Christmas, first published in 1819-1820 and then republished in 1875 by Macmillan and Co. with illustrations by Randolph Caldecott. This book, a facsimile of that 1875 reprint, is especially charming and deserves to be more widely read. The reproduction book jacket (which I have kept in pristine condition) says this about Irving’s delightful collection of Christmas stories: “In these five timeless tales, Irving writes of mistletoe and evergreen wreaths, Christmas candles and the blazing yule log, singing and dancing, carolers at the door and the preacher at the church, wine and wassail, and, of course, the festive Christmas dinner.”
Reading Irving’s observances of “old Christmas,” the ancient traditions of a true English Christmas, (coming as he did from the “new world”) makes me realize how every century celebrates and repackages perceived ancient traditions which stretch back in time and memory. While we now consider the Christmas traditions we celebrate to be venerable observances, (our Christmas icons if you will) the tree, Rudolph, Frosty and especially Santa in all his red and white glory weren’t even a twinkle in the eye of the “good old Christmas” celebrated in Irving’s day.
Here is a picture of my own copy of this delightful book… As the twelve days of Christmas pass, I hope to share more of my favorite Christmas books as well as my collection of old Christmas cards…
On this blog, I try to write and report about literature, books and biographies about famous classic authors. Having said that, this post is classified as shameless self promotion because I am linking to a story I wrote. It is entitled “Betrothed” and I just won a contest!
About three or four years ago I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The book had a very inviting cover and I remember the sensation of losing myself in Barcelona while sitting on my front porch in early summer. I read it for three days practically non-stop. It had all the qualities of a great story: mystery, old secrets, lost love. I sighed heavily as I closed the book and was filled with regret I had read it so voraciously. On the other hand, it was unavoidable. Since finishing the book all those summers ago, I have been religiously checking Amazon to see if Mr. Zafon (who has the BEST name) has written another book.
Today, I was taking a brief break from whatever I was doing and I aimlessly brought up Amazon and typed Mr. Zafon’s name in the search box and wonder of wonders – he has written another book! I can hardly wait for June to get here, because that is when the book will be released.
Later, I found Mr. Zafon’s website and clicked around until I found the page where he lists his favorite things. I loved this list in particular:
I recently finished reading Justine Picardie’s novel Daphne. I hesitated before ordering it with the gigantic Barnes and Noble gift certificate I get for Christmas from my work buddies each year ($500!!!!) because I hate it when I order a book that disappoints. That’s why I usually save my certificate for purchasing sure things like hard backs of books I have already read and want to add to my permanent library. How stupid is that?
Anyway – I took the plunge, entered my gift cert number and hit the button … I then foolishly began perusing Amazon reviews and started to doubt myself. So, when the book actually arrived, I didn’t dive in, I glanced at it out of the corner of my eye as it sat next to my bed for two weeks. Then, I moved it around with me wherever I went, leaving it on my mother’s writing desk where I read in the mornings for two days and the coffee table which is piled with books for another week.
I decided to read two warm up books, The Seance (good) and The Ghost Writer (creepy good) both by John Harwood. During all if this, I was still working away on biographies of Emily Dickinson, Emma Hamilton and Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire. I am almost finished with Emily, 3/4’s finished with Emma and 1/4 with Georgiana.
So, I finally started Daphne on a dark and rainy evening. I LOVED IT. I read it while stirring sauce, running bath water, letting the dog out. It was completely gift certificate worthy. It is basically a a fictionalized account based during the time Daphne DuMaurier was writing her biography about Branwell Bronte in the late 1950’s. The story shifts back and forth from Daphne, her correspondence with a disgraced former Bronte curator, Alex Symington and a fictional character who is contemporary.Therefore it qualifies as my favorite kind of book: a back-n-forth book. For informational purposes and clarity, both DuMaurier and Symington were actual people. The plot concerning the fictional modern character cleverly mimics Daphne’s greatest novel, Rebecca. This young woman is researching Daphne for a Phd thesis and comes across the correspondence between Daphne and Mr. Symington. She is slightly obsessed with Daphne, but you don’t feel as if she is round the bend. It really is atmospheric and well written and if you like a good literary mystery, while the mystery part is fairly low key, this is a good read. I read it during a rainy week, so that was even better.
Some caveats: I may have loved this so much because I knew a lot about Daphne. But don’t let that stop you. You can do some fun research. I understood the back story which is kind of alluded to in the novel but not really clarified to for purposes of brevity, I am sure. I have read almost all Daphne Du Maurier’s novels ( not the Branwell Bio – which I plan to add to my stack) and I have read the definitive Biography about her by Margaret Forster. This biography, if you like biographies, is excellent. Also, another very helpful thing to know is the gist of the story surrounding J.M.Barrie (Peter Pan)and the children who were his models for The Lost Boys. Actually, it is one of the saddest tales of family tragedy. As it happens, Peter Pan was Daphne DuMaurier’s first cousin. Being someone who has close cousinly relationships, I was very sympathetic to Daphne’s relationship with Peter. I was propelled into research about J.M. Barrie after watching Finding Never-land. This excellent website will give you heaps of background information and if you don’t feel incredibly sad after looking at all of the pictures, you aren’t well and I would suggest you stop taking your anti-depressants.