Christmas Reading


An Adventurous Christmas Voyage with Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol: Bodo: 23. December 2008: 2pm

For many years I had books that I almost always re-read at Christmas.  They formed a mixed bag but, inevitably, they all had a strong sense of community.  The only children’s book regularly in my Christmas collection was Nancy Calls the Tune by Dorita Fairlie Bruce, one of my all-time favourites.  I’ve written about it elsewhere so suffice it to say that, despite its wartime setting, it is a warm and welcoming story, inviting the reader to become a part of life in Easterbraes.  It ends just before Christmas but it’s easy to imagine what a wonderful time the characters will have then.  My other regular Christmas reads do have descriptions of Christmas, very different Christmases.  One is Taken by the Hand by O Douglas and the other is Charlotte Fairlie by DE Stevenson.  They both have solitary heroines surrounded by crowds.  Beatrice Dobie in Taken by the Hand finds herself part of  a small community for Christmas, though, while Charlotte Fairlie remains alone until afterwards.  I’m not sure why I always read these books but something about them fitted my mood.

This is all in the past tense, however.  Last year I was in Norway for Christmas (where it was mostly warmer than it is here in lowland Scotland just now.  In Tromso, well inside the Arctic Circle, it was 10C on Christmas Day; in Stirling on Christmas Eve it’s around -5C) and I didn’t want to take books with me that I’d have to bring home again.  So I read a completely random selection, including The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder which was excellent (see last year’s blog).

Having broken myself of reading the same books last year, I haven’t gone back to them.  Instead I’ve spent this week reading books on my to-be-read pile: books that I’ve taken home from work, books that I’ve been given as presents and a couple of old children’s books that I bought myself (Maddy Alone and Maddy Again by Pamela Brown).  Still awaiting me is Murder at the Flood by Mabel Esther Allan.  This is a reprint by Greyladies of her only published adult novel.  Also on the pile is British Children’s Fiction in the Second World War by Owen Dudley Edwards.  I bought it at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and haven’t started it yet!

However the book that will keep me from re-reading my usual Christmas books is much more exciting than any other.  I bought it in November and started it immediately.  However, I got halfway through and then stopped.  This is  not because I wasn’t enjoying it but, rather, because I couldn’t bear to finish it.  Enough suspense?  Okay.  The book is a previously unpublished title by LM Montgomery called The Blythes are Quoted

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know how much I like her books and so you can guess how excited I was when I read that Penguin Canada was publishing this title.  It is a collection of short stories, poems and conversations between various members of the Blythe household.  Most of the stories and one of the poems were published in a collection called The Road to Yesterday (which, of course, I have) in the 1970s but the stories were edited, most of the poems and all of the conversations were missed out.  For me, reading The Blythes are Quoted is like meeting friends I thought I’d never see again and I am determined to make the meeting last as long as possible.

A Book Launch in the Borders

A while ago I said that there had been one other book event in August about which I’d write later.  So, finally, here I am! 

On a pleasant Saturday evening at the end of the month, I drove down to Peebles for the launch of a new edition of Pink Sugar by O Douglas.  If you don’t know, I should tell you that O Douglas was the pseudonym of Anna Buchan, sister of John.  The story goes that she didn’t want people to associate her books with him and so she didn’t use her own name.  She did, however, draw very largely on her family and background in her books.

Mum collected the O Douglas books and eventually I did too.  We both loved them for the same reason: the strong sense of family and/or community that they all contain.  They are not just cosy family stories, though.  Anna Buchan was no-one’s fool and knew exactly what the world was like even is she didn’t choose to dwell on the depressing or the depraved.

Many of her books are set in Peebles-shire with which the Buchans had strong family ties.  Anna lived in the town for many years.  Pink Sugar is one of those titles and so it was an ideal place for the launch.  This new edition is published by Greyladies who are venturing beyond their original plan.  This is not a book for children or by a children’s author.  However, as Shirley Neilson said, it’s her business and she can expand the idea if she wants!  I’m glad she has done if it means that more books by O Douglas will be available.

The launch was attended by members of the Buchan family and representatives from the John Buchan Centre in Broughton and the John Buchan Society – as well as committed O Douglas readers like me.  It was a very enjoyable evening – there aren’t many opportunities to discuss the works of O Douglas with well-informed, enthusiastic fellow book lovers.

Of the book itself, I have to say that it’s not my favourite, although I do like it.  It tells the story of one Kirsty Gilmour who settles nears Peebles with her elderly aunt and three unrelated children.  It is not plot-driven but shows a clear insight into character.  Despite the title, it is not sweet and cloying and just about manages to avoid sentimentality over the children.

If you don’t have it, you should certainly buy it.  But also look out for second-hand copies of other titles.  I’d suggest The House that is Our Own, The Setons and Taken By the Hand.  Or maybe Greyladies will publish them too…

New Old Books

I’ve just finished (in the last hour) reading Lady of Letters by Josephine Elder.  It was excellent.  Strictly speaking, it has no place in this blog as it’s an adult novel.  However, Josephine Elder is probably best known for her children’s books, published mostly in the twenties and thirties and still being read and collected today.  One of them, Evelyn Finds Herself, was recently republished by Girls Gone By.

Lady of Letters, first published in 1949, has been re-issued by Greyladies, an imprint of The Old Children’s Bookshelf in Edinburgh.  Firms re-issuing books seem to be springing up all over the place these days and this one is the latest to come to my attention.  Greyladies are bringing back into print adult novels written by authors best known for their children’s books.  Their other current title is by Noel Streatfeild.

As an enthusiastic collector and reader of books from a bygone era, I’ve revelled in this wave of publishing – even if my bank balance has suffered!  I’m doing my small bit to encourage it by including in Stirling Council Libraries’ forthcoming book festival an event entitled Once Upon a Time which will feature representatives from three publishers: Fidra, Girls Gone By and Jane Nissen Books.  Have a look at the website for all the details.

But back to Lady of Letters.  I admit I was sceptical about it.  I had a dreadful feeling that it would just be an adult version of a school story.  But it really isn’t.  I was completely drawn into the story of Hilary Moore and found myself empathising with some of it on a completely grown-up level!  And I was astonished by some of the emotions and situations it dwelt on, not because of what they were but because of the book’s original date of publication.  How surprising it is in context I’m not really sure, though, as I haven’t read all that much adult fiction of the period.  And I don’t think the context matters if you’re just looking for a good read.  Go and find yourself a copy.