I was fifty this year and, in planning for my extravaganza of a party, I compiled lots of lists, many of them of fifty things. One was a random list of fifty favourite books. Now that’s a selection that is fluid in the extreme, changing from hour to hour. However this one exists so I’ve decided to use it as the basis for my December posts. I’ve split the list into two (older and newer), paired up the titles randomly and written something about them. It’s my version of an Advent calendar so come back here each day in December up until, and including, Christmas Day.
But, before that gets underway, let me recommend to you the book I read as an Advent calendar every year. The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder is the story of a journey in time and space. It begins and ends in modern Oslo but it travels back two thousand years to Bethlehem. It’s written in twenty four chapters and it will make you ponder many things.
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.
It’s Christmas Day and I am in Tromso in the north of Norway. Not coincidentally, I have just finished reading The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. I’m reading Gaarder’s books on the recommendation of my friend, Kenny, who thinks they’re great. He’s been encouraging me to read them for ages and I finally caved in this year.
The first title I read (just a couple of days ago) was The Orange Girl. Whilst I understand the philosophical point being made, I’m not sure that I enjoyed the book for itself. The Christmas Mystery was another story altogether, though. It can be read in many many ways but, as a Christian, I read it as a discussion about the true meaning of Christmas. And I enjoyed it as a story, too. I couldn’t put it down; I wanted to know what would be revealed behind each door of the Advent calendar.
I’m not sure that I think these are children’s books, although I bought them in a children’s department. I’m also not sure (sorry, Kenny) that I’d buy any more of Gaarder’s books. I enjoyed one but not the other and I’m not sure what I think of the style and quality of the writing. But that’s a problem as, of course, I read them in translation. My Norwegian has some way to go before I’ll be able to read them in the original. Maybe until then I’ll borrow the English translations from a friend…