I wouldn’t say I’m a stone cold statue or anything but it takes a lot to make me crack up – in any fashion. In the same way that I have never cried at a book (much to the chagrin of a few select members of my book group), it takes something truly hilarious to make me snort with laughter. As I’ve mentioned here a couple of times, the latest author to achieve that has been Caitlin Moran. However, since I’ve gone about her so much recently I’m going to something a little different this time…
17. Funny read
Bill Bryson really does take me back to my teenage reading. Although I never seemed to branch beyond his ‘Notes’ series, both the Notes from a Big Country and Notes from a Small Island were intensely heart-warming and hilarious. Unexpectedly I actually found his astute U.S musings even funnier than his adventures around the U.K, resulting in much snorting and chortling on a plane home from my hols one year. How embarrassing!
Bill Bryson is so cuddly…
The easiest presents for me to buy for my loved ones at Christmas are, of course, books books books! So much so that I worry that I’ve become really rather predictable with my gift-giving over the past few years but… I still simply can’t resist! Along with the niece, who already at the age of 4 is the proud owner of countless Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter and Roger Hargreaves collections…..my own future children will have a library to rival Belle!
The man I love always has books from me in his stocking at Christmas but I won’t put them here just in case he sees and it spoils the surprise. Instead, here is something I was thinking of but didn’t get…
16. For someone I love
Walter Mitty’s secret life came on my better half’s radar when a number of completely unconnected people (work colleagues, some random woman in the bank, etc) described him as a right ‘Walter Mitty’. Sounds fab, he thought. But what does that actually mean? The answer is fairly awesome and perfectly encompasses his adventurous, daydreamy approach to life. Climbing mountains and making plans.
In the fight NOT to buy a copy with Ben Stiller on the front, this little book isn’t in the stocking this year. Sorry my sweet.
Today’s topic for our #SeasonsReadings I felt was really rather naff (sorry Penguin!) I am therefore adapting the much more thoughtful topic #1, which I missed and would like to discuss…
15. Iconic first line
‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’
Specific translations aside, this is, more or less, the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy’s mammoth classic novel Anna Karenina. Despite the fact that I haven’t yet read it, the power of this famous line excites me all the same and acts as the hook in the relationship between book-loving concierge Renée Michel and resident Kakuro Ozu in Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog; a heart-warming novel that is the ultimate celebration of bookish introverts everywhere (the wonderful French film is also worth a watch).
It won’t surprise any of you to hear that English Literature was one of my favourite subjects at school (not, despite what any of you might say, because I got to sit next to a certain fancy of mine!) Distractions aside, we really did read a few decent classics and, although I objected to the constant analysis and laboured picking apart, it is these formative years within which my book obsession started to form. So, which of these ‘key texts’ has stayed with me since?
14. Read at school
I find it baffling that this classic only gets a distinctly average 3.6 on Goodreads as this is, surely, the classic, terrifying coming-of-age tale. Although I haven’t read it since I was sixteen, I remember feeling completely gripped and disturbed by the marooned boys’ slow descent into complete anarchy. The rule of Jack reveals the savagery that lurks within us all, making the vicious scenes within the book all the uglier.
I love a big Christmas stocking, even if they are more of a fancy homeware item to hang up on the mantelpiece these days. My perfect stocking filler? It’s slim, it’s beautiful and it’s Christmassy:
13. Stocking filler
Written by the king of the feel-good novella, this allegorical reflection on the meaning of love and life is definitely one to buy a loved one this Christmas. A beautiful fable to lull your children to sleep to, we follow Snowflake on her hazardous journey from the icy clouds above, frozen hillside villages, through towns and rivers, through love and loss until her cycle of life is complete. Enchanting (and the perfect size for your stocking!)
Poetry is just one of those genres I never ever touch. No huge dislike particularly, just an overriding preference for a good story and an instinct that poetry should be performed rather than read and internalised. The other half, however, has been on a bit of a poetry binge of late and spreading the love. Starting with Ted Hughes’ Crow and ending with this beautiful little volume he bought for my birthday this year. (And, yes, the Faber and Faber copies are just too lovely to be true, I need to collect them all!)
12. Book of poems
‘September has come, it is hers
Whose vitality leaps in the autumn,
Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace.
So I give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more so happy.
Who has left a scent on my life, and left my walls
Dancing over and over with her shadow
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls
And all of London littered with remembered kisses.’
At the risk of being totally predictable, I’ve spent ages trying to think of another Christmas book I adore more than this one. I can’t.
11. Christmas classic
I love love love this book and if any of you haven’t read it, for the love of Kermit pick it up this Christmas. A lot of people are under the misapprehension that Charles Dickens is hard work. This simply isn’t true. Yes, some of the page counts are daunting and no, you can’t skim read pages of dialogue and it all sink in (this is the nineteenth century after all) but I simply can’t express how well-drawn his characters are and how inspired and moving his plot-lines. There’s a reason these stories, A Christmas Carol included, permeate the fabric our society. Dickens is genius and may we all bow down and admire. I read one of his novels every winter and it really is something to savour. Sigh.