Cosy Christmas Reads
These days pretty much everyone has a valid claim on being “too busy” or “a bit stressed”. It is a very modern ailment, but for many of us, the Christmas holidays are the perfect antidote to a busy year.
Yes, I know Christmas Day itself can be a bit of a ghastly affair, especially if, like me, you’re wrestling a turkey and a hangover simultaneously. But then, once it’s all over and the dishes are done, what bliss! Boxing Day and those gorgeous slow days that follow it, when you can wear your most comfortable jumper or pyjamas and need not leave the house because meals can be foraged from the fridge.
Few things say relaxation like a slice of the Christmas ham wedged between thickly buttered bread served with several cups of tea, some choice biscuits and a couple of comforting reads. Now is the time to put your feet up, ignore absolutely everything that worries you in your day-to-day life and read. Read whatever you fancy, but my advice is to use these short but blissful days to read cosy books and I have some suggestions that may appeal below…
It is impossible to talk about comfort reading without first extolling the virtues of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Discovering these books for the first time or re-reading them with the level of affection usually reserved for very old friends is your basic Christmas Holiday Reading 101. Penguin have recently reissued the Mitford novels in fine style so I would recommend treating yourself to one or two of those.
If you fancy something a little more “cosy crime” then you could do far worse than pick up something from the excellent British Library Crime Classics range. I liked Mystery in White but there’s more than enough to sate even the most voracious “whodunit” reader there. Personally, I favour some Sherlock Holmes at this time of year, a habit picked up in childhood. It just isn’t Christmas until I’ve been chilled anew by “The Speckled Band” from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes while eating my sixth sausage roll of the day.
It’s also a good time of year to sink into a biography or memoir; something funny and evocative of a different time like Monica Dickens’ One Pair of Hands which tells of the time she spent working in service. Or if you like something good and sprawling, what about Stella Tillyard’s Aristocrats, an excellent collective biography of the four Lennox sisters that covers a great deal of 18th century British style and is an absolutely delightful read.
Of course, if the heavens have opened and the view from your easy chair by the window is more Singin’ in the Rain than White Christmas then you may fancy something to make you think of golden summer afternoons. If this is the case then you absolutely cannot go wrong with Elizabeth Von Arnim’s The Enchanted April, which is all glorious sea views and wisteria and joy. Or, if you’d prefer your sunshine with a liberal dose of that particular variety of camp, British humour, then E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia is just what you need.
But really, what I am looking for during those lovely, relaxed Turkey Sandwich Days is a novel that feels like a nursery tea by the fire. My favourites generally share a common theme of sorts - what you might call Aristocratic Problems in something like the delicious Past Imperfect by Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, or Aristocratic Japes in the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories (spring for the glorious Everyman hardbacks – they really do furnish a room). I also like a good old-fashioned novel about Distressed Gentlewomen, the appetite for which is usually satisfied by Barbara Pym (if you’re not familiar then start with Excellent Women and thank me later) or the absolute gem of a book that is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, published by the excellent Persephone Books.
So, those are my recommendations for a few days’ worth of reading pleasure to go with your Quality Street and glass of port. What will I be reading? Well, I’ve plumped for The Mistresses of Cliveden by Natalie Livingstone, published by Hutchinson earlier this year.
It promises to be full to the brim with scandal – just the ticket.
Let me know what you’ll be reading in the comments below…