Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Seasonal Reading Selections

Well it's Christmas Eve! We all have our traditions we uphold on this day - from trimming the turkey to a last-minute shopping dash to midnight mass. One of my time-honoured ones, is indulging in some seasonal reading for a magical effect. 

There are certain things I always read on Christmas Eve. Poems of course. Carol Ann Duffy's jolly take on the traditional 'Twas The Night Before Christmas' (in a mini book version I have, gorgeously illustrated by Rob Ryan) is full of Christmas Eve magic. You can read the entire poem here: Another Night Before Christmas
Other must-read poems include first and foremost the magical 'Various Portents', by Alice Oswald, TS Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi', John Betjeman's 'Christmas' and UA Fanthorpe's BC: AD.  (You can read all these poems by clicking on their titles).

Jeanette Winterson posts an annual Christmas-themed short story on her website every Christmas Eve, an event which has become long-anticipated and very special to her fans. Her story from a few years ago, 'The Lion, The Unicorn and Me' (now available as a children's book) is particularly endearing and one of my favourite things to read on Christmas Eve. Check out her website here:

Another short story I like to read on Christmas Eve is James Joyce's 'The Dead' with that famous goosebump passage on snow: 
''It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

And lastly of course, there's this timeless classic, the 1897 New York Sun editorial in response to a young girl's query as to whether there is a Santa Claus or not -  Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus, which has become infamous, and rightly so, for its heartwarming endearing content.

Merry Christmas everyone! 

~ Siobhán

Monday, 22 December 2014

Why Books Make The Best Gifts

Books are the greatest gifts.  I firmly believe this. All my Christmases are marked in memory primarily by what books I was curled in a chair reading: from Roald Dahl's 'The Witches' to 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 'Lord of the Rings', and 'The Hunger Games.' There's an epic quality to Christmas reading - what with all those endless free days to pursue uninterrupted journeys into the fictional world (or worlds) of your choosing. Christmas reading time is the best reading time, the most involving, the most enjoyable.

I always buy books as gifts. I think the absolute best gift you can give anyone is a book. Especially children. There is no better gift for little ones to indulge their imagination and grow their mind at the same time. 

Anyway, here is the main gist of this post -

Why  Books Are The Best Gifts To Give This Christmas:

1. Books are easy to wrap. 
Yes, you won't be cursing odd angles and tricky sticky-tape positions with a book. It's as right-angled and linear as you can get and foolproof even to butter-fingered wrappers like myself. 

2. Books are entirely suitable for all age groups. 
From children to grandparents, there's a book for all and all in the one store. How easy is that?!

3. And there is a book for everyone
Biographies, poetry, travel books - there is a book for everyone out there. Even people who don't read - why not get them a book that will hook and make a book lover out of them! Now that's a real gift.

4. A book is a thoughtful present. 
Which is to say that it requires thought being put into what the giftee in question likes; what their interests are; what they enjoy and really, a knowledge of who they are. A book is not an easy pick-up one-size-fits-all present, but rather a personalised one. A well-chosen book shows that the giver knows the person well and appreciates their tastes.

5. Books are the ideal entertainment for betwixt 'n' between the days of Christmas and New Year's.
When the novelty of the gadgets have worn off and the TV is a big bland bore, books will be like manna from heaven to jaded indulgers. There's no better time of year to immerse yourself in a book than the holiday season - curl up by the fire and make the best use of free time. Or escape from a hectic hinterland by delving into new worlds at the simple brush of a page. Christmas is also a time when we're indoors a lot, books allow us to take our imaginations on armchair expeditions. 

6. Book shopping is NOT in the least stressful. 
Bookstores are calm establishments, even in the midst of Christmas hustle and bustle, like veritable oases in the deserts of materialism mayhem. Walking into a bookstore is a zen experience at any time of the year, but at Christmas its hushed tones are a welcome antidote. See, they are always quiet - no music blaring, no gaggle of gift-searchers in a panic or huffing and puffing toe-tapping queues (book buyers are always a civilised group). People are reading, so there is guaranteed quiet, a golden calm aroma that soaks into the mind like an elixir.  There are even seats (and sofas!) for you to sit and relax with a book, a try-before-you-buy experience. I often just wander into a bookstore to snatch a moment of calm, to inhale a few words of inspiration, relaxation. And books are easy to get, they rarely sell out, unlike say, digital items. You can even buy them from the comfort of your armchair, online, and sweat-free. There are also hassle-free handy book-tokens.

7. A Book is an automatic ticket to me-time, quiet-time, take-it-easy time. 
Giving a book as a gift to someone is as good as a spa ticket. It will guarantee that in the midst of mad festivities, there will be a timely time-out to avail of in there somewhere. 

8.  Books are inexpensive.
Got a tight budget? That's okay. Books are not expensive. There are books to suit everyone's budget.  Bargain books cost very little. And yet every book yields endless priceless wealth.

9. A book is a gift that is actually good for you. 
A book is a gift that flatters your imagination, your intelligence, not your fickle vanity desires or your sweet tooth cravings. A book is candy to the mind, balm to the heart, and carries no unwanted calories or risk of disappointment. 

10. Books are for life not just for Christmas! 
A book may be read within the holiday season but its effect will be ever-lasting, you can be sure of that. A good book will never be forgotten and will ink itself on your soul, enabling you to read life so much better. What could be a better gift than that? 

As Neil Gaiman puts it: “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” 

Ah, yes.

Happy book-buying and reading!

~ Siobhán