I’ve got a whole collection of Christmas books and anthologies, but most of them are still boxed away. New ones somehow fell into my lap just in time for the holiday. I love reading excerpts and classic chapters over the festive period. It’s like dropping in to see old friends.
I was in the Whitby Bookshop at the start of December and their Christmas display was lit by candles, following a power failure brought on the by the storms and flooding they’d had that week. I discovered a new anthology put together by Vintage books that must come close to being one of the most perfect Christmas books I’ve read.
It starts with M.R James’ ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ and takes in bits of Scrooge, Jeeves and Wooster, Ratty and Mole, the Gift of the Magi – and John Cheever’s story about the elevator man who gets drunk and deluged with misbegotten gains. Whoever put the book together got it just about spot on (Only an overlong and not-at-all Christmassy tale by Edith Wharton lets the side down.) It was wonderful to hit the right stories at just the right times over the days and nights of Christmas week. I read Dylan Thomas in bed very last thing on Christmas Eve, and Truman Capote’s wonderful story about Sook and the Christmas cakes on Christmas Morning.
I found another, much older anthology in a Heaton Moor charity shop – ‘The Christmas Book’ edited by James Reeves in 1968. It’s a lovely selection, overlapping with many others, but distinguished mainly by Raymond Briggs’ line drawings and colour plates. These include an illustration of Paddington Bear in bed with his Christmas loot – illuminated fuzzily by those distinctive, slightly murky, Raymond Briggs coloured pencils.
I got an amazing gift from a friend of mine, Richard, who is downsizing his extensive book collection. Two children’s anthologies – ‘The Mammoth Wonder Book’ from the 30s and ‘The Modern Children’s Library of Knowledge Voume Seven: The World of Books’ from the 60s. Both from a time when books for children were like hugely generous Boxes of Delight. They each contains hundreds of excerpts and drawings – retelling ancient tales, presenting bits of relatively new ones – and mixing them all up like the ingredients of the spiciest Christmas cake you’ve ever had. A book that brings together Dick Turpin and the Minotaur and Brer Rabbit and Eeyore is just about perfection, I think.