It’s difficult to find the time to sit down with a good book during the holidays, but if you’ve doled out your cards and crossed off all your lists, then why not unwind with a holiday-themed read from this list?
I’ve already uploaded part one, with books 1-6, here.
SEVEN- Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago
This features on the list as a book that has Christmas in it, but isn’t specifically about Christmas. Just in case you get sick of the holidays. Pasternak’s classic was banned in the USSR until 1988, and tells the extensive life narrative of doctor-poet Yuri Zhivago, who lives through the Russian Revolution.
When translated well, this becomes a book to immerse yourself in completely. It will fill up your holiday break and take over your brain as you try to keep track of a lifetime’s worth of characters at the same time as lingering over the beautiful prose. There is a stark, bleak tone throughout which speaks of winter so much; Russian literature and snowy weather are forever inseparable for more than one reason.
EIGHT- Philip Van Doren Stern, The Greatest Gift
If you’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life (and if you haven’t, then that’s your homework from this post), then you need to know that it is based on a book. This is an amazing and short little book, written by Philip Van Doren Stern, which sends a beautiful and meaningful message out to all those of us who struggle in an often indifferent society, at what is often a particularly difficult time of year. It’s all about the American Dream going bad, about dreams that don’t come true, and about the importance of the life you build around you without even realising it, even when you take it for granted.
Stern struggled to get the book published, and so he sent out his story as a pamphlet with his Christmas cards in 1943. One of the people who received it was Frank Capra, and the rest became Hollywood history. It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946, but because of a quirk of copyright it only became enduringly popular in the seventies when it was televised to a wider audience. Try both this Christmas, but make sure there are tissues close by.
NINE- George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
George Eliot’s story is inspired by her own life, taking in her claustrophobic rural upbringing and pairing it to a fiery and determined heroine who desperately wants more than the provincial life intended for her. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) was a brilliant woman who consciously defied societal norms and became a storming intellectual and philosophical force.
I’ve included this on the list because it has one of my favourite Christmas scenes ever. I think a lot of us identify with Maggie, the protagonist, but even those who don’t find the holiday parts warming and sweet. Eliot depicts the contrasting white snow and cold outdoors with the rich colours and smells that pervade our homes, the sounds of carollers and the feeling of community with real class.
TEN- Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
Based on the Russian fairy-tale of the same name, Ivey’s The Snow Child stays true to the chilling themes that you might expect from fey winters of pixie past. The Snow Child tells the story of Jack and Mabel, a couple who have lost a child and moved to the bleak wilderness of an Alaskan island in the 1920s. When a spectral girl appears from the spot that their snowman melted, they are hopeful and frightened, and the story really springs from there.
It’s slow-moving and haunting, as the book never lets go of its fairy-tale roots. Read it on a day when you want a little time away from the warmth and holly-jolly atmosphere.
ELEVEN- Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales
As you might expect, this is a thoroughly lyrical and loquacious story of Thomas’ own childhood Christmases in the welsh town he grew up in. He brings out images of local wildlife, neighbours and the food, presents and décor that defined his early years. It’s a good ‘sharing’ book, which you could read aloud or gift to others. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the gentle humour and clever words.
TWELVE- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
How else could you end this list? We all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts who visit him on Christmas Eve, but reading it in the authentic Dickens tone is an incomparable experience. Even if I did grow up with the Muppets adaptation.
The unabridged, not-specifically-for-children version is so much more rewarding than you might think, particularly if you can get a version with the original John Leech illustrations. It’s one of the shortest Dickens that you’ll ever read, but it’s full of the darkly beautiful language and clever humour that defines his work. It’s a tale of community, generosity, kindness which so clearly depicts the Victorian socialist desire for a better world for the working classes; I can’t imagine Christmas without it.
“You fear the world too much,’ she answered gently. ‘All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off, one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”
If you’ve enjoyed this post, or if you’d like to point out a holiday classic I’ve missed, then let me know by leaving a comment below. I’d love some feedback on the running of the blog, and welcome your suggestions.