Holiday Reading: A Discussion

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The river has frozen over this week, with just a small open patch at the narrows where the current is strongest. That means winter is firmly and finally here. Christmas is less than a week away. My fruitcake is baked. We’ll put up the tree tomorrow. And so, I’ve begun to plan my holiday reading.

The holiday reading season in our house starts on Boxing Day morning. Hubby heads out for his ski, or his walk if he’s particularly unlucky with the weather. And I hunker down with the leftover Christmas sticky buns and a pot of tea. And I read most of the day. One year Hubby bought me Clara Callen by Canadian writer Richard B. Wright for Christmas. I read the whole book on Boxing Day. Gad, I love that book.

Another year, knowing how much I love vintage everything, Hubby gave me John Steinbeck’s, The Wayward Bus, purchased from a used bookseller in Almonte. I love early twentieth century American fiction and I’d never heard of this book. You know, I may read it again this year. In a Sunburned Country was for Christmas 2002 because we were heading off to Australia later that winter. This book is Bryson’s best, in my opinion. Hilarious. And a must read if you want to visit downunder, or if you already have, or even if you live there. And Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure was an inspired choice, considering how much I love travel books and Hemingway. Palin wrote the book from letters and compiled diaries written while he was filming the television series of the same name. Hubby and I then had the fun of watching the series later that year.

So, like in years gone by, I’m hoping that my Boxing Day reading will set me up for the rest of the holidays. Skiing, eating, reading: that’s the agenda for at least a week.

holiday reading from Christmases past
Holiday reading from Christmases past.

This is where I do most of my holiday reading, curled up on the sofa in the sun room overlooking the frozen Rideau River. The tree lights will be twinkling and the gas stove ticking as it heats or cools. I don’t know why I find that sound so soothing. Hopefully snow will be falling on the river outside.

My favourite reading room.

But what will I be reading? Now there’s a difficult question to answer. I should be reading books from the pile below. Books I own but have never read. I don’t know why I never finished Linden McIntyre’s The Only Café. I loved The Bishop’s Man. Ditto with Helen Humphreys’ The Evening Chorus. Her book The Lost Garden is one of my all time favourites. I purchased Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Our Fathers when Hubby and I were in Ireland many years ago and never read it. Shame on me. A few weeks ago Hubby, desperate for something new to read, picked it up, even though it’s one of “my books that he wouldn’t like”…aka not mysteries. He really enjoyed it and said he thought I would too.

Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O’Farrell is a recent purchase, and it’s on deck to be my Boxing Day read. I’m really looking forward to this book. I know that I will get to Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist because we’re discussing it in my book club in the new year. And Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light has been sitting on my shelf for a month or two. I deliberately held off reading that one, waiting for the dead of winter and reading by the fireside with tea and fruitcake.

So those three books are on the top of my list. And I am hoping to get to some of the other worthy books in my guilt-inducing pile. I know all of the rest are great books. And I want to say to each of them that sad break-up cliché … “it’s not you, it’s me.” Because it really is all me.

my pile of holiday reading 2020
Holiday reading 2020.

One should not have to ask an avid reader why they are planning their holiday reading. Why they are getting their books all lined up and ready for Boxing Day. Because, that’s why. Because that spell between Christmas and New Year’s has always been a quiet, bookish time. Ever since I was a child. And later, when I was a teacher, burying myself in reading for pleasure was what holidays were made for, and made such a delicious break from reading student work. Reading for pleasure was so wonderfully freeing, so unburdened with the responsibility of having to assign a grade, and provide constructive and encouraging comments.

I’m hoping that the joy of holiday reading won’t desert me this year. But if that pile of unread and unfinished books, not to mention the plethora of e-books started and abandoned since the spring, is anything to go by, I may struggle with my reading this holiday season.

My ability to focus on reading has suffered this year. I’m restless and fidgety and, at times, cranky. I have frequently struggled to finish a book. I can’t seem to get through more than a few pages, before I get up to make tea. Then when I sit back down, I pick up my ipad and check my blog for comments. I decide while I’m at it to log onto Instagram, and then log off in disgust after a few minutes because I’m so sick of IG “Reels.” All that canned music. All the dancing and strutting and flouncing. I move onto Facebook. I might begin reading an interesting article from one of the journals I follow, until the reader comments make me furious. Sometimes because of their content. Sometimes just the grammar sets me off. Can’t anyone spell “you’re” anymore? Then I return to my book and the whole cycle begins again.

I know that social isolation, worry about family, worry about whatever and whoever, and the feeling of being in limbo have all affected me more than I think. Or like to admit.

So over the holidays when I take my usual blog break, I’m also going to take a break from social media. And I’m going to force myself to abandon e-books for a while. Electronic books are convenient, especially for travel. Sometimes they are the only way to access those books that would be out of print if not for electronic copies. Like many of my favourite “gentle reads,” which have seriously helped me survive some pretty stressful times. Electronic books saved my bacon during lockdown when signing out real books from the library was impossible. But they really do make it too easy to get distracted by the internet. Hence I’ll confine myself to that pile of hard copy books for the holidays. We’ll call it my 7-day technology cleanse.

Yep, Christmas is almost here. Yesterday as I headed off to see Carmen for my Christmas haircut, I checked to see if I could spot the eagle out on the river. Now that the river has frozen, we have begun eagle watching again. Hubby swears that it’s the same huge bird that returns year after year. He circles the river, where the ice meets the open water, making two or three slow passes, flying lower and lower before he buggers off, lazily flapping his wings, right over our house.

We love to see the eagle. Except when he stays too long, and sits in the neighbour’s tree overhanging the river, waiting for the otters. Sigh. Our lovely family of otters that each year pops out of the water and up onto the ice right in front of our house. Oh, it’s so stressful. Will the eagle get one or won’t he? Yesterday he was feeding on something out on the ice. Even through binoculars Hubby couldn’t tell what it was. I think I’d rather not know.

If I’m in the sunroom reading when he arrives, I have to abandon my book until he is gone. I know, I know. Everything has to eat. But I don’t have to watch. Which as a meat-eater makes me a hypocrite. I know that too.

You know, it seems as if nature and technology have conspired to keep me from my reading. But I’m going to try my best to get my reading mojo back over the holidays. We’ll see how that goes.

I won’t say Merry Christmas yet, my friends, because I will post once more before the holidays begin. My December Vlog post. I may convince Hubby to sing. We’ll see about that too, I guess. 🙂

If you have any engrossing books that will make good holiday reading, please pass the titles on to us in the comments. Nothing too too depressing please. I’m a realist. And I love good quality fiction. But this Pollyanna sometimes needs to take a slight vacation from too much reality.

Now if I could just get the eagle to make friends with the otters I’d be perfectly happy. Ha.

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71 thoughts on “Holiday Reading: A Discussion”

  1. Oh! I so relate to the list of what I want to read vs the much eroded attention span. Gone are the days of reading straight through a murder mystery late into the night.
    The newest Ann Cleaves The Darkest Evening was a good recent read. Any of John Bude’s mysteries are enjoyable reads..all part of British Crime Library. I’ve also enjoyed Carlo Rovelli’s science writings. The biggie to read over Christmas for me is Troubled Blood. Your reading room is lovely.

  2. Reading, writing, correcting is what I do all day long, every day, and most evenings since the beginning of March, but every night I read a book and I plan to do only that if I can from Christmas to the 4th of January, since skiing is out of the question. Thanks to you, I rediscovered Kate Atkinson (Behind the Scene at the Museum was the first book I didn’t finished, I stopped 5 pages before the end and I was shocked at my audacity: I was 37!) but now I’m down the rabbit hole: Life After Life, A God in Ruins and the first 3 Brodie books are waiting for me and I plan to reread all the Bulgakov’s books.

  3. I am working my way thru all the Mark Pryor books and loving them. I see that he has a new one out – our library doesn’t have it yet, so I may have to go to Amazon. Thanks for mentioning his books. Love them and read so easy

  4. A lifelong avid, indeed voracious reader, I too have been suffering from a lack of focus for reading the last few months. One would think that conditions would be ideal for plowing through a stack of interesting novels, and as I work a bit at our local library, access is not an issue. However, I can’t seem to get that reading mojo back, although I seem to be able to scroll social media endlessly. Even before I read your sympathetic blog post this morning, I was formulating a way to return to my beloved reading habit. Your post was once again, timely, thought provoking and inspiring. Thank you.

    Here’s my Christmas stack…
    M.C. Beaton Hot to Trot… Okay we all need some confection!
    Shari Lapena The End of Her
    Rachel Joyce Miss Benson’s Beetle
    Christina baker Kline The Exiles

    1. I finished Miss Benson’s Beetle a couple of weeks ago. I love Rachel Joyce’s writing. It’s a bit slow off the mark but worth it in the end. Enjoy.

  5. Now that COVID -19 vaccines are on the way, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is an excellent read about another, much worse pandemic. I never read dystopian fiction, but her characters draw you in, and, before you know it, you’re hooked.

    1. Sharon – one of my book clubs read that and it was well-received and resulted in a rich discussion. Another great dystopian book is Good Morning, Midnight (now a Netflix movie “The Midnight Sun” with George Clooney).

  6. Yes!! The reduced attention span is a thing. Several of my friends here in Virginia have complained about the same thing. And “yes” to the Facebook/Instagram compulsiveness/irritation too! It does help to know that one is not alone.

  7. Love your reading room, such good light. Between covid worry and a cataract my reading has suffered mightily. But with the vaccines on the way, though it might be a few more months, and an appointment with the eye surgeon next month, things are starting to look up. Let’s all raise a glass to good health, good reading and a normal life in the near future.

  8. These strange times are affecting my reading habits too . I’ve tried & rejected a number of books recommended by trusted reviewers. I loved Clare Callan which I read on your recommendation. I enjoyed Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck & Bill Bryson is another favourite. I recently finished Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson which I last read at school . It’s still a good yarn & , knowing Scotland pretty well , I could picture all the locations as I read .
    Today is my birthday so a new pile of books has arrived . On the top is Clothes … & other things that matter by Alexandra Shulman which I think will be next . Hopefully Richard Osman will be arriving in the Christmas pile . I’m very much looking forward to Stu’s musical debut . What will it be , something operatic ?

  9. For a voracious reader the “Co-vid attention span” has been troubling. I have been more successful with print non-fiction
    (looking forward to Obama’s Promised Land). A novel that I did love was Tana French’s The Searcher. She has written a Western, set in western Ireland about a disenchanted American lawman who moves to a small town. Excellent.

  10. Whew! It’s not just me! I’ve been experiencing anxiety as I’ve tried to assemble my holiday reading materials -stories that will immediately draw me in and hold me there! Most recently my attention has been so easily diverted – “monkey brain”- so your post provides comfort, along with reading suggestions that buoy my holiday literary expectations! Thanks!

  11. I have been reading your blog for only a short time. I especially love the book posts. I have added a few of your recommendations to my ever-growing list. Hamnet was one of my favorite reads of this year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I am currently reading Miss Iceland by Audur Ava Olafsoottir and up next is Wintering by Katherine May. Both seem appropriate for the season. Knowing your love of fashion, you might enjoy I Actually Wore This by Tim Coleman. A select group, some famous (though I recognized few), some not, describe their “fashion faux pas” and included are photos of the individual wearing the item. Also, I recommend The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Philyaw Deesha. It is a group of short stories, meaningful and fun. It was a finalist for some book award. Both books are short and easy and I found good for these distractable times. Enjoy the holiday!

    1. Loved “Wintering” by Katherine May. Reflective, atmospheric, it’s a great and unusual memoir that really captures the breadth of the season.

  12. I think I could live in that sunroom! What a beautiful spot to curl up with a good book. I just finished reading The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. I’d never heard of it until I picked it up on a whim at one of our local thrift shops. According to reviews, people either love it or hate it. I was firmly in the love it camp. It was a light, easy read… one that I hated to put down and yet one that I didn’t want to end. Though most of the books that I pick up at the thrift store go back when I’ve finished reading them, this one’s a keeper.

  13. I’ve been so lucky this year with finding good books, although I have made sure to balance the more serious or difficult with the lighter ones (and I’ve been lucky with finding lighter ones that are well written, because like you, I get no relief if I’m distracted by sloppy punctuation or lazy grammar or banal metaphors). I can’t remember if you’ve read Bernardine Evarista’s Girl, Woman, Other yet, but I read it in January and still recall it clearly and with pleasure. Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House is another that engages and provokes thought but doesn’t unduly disturb. . . I’ve just read Andre Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches — very entertaining (and surprisingly moving in parts). . . and before that, Summer, the last in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet — so good! — currently reading John Banville’s Snow, a mystery set in an Irish village in 1957. I think you’d enjoy it. Also set in an Irish village, but mid-’70s, is Jess Kidd’s Himself, a rollicking mystery/comedy of manners . . . with a lively dash of the contemporary Gothic which Kidd does so well. Really fun!

    1. Just back to say that I’ve read further in John Banville’s Snow and while it’s very good, there is some subject matter that is disturbing. Might not be what most are looking for in their holiday reading.

    2. I’ve heard of Girl, Woman, Other but not read it. Thanks Frances it does sound as if it’s just my thing. I listened to Banville’s Snow on Audible last month. I always love Banville’s writing. But you’re right… it’s not a cosy Irish village mystery once you get into it. 🙂

  14. I love your reading room. What a great view! I also love your book posts. Do you have a “master list” of books on your blog? I share your frustration about the misspelling/misuse of words. Your and you’re, to and too, their and there and so on. Keep posting Sue! I so enjoy your writing.

  15. Hello Sue!
    I just love your house ,that reading room or just watching room looks perfect!
    I’m interested in your house , looks amazing ! Is it made of wood ?
    How long have you lived there , how did you settle in that part of the world ?
    I can’t settle to read , even with my log burner burning bright.
    Hope you find your reading mojo !
    Anne x

    1. Thanks, Anne. Hubby has lived in our house since the late seventies, and I’ve been here since 1986. It’s a wooden house built in the 1950s. And not very well built as we’ve discovered doing renos over the years. Still the location can’t be beat.

  16. Living in Texas, of course I covet your reading room. An expanse of water outside of the window would be more distraction than I could bear… I never get any reading done at all! Thank you for your book recommendations, I will seek out whatever of these I can find. I enjoyed “Reading in Bed” by Sue Gee so much that I didn’t want it to end. One of the few I’ve been able to stay with undistractedly. Oh, gosh, that is a word, isn’t it?
    Happy Holidays!

  17. I was fidgety and restless about books a couple of weeks ago,too,couldn’t settle,but with a couple of new autors and books things are looking better-and I have no eagles near my house,what a drama! Nevertheless,your reading room is beautiful and I’ve read and liked quite a few of books on your shelf ,so,I’m sure you’ll enjoy
    Maria Adolfsson’s Deception ( it will be released next year on Amazon as Fatal Isles),mystery, is first in a series-yay!- I liked it so much!
    I’ve found Ragnar Jónasson-his mysteries are set in Iceland and the places,remote parts of the island and the way of living adds charm. I’ve read Rupture ,the second one in series and now am reading the first one: Snowblind
    Catherine McKenzie interested me as a canadian,Montreal born author, I’ve read I’ll Never Tell.
    I wrote about other excellent books I’ve read, chez “Materfamilias reads” the other day,I’ll mention here Diane Cook’s The New Wildernes-as I said there,I’m not a fan of dystopian novels but I like this one very much
    I’m usually spending Boxing day with my friends but this year it will be reading heaven
    Dottoressa

    1. Lots of great suggestions, thanks Dottoressa. That Icelandic mystery series interests me. Maybe I’ll be reading two new Icelandic writers this winter. 🙂

  18. Thank you once again for another good post on reading. I am an avid reader and have found this year difficult to focus on a book all the way through. As an aside, I decided to pass on reading The Illusionists having read your review again. So many books to try any way! Wishing you a merry Christmas with lots of lovely things to enjoy including all those books to be read.

    1. Thanks for that, Christy. I am sometimes reluctant to pan a book since we all have different taste. But my book club so disliked The Luminaries that I couldn’t resist.

  19. Most of my books right now, especially newer selections, are through LIBBY, since browsing is still out of the question at the local libraries. But I always have a selection of old favorites in the bedside drawers–Allende, Morrison, Amy Tan, some post-modern fairy tales. Octavia Butler. Kindred has been a favorite read and re-read since it came out in ’79; although I do love her dystopian series, they can be pretty depressing right now, as can Atwood, another favorite. So, Kindred is in my physical (and unpacked) stash. When we moved from NY to OR, US 5 years ago, I had to pick and choose very carefully what books to pack and what to donate–I still had books from my university days and teaching! Well-thumbed and heavily marked, but old favorites. Right now, with not being able to choose books to physically hold and opting out of buying online (it is just not the same as browsing in a bookstore!), I regret some of what I had to leave behind. But, this time of year, I prefer “light” reads. And, like many of you, I find my attention span just, well, disrupted. I will be so happy when the libraries and bookstores are safe to totally re-open!!

    1. We use Libby a ton, as well. Such a great resource to have especially when the libraries were closed. I have to do another cull of my books soon. But some I can’t bear to give away.

      1. Thanks for the Libby / Library recommendation as the Audio book selection is excellent. I am enjoying so many recommendations made by you & your readers.
        Love the River view from your reading room. Brings back good memories of when we use to live next to the ocean.
        Best Wishes to All for a Safe and Healthy 2021 & a time when we can all be safely together again with family & friends.

  20. I just finished “Mexican Gothic” and loved it!!!! I don’t normally read horror/ supernatural, but it was so much more than
    that. I loved the main character and the time period(clothes descriptions!!!). Enjoy your holiday reading!!!!

  21. I flit, like you, between platforms and can find prolonged concentration very hard. Apparently this is being reported everywhere and is a side-effect of the weird lives we now have to adapt to. Anxiety and watchfulness, I suspect. I am currently reading The Silent Patient which I think will probably turn out to be disappointing but I will finish it to see if I have the secret all sussed out. Not a fan of unreliable narrators.

      1. All I can say about it is…if you have read The Girl On The Train, Gone Girl and books of that ilk, you could very easily skip this. I rather wish I had.

  22. I’ve been reading voraciously during COVID. A good excuse to indulge my favourite past time. If you’re looking for some light humour, I just finished David Sedaris’s THE BEST OF ME. I’ve loved every single one of his books. THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB by Richard Osman is a lot of fun for those who enjoy whodunnits with British humour. I have an entire section on my blog devoted to books (Boomerbroadcast.net) if anyone is looking for book reviews on material that appeals to women like us.

  23. Hi Sue
    I also covet your reading room. It looks so peaceful.
    My favourite books this year have been The Glass House, American Dirt and an Ann Tyler Omnibus that included The Accidental Tourist and Breathing Lessons. I found all of these books to be thought provoking and something that my pandemic muddled brain could focus on.
    Have a lovely Xmas!

  24. You probably have already heard of this but just in case not, here’s a tradition you’ll appreciate
    Jolabokaflod – Iceland’s Wonderful Christmas Book Flood Tradition – Exchange Books As Christmas Eve Presents And Spend The Evening Reading
    A brief description from the web
    “If you are a book lover, then you would appreciate the annual Icelandic Jolabokaflod or the “Christmas Book Flood”. In Iceland, the best Christmas gift is a book and it has been that way for decades. In Iceland, books are exchanged as Christmas Eve presents, then you spend the rest of the night reading in bed reading them and eating chocolate. It certainly sounds like a perfect Christmas for all bookworms!”
    Thanks for posting
    Suz from Vancouver

    1. Suz,I’ve learned about this tradition in R. Jónasson books recently. I must have some Iceland genes 🙂
      D.

    2. What a lovely tradition, Suz. We always received a book for Christmas as children, and reading it on Christmas Eve is a lovely idea. Not to mention the chocolate. 🙂

    3. Jolabokaflod – what a wonderful tradition for an entire country to have! I’m part of a small online international writers’ group and over the years we’ve all become such close friends that we exchange birthday and Christmas gifts with each other. This year, because of the perils of shopping and queuing in post offices, we came up with an idea that sounds like our very own Jolabokaflod. We agreed to exchange only books, with a catch. They had to be bought from the *recipient’s* local bookshop. So I’ve been in contact with indie bookshops on three continents – tiny village shops as well as bigger city shops in places like London and Sydney, arranging for my gift books to be delivered to each of my friends. And the books are rolling in at my house too, all from my own local bookshop. The proprietors of the shops have been apprised of what we were doing and have been so grateful for the business. It’s been so much fun we intend to continue the tradition in upcoming years.

  25. I am in the midst of reading Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, which I am enjoying so much because it’s a great twist on the Holmes canon while still feeling fresh and surprising. And there are five books so far, which adds to the delight. Great literature? No. Comforting and fun? Yes.

  26. I too find your reading room stunning – such a wonderful room for reading or just watching the river. And like you I have Hamnet and Judith waiting for me this Christmas, also the latest Rebus and the first in a new to me Nikki French series. So many other great sounding titles here though, I’m set for a while.
    Frances T

  27. “Skiing, eating, reading.” Well, I can’t relate to the skiing part, but the eating and reading? Sounds delish to me.

    I have a few books in process at present and — may I confess? — this week I doubt I will pick any of them up. I’m more likely to go for holiday classics (old movies) on TV; more soothing and easier (at the moment) to disappear into. (My survival plan for this holiday week.)

    Wishing you a very merry and very healthy holiday season!

    xo
    D.A.

  28. Oldie but goodie: anything by MFK Fisher. Beautiful writing.
    I’m just finishing “Soumission” by Michel Houellebecq. Not fun. The protagonist is a type I have met and disliked. Very callous toward women–they’re good for cooking and sex, and not much more. The attitude seems to sum up Trump-world. It does make you wonder, where is this going? I don’t think there will be a dénouement, though. “The Handmaid’s Tale” was more masterful, without resorting to “I’m a serious intellectual” references to obscure literature.

  29. I enjoyed Hamnet; is that the same as or different than Hamnet & Judith? I think it was you who recommended Monogamy by Sue Miller, which I also enjoyed. My recommendation for your reading is Nothing To See Here, by Kevin Wilson. I could not believe that I would like it, as it deals with two children who burst into flames when upset. But it turns out that it’s really a very sweet book about non-romantic love. It’s also short, which is a nice change from some other books I’ve been reading lately. (A PS on that: if you’re ever tempted to read either The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing or The Sea by Iris Murdoch, both of which are supposedly classics, don’t. They’re both awful.)

  30. I feel like an illiterate when I read of all these authors that everyone has read and I am so unfamiliar. And I fancy myself an avid reader who doesn’t read junk. Maybe some are Canadian and that’s why they don’t sound familiar. I’ve lost my reading mojo too. It seems there is too much other stuff occupying my time and I TOTALLY agree that the internet is a bad distraction. My goals are to finish A confederacy of dunces and Lincoln in the Bardo. Then I have Saving Freedom about Truman and a Louise Penny. I discovered her on this blog. I will note some of the books on the blog and try to do better in 2021. Netflix is a distraction too—the Crown, Criminal Minds and Schitt’s Creek. Watched Midnight Sky last night and it was terrible. Sorry to digress to tv and movies!

  31. I just love your reading room. I too seem to be more easily distracted nowadays. I can fritter my time away online for hours and hours. Recently I got off Instagram completely and Twitter will be the next to go. This year I have had some great recommendations from you and your readers, including in this post. I can’t abide heavy books now; have just read the Booker prize winner “Shuggie Bain” and while it opened my eyes to a whole new world, I found it quite grim.

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