A Book Bundle of Joy for Christmas and beyond by Rebecca Fletcher
Some years ago, I was writing a magazine feature about Christmas when I came across an Icelandic tradition which struck me as the perfect festive pastime. Deciding there and then that the closest I might get to visiting Iceland any time soon was prizing open the heavily frosted door of the freezer, I became an adoptee of this particularly lovely Christmas Eve ritual. Jolabokaflod, which translates as ‘Christmas book flood’, is the giving and receiving of books with the promise that Christmas Eve will be spent curled up reading by the fire or nestled in an armchair with a hot cocoa. Its origins are said to have born from the aftermath of World War II when paper was one of the few things not rationed, so, even though other gifts were in short supply, Icelanders could still share in a love of books. Fast forward to the present and it’s become a special tradition that we uphold with our oldest friends and their children. Each year, a parcel is sent with a book for each, alongside a little something to eat or drink and the unboxing takes place via the magic of FaceTime. I can’t think of a better way to spend Christmas Eve than with a glass in one hand and my head in a book. So, with Jolabokaflod in mind, here are our Are You Sitting Comfortably Christmas gifts to you.
A little something for by the fire….
Stories for Christmas and the festive season by Muriel Spark, Stella Gibbons, E.M. Delafield & more.
‘Darkness was beginning to fall, and the snow gleamed in its own ghostly light under the deepening blue of the sky.
Now the Christmas tree was all alight, the candles burnt still and pointed against the green branches. Three little faces were turned up to the tree, with the candlelight making aureoles round their hair.’
Hurrah for British Library Publishing and another winner from their gorgeous series of British Library Women Writers.
Launched in 2020, British Library Women Writers is a curated collection of novels by female authors who enjoyed broad and popular appeal in their day but have been forgotten or overlooked from modern shelves. Stories for Christmas will have you nestled in the armchair celebrating all things yuletide and wintry with writers such as the glorious Stella Gibbons, Muriel Spark, E.M. Delafield (my favourite) as well as Maeve Binchy, Elizabeth von Arnim and many more. These short stories bring an unique female perspective to the festive season with heaps of exhaustive preparations, a few surprises and perhaps even a little disappointment but also enough joy and mirth to match the Ghost of Christmas Present’s horn of plenty. A Christmas triumph for those who love a good short story.
Alexandra Benedict’s Murder on the Christmas Express
‘They laughed and talked about the party they were off to. Christmas for them would probably be full of light and love and cinnamon kisses. The murderer-to-be was sure that they, along with the law, the police, judges and juries, the soapsand tabloids, would say it was wrong to kill at Christmas. But then they didn’t know the victim’s secrets. Not yet.’
It’s Christmas Eve. Eighteen passengers on their way to the Highlands on a sleeper train find themselves stranded when the train is derailed. There’s a killer in their midst, stalking the carriages. For some of the travellers, this may be their last journey. With a huge helping of festive homage to Golden Age crime, author Alexandra Benedict will keep you guessing with a series of cryptic clues in this perfectly plotted thriller with a little darkness and stellar cast of characters. The question is – will retired Met detective Roz Parker find the killer before it’s too late to save another victim? There’s definitely a hint of Agatha with this one so perfect for Christie fans, old and new.
A gift for Christmas morning
‘His mother’s flat smelt of oranges and cloves: she was mulling wine when he arrived, stirring a pot at the stove. Carols on the radio, her other hand waving a cigarette like a conductor’s baton. The sight cheered him, chimed with his mood, with the sense of lightness that seemed to follow any time he spent with Maddy.’
Gifts by Laura Barnett brims with warmth and hope as the reader follows the interconnected stories of twelve people and twelve gifts. Maddy, who runs the bookshop, is struggling to buy a gift for an old friend, Peter. Going through a messy divorce and newly moved back to Kent, Peter is at a loss to find a present as well connection with daughter, Chloe. Chloe is looking for something special for her grandmother, Irene, who doesn’t get out much anymore and Irene wants to show carer Alina, just how much her visits mean to her. And Alina, well she’s had her eye on something…. Gifts is a poignant reminder of the power of human connection and the bittersweet juxtaposition of joy and sadness which the festive season bears witness to. It is a perfect gift itself, full of Christmas magic.
Carolling in the kitchen
‘I approach the season with boundless enthusiasm and a desire for everything to be as Christmassy as possible. And so, over my three decades of celebrating it, I have eaten a lot of Christmas food, watched an obscene number of Christmas films, read all the Christmas books I can lay my hands on and listened to approximately 63 versions of O Holy Night (from the King’s College Cambridge choir to *NYSNC). In short, when it comes to Christmas, I am all in.’
In The Little Library Christmas, author and cook Kate Young brings together 50 delicious recipes all inspired by her favourite Christmas reads. For those of you who are familiar with The Little Library collection, you’ll know that Kate writes beautifully about both books and food. A smorgasbord from the start, you’ll find everything from almond and pistachio biscotti brought to life from Tolly’s edible Christmas gifts in The Children of Green Knowe, champagne cocktails from Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding to accompanying the feast itself with A Christmas Carol’s Mrs Crachitt and her Start-in advance gravy and lest we not forget Una’s turkey curry buffet to stuff ourselves with on Boxing Day from Bridget Jones’ Diary. If ever there was a culinary Christmas companion to be had, it’s The Little Library Christmas. I swear by Kate’s recipe for Turkish delight which never fails to transport me to Narnia.
Time for tea and Christmas cake
It’s no secret that I’m a bookworm through and through – I’ve always thought that learning to read is one of the greatest gifts of all. Words are powerful. With all the profits and royalties from our next book recommendation going towards the National Literacy Trust, I salute its editor, Pandora Sykes, for supporting this marvellous charity and highlighting the fact that over 400,000 children and young people don’t own a book. The National Literacy Trust works to end literacy inequality and buying this book is just one way that you can give the gift of a book to someone else.
What Writers Read – 35 Writers on their Favourite Book, edited by Pandora Sykes is a gorgeous insight into the books which shaped or inspired or offered solace to some of our favourite writers today. From Dolly Alderton’s cure for a broken heart, childhood reads that inspired Elizabeth Strout, the book which lifted Marian Keyes when she needed it most, Elizabeth Day’s love of Agatha Christie to the collection of stories David Nicholls couldn’t wait to take out following the acquisition of an adult library card – this is a delicious insight into what helped make them the writers they are and a real love letter to reading.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and hoping you had a happy Jolabokaflod. I’m off to see if there are any more books waiting under the tree for me!