Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HOLIDAYS IN BOOKS: The Books of Christmas Past

Today, let's welcome  Colleen from JamandIdleness. She is here to tell us about some books and Festivus!

Like many other life-long readers who grew up celebrating Christmas, there
are certain books I associate with the cold, snow, decorations and gift-giving of late December. These books are completely unsurprising, of course: Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the latter mostly because my own personal holiday tradition has always included watching the 1951 film adaptation starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge every Christmas day).

I haven’t celebrated Christmas per se in many years now—no tree, no decorations, no choral events and—although I do sometimes watch Bad Santa for my sins. However, while I don’t participate in any of the Christian reasons for the season, or its pagan antecedents, and I refer to it uncompromisingly as Festivus (the holiday for the rest of us), I do still give and receive gifts amongst close friends and family. Indeed, while I would love to dispense with this as well, I can’t; it just isn’t done. Giving and receiving gifts at this most wonderful time of the year is one of the social proprieties the ignoring of which might well result in chaos and anarchy and lingering resentment.

I actually love giving gifts, but I would prefer to do it when inspiration strikes rather than during those times of the year when shopping is more like going into battle than otherwise. The real problem for me is the receiving of gifts, especially when those gifts are books. As I am a rather dull lady with only one clear passion—reading—I, of course, receive books on literally every gifting occasion. This would be fine—nay, it should be cause for singing loud, though secular, hallelujahs!!—but it is not because, alongside my obsession with reading and collecting books, I am also the sad sufferer of an inexplicable inability to read a book directly upon receiving it. They must ripen first, sometimes for years. Sometimes 10+ years, in fact.

And the longer a gift book ripens, the more also does my guilt for not having read it, which makes the book’s ripening take even longer. It’s a bad scene and it must be obvious by now that I am demented. Every once in a while, I put these accumulating tomes into attractive piles and gaze longingly at them; and they really all do look compelling! (Except for the pirate fiction anthology my husband once gifted me; he has finally admitted he wasn’t necessarily following his better instincts when he chose that one.)

Look at my current guilt-edged [sic] collection of unread Festivus books:

They are beautiful in their loneliness and neglect, are they not? Sometimes their cries keep me awake at night. But no matter how much they or I suffer, I simply can’t read them before they’re due; I am beholden to a mysterious reading plan that is too large and powerful to be resisted. On top of this insoluble pancake is this: I generally don’t want to receive anything but books for Festivus.

Right now, there is a Festivus gift from my brother sitting on the dining room table (there’s no fun, festive way to store unopened gifts when one doesn’t celebrate the season); it is very obviously a book. It is a book the title or author of which I don’t yet know; nonetheless, I can already hear it admonishing me for my bookish failings.

The joy and good tidings that accompany a book will be bloodied but I hope, ultimately, unbowed by the way I neglect these books until, I don’t know, the fairies or whatever strange beings run my reading life tell me “Now, ‘tis time!” For I do, eventually, read them. Two books received for Festivus in particular have changed the course of my reading life forever: Ted Goosen’s Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories and Anton Chekhov’s Complete Short Novels. The first, which I was given over 15 years ago, sparked at least 5 solid years of my reading Japanese literature almost exclusively, while the Chekhov (received 10+ years ago but only read in the last year) has revived my dormant but increasingly passionate love affair with Russian literature.

All this well-wrapped and beautifully bound guilt is perhaps not guilt at all; perhaps it is the urgent promise of a reading life reinvigorated or paths unimagined suddenly opened up, and the only problem is that I forget the gifts will still sparkle and brighten regardless of how long I take to really open them—and begin here, on page 1, in a glorious new world.

1 comment :

  1. Oh my goodness, do I love the belief that books need to ripen! I am totally going to steal this idea and tell my husband this when he asks me why I haven't read my books from last Christmas yet!! (Or, the Christmases before that!!)

    Thanks so much for the fun piece, even if I am a bit late in reading it!! :)


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