I had originally planned to film this as a youtube video but, you know, life got in the way! I figured my festive reads were still worth sharing, especially as they're all pretty brilliant picks (if I do say so myself...)
My two fiction picks are well read options I always go back to. Christmas is pretty much the perfect time for picking up the literary comfort blanket and snuggling down with it in one hand and a mug of hot chocolate (preferably a spiced option!)
On the top of the pile is a childhood favourite - Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie. The eternally young central character makes a return to my life every year when I re-read this one, and the older I get the more I can appreciate this story. There are so many layers to Peter Pan that aren't actually all that lovely and whilst it may have made it as a Disney film, it's worth remembering that all the best and most enduring stories had their roots in more gruesome versions of their Disney selves. There isn't much gore in this one (no stepsisters hacking off their own toes to fit into a shoe for example) but there are definitely some sinister undertones and I love that in a story.
The other fiction option is Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is one of my greatest fictional loves (we've all got them, right?!) and winter is always the perfect time to rekindle that love affair. It seems wrong to read of the Yorkshire moors and the wild spirits of Heathcliff and Cathy at any time of year when the rain isn't battering the roof and the wind isn't shaking the windows whilst inside is warm and toasty with the fire turned on. Ghost stories are traditionally Christmassy and though neither of the fiction books I've picked scream Christmas, they both capture something for me that makes Christmas the perfect time to return to them.
Anthologies & Short Stories
So you've got relatives round, you're helping with Christmas dinner and there's probably a few kids running round somewhere in the background wanting you to play with them and their new Christmas game (though do kids actually get games that require someone to play with them for Christmas anymore?!) and you basically do not have time to sit down and read a whole book, so here's my top two picks for short story anthologies that still capture a whole load of Christmas spirit...
The first, and probably my favourite (though I'm a little biased) is Dickens at Christmas. I bought this last year and a have bought it for a few friends and family this year since it's been re-released. It contains, in full, A Christmas Carol - a novella length story, as well as various other less famous novellas like The Haunted Man and The Battle of Life. It's not Christmas without a bit of Tiny Tim and the enduring 'God bless us, every one', which makes this book a must have in my opinion. Alongside the novellas though are a bundle of short stories that Dickens wrote as one offs, including the beautiful What Christmas Is, As We Grow Older - which is 6 pages long, so easy to fit in to even the most packed schedule.
The second is Round The Christmas Fire, a collection of short stories that stand alone as well as excerpts from other books. The timeless The Gift of the Magi is in here, as well as writing from a variety of writers - you've got everyone from Dickens (he's always raising his head at Christmas, and who better?!), Edith Wharton, Truman Capote and Nancy Mitford to Sue Townsend and Dylan Thomas. The range of writers means this book is packed full of different styles and, whilst it's maybe a bit late now, would have been a great gift for any book lover.
If you're not feeling the fiction this year I've got two non fiction options for you.
Does Santa Exist? by Eric Kaplan (writer on The Big Bang Theory, Futurama and The Simpsons incidentally) is a philosophical investigation into whether or not the man in red exists or not (apparently there's a rumour going round he doesn't?!) It's got really mixed reviews on GoodReads and I think that's mainly because this book doesn't actually stick to just answering the question - it's sort of an introduction to philosophy and different schools of thought, then applies each of those to the question to say which way each of these different thought processes would answer. It's not overly festive, you could pretty much replace Santa in the title with The Loch Ness Monster or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or generally any kind of mythical concept, it's more about a general philosophy and I've found it a fascinating read. Only going to appeal to those who like to think but if that's you then I really encourage you to pick this one up.
The last book on my recommendations list is Christmas Truce. It's a history book detailing the famous Christmas day truce, during which the British and German soldiers played football. I'm not finished it yet but so far it had been a lovely read, the narrative is interspersed with accounts of the day from people who were there and it's incredible to try and imagine what that day, amongst the days that sandwiched it, must have been like. The amount of work and research that must have gone into this book is just insane, there are so many diaries and letters that have been hunted down to produce this and it's particularly poignant this year given the 100 year mark. Whether or not you agree with the Sainsburys advert this piece of history is fascinating and it's one that not enough is made of.