Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Books at Christmas - 2016

Books for Christmas - 2016

Ideally, there should be snow.  Not enough to make the way treacherous, for again, ideally, we’ll be walking, but enough to sugar dust the holly bushes and dance in the street light’s glow.  The windows of our destination should be atmospherically lit and, not unlike those of a sweet shop, designed and arranged with an artist’s eye to colour and shape.  We should linger there in the falling snow before we reach for the door.
There should be a bell on the door.  It should announce our arrival, not with the harsh clank of a cow’s pendant, but with a sound more akin to a fairy’s laugh.  There should be wooden floors, old and weathered wooden floors on which decades of shoppers have wandered through the aisles lost in contented concentration.  We should come up on a sleeping dog in a niche behind non-fiction and a large Persian cat should brush against our leg in cookery. 

The proprietor should be older, slightly mussed, with half-moon glasses perched on his nose and his knitted waistcoat haphazardly buttoned.  He should greet us warmly, though a tad absentmindedly.  He should also, like a soothsayer, know instinctively if we are in need of the perfect suggestion.
There should not be a cafe, nor should music be played over some tinny central speaker.  There should be a small radio underneath the counter, softly playing Bach, so softly the music seems to come from our own heads, unheard by others, the soundtrack to our own serenity.

And the books we find should be perfect.  So many that we start a small stack on the counter, the bespectacled owner nodding to himself each time we add another.   There should be books to teach and remind.  Books to lose oneself inside.  Books to take us on journeys impossible without the written word, with power to spirit us back in time, witnesses to history.  Their words should help us stand like a tree in the troubled present.  Through them, we should dream, we should remember, we should escape.
Each book should be wrapped in brown paper, tied with a red and white string, and placed in two large paper sacks.  The proprietor should give us a peppermint as we leave.   We should wish each other the compliments of the season.  The sound of fairy’s laughter should ring in our ears as we close the door behind us and head through the falling snow to the cafe on the corner where we would meet someone handsome and bearded for a hot chocolate and a bit of holiday cheer. 

Ideally, this should be Christmas shopping.

Here’s a list of recommendations for 2016. 
Some of these I’ve read, some I’ve yet to read. 
Some are older, some just published. 
Some are perfect for gifts, some are to keep for yourself. 
 And one I wrote myself. 
 The first line of each is included and, as always, 
click on the book to find out more.
Happy shopping! 

1.  Commonwealth
by Ann Patchett
“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”

2.  Being a Dog:
Following the Dog Into a World of Smell
by Alexandra Horowitz
“Finnegan’s is ebony black, moist and dappled, two cavernous bass clefs at its front.”

3.  Edward Speaks at Midnight
by Pamela Terry
“It was Christmas Eve and Edward, the big white dog, was underneath the piano, his head resting atop his furry paws.”

4.  English Houses
by Ben Pentreath
“Charlie and I live above the trees in an ancient, leafy London square.”

5.  The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.”

6.  Upstream
by Mary Oliver
“In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed.”

7.   Cecil Beaton At Home
by Andrew Ginger
“Taste breaks out of all rules; as soon as it is pigeon-holed it is dead.”

8.  The Moon Before Morning
by W. S. Merwin
“The sky said I am watching
to see what you 
can make out of nothing.”

9.  The Road to Character
by David Brooks
“On Sunday evenings my local NPR stations rebroadcasts old radio programs.”

10.  Nutshell
by Ian McEwan
“So here I am, upside down in a woman.”

11.  Hitler: Volume I: Ascent 1889-1939
by Volker Ullrich
“The fellow is a catastrophe, but that’s no reason not to find him interesting as a personality and destiny” wrote Thomas Mann in his essay, Brother Hitler, adding that no none should feel ‘above dealing with this murky figure.”

12.  Faithful
by Alice Hoffman
“In February, when the snow comes down hard,  little globes of light are left along Route 110, on the side of the road that slopes off when a driver least expects it.”

13.  The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
“Jockey’s birthday only came once or twice a year.”

14.  H is for Hawk
by Helen MacDonald
“Forty-five minutes northeast of Cambridge is a landscape I’ve come to love very much.”

15.  Mad Enchantment
Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
by Ross King
"Where is Clemenceau?"

16.  Wanderlust
by Michelle Nussbaumer and Hutton Wilkinson 
“When my husband asked my father for my hand in marriage, my father said yes, but with a caveat, ‘as long as you don’t ever take my daughter away.”

17.  The Outrun
by Amy Liptrot
“On my first day back I shelter beside an old freezer, down by some stinging nettles, and watch the weather approach over the sea.”

 18.  Literary Wonderlands: 
A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created
by Laura Miller, Lev Grossman,  John Sutherland and Tom Shippey

19.  Bedtime Stories
from Everyman's Pocket Classics
“There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest.”

20.  A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote
“Imagine a morning in late November.”


  1. Your exquisite writing and these books are my first gift of the season and a joyous way to start my day.
    I re-read A Christmas Memory every Christmas. It never grows old and it always lingers.
    A wondrous list, Pamela; some I've read, some I want, some sitting in abeyance.
    Thank you.

  2. Such excellent choices - makes me want to sit by an open fire and just dig in for a long long time!

  3. I've been waiting for this list of yours and just spent the last night at Barnes and Noble. Oh well, looks like another trip due.

  4. Much Ado Books, Alfriston, East Sussex, England. The most perfect bookshop.

  5. Several of these I have read Pamela (I love Margaret Atwood - and I adore Mary Oliver's poetry(especially Wild Geese) - others are already on my Christmas list. We must have similar taste in books.

  6. Thank you for this beautifully written description of the perfect bookstore. And the enchanting picture.

  7. Brilliant selection there Pamela.
    Thank you.
    Anita xx

  8. Edward Speaks at Midnight is a wonderful book with a treasured story. Thankful I gave them for last Christmas. Highly recommended!

  9. Heavenly. The word that came to mind reading your piece on the bookstore!

  10. Beautiful post. I was just glad that I've read three of your list. That's something.

  11. Have you visited Toppings bookshops in St Andrews, Ely or Bath? In ancient town centres. Wood brning stoves, persian carpets on the floor, ladders to reach the high shelves. No cafès, but they offer you tea or coffee if you linger at all. Brought to your armchair or sofa in various book lined nooks, on a wooden tray with blue and white china.

  12. YOU are a gift.
    my copy of edward speaks at midnight is a treasured Christmas tradition now in my home... read on Christmas Eve!
    it's displayed on a round table with a deep fringed red tartan floor~length cloth holding crystal and greenery with red berries. it's there among other classics that I love this time of year... most of them are children's books because I simply love them so! and because they're for all ages.
    and . . .
    it's almost time to turn to page 271 in my little book of essays with the soft velvety violet band on its cover by pamela terry! it is well worn now.
    and winter begins!
    I always love your book lists. they come with a built in coziness for all of us book lovers. like putting on our favorite sweater!

  13. Interesting list! I loved H is for Hawk and The Handmaid's Tale but was a bit disappointed by Commonwealth, only because I liked other books by Patchett better. I agree that books make great lists but will wait until I return home from Japan to shop for them.

  14. How lovely to include the first lines. I want them all.

  15. A Lovely List, as is your intro. Very lovely

  16. Having described the perfect indie bookseller establishment in the perfect setting how about your readers submitting their favorite bookstores? I'll go first. I live in the SW part of my west coast state, not in the town where my favorite bookstore is, but how joyously I make my way to it as often as possible. The only difference between your description and my store's reality is that more often than not what is softly playing is Cole Porter. The store is "J Michaels" in Eugene, Oregon. And the dog is a lovely and sweetly gentle copper-colored (too dark for "apricot") poodle!

  17. I love this list and your blog. It is a very comforting place to visit in very uncertain times. Thank you!

  18. I am right beside you in the bookstore with the creaking wooden floors and carelessly buttoned vest, except that I don't mind a proper cafe included. The clink of cutlery and crockery in the background and smell of coffee and cinnamon suffusing the stacks would only serve to heighten my need to linger and read. And besides, I never would have discovered "The Hungry Ear; Poems of Food and Drink" if not for the cafe owner.

    I have read articles on the importance of first lines (they are something akin to pick-up lines, don't you think?) and you have provided us with example after excellent example of why that is so. There are one or two of these I might have shuffled past without those first lines. Instead, I believe I am hooked.

  19. Love this list! And the last one is one of my favorites. Thanks for the reminder as I will now be rereading Truman Capotes's beautiful story this year, because of you! He was such a great writer!

  20. Thank you!! I always look forward to your book lists, and the bookshop description has me wanting to go shopping. We have a pretty good local bookstore, but my favorite has to be Three Lives & Company in the West Village, NYC. Or the Strand, also in New York, although that gets a bit crazy this time of year. I also love to read the first lines (or first few lines) in books. They really do give you an idea if the book is going to be good or not. Anyway, thank you for letting me spend a few minutes in a happy place, the ideal cozy book store, in a time when there are so many unhappy things to ponder.

  21. Yours is an absolutely lovely description of the bookstore we all desire to visit. Books are always the perfect gift, I think.


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