I’m going to offer a simple, if controversial, equation for the meaning of Christmas.
Christmas = indulgence
Don’t look at me in horror. I completely agree that Christmas is a time for giving, reflection, gratitude and all that warm fuzzy goodness. But let’s face facts. The festive season is also a time for stuffing our faces with rich, gorgeous food, guzzling all the fizz, donning our finest garb and swanning away from the office, happily thinking, ‘oooh ’tis the season, go on, let’s treat ourselves‘ (again and again and again…)
My family write Christmas lists for each other nowadays. We’ve moved past the lists to Santa and those awkward years of opening a present to find a set of pyjamas from our Great Aunt several sizes too big and covered in a floral pattern suited to… our Great Aunt. No no no. None of that (well, still the occasional blind-side from Great Aunty Jean). We write a list of exactly what we want/need, often way above budget (but that’s what Christmas is all about, remember?) and the big day comes around with that hopeful buzz of finding long-desired items hidden somewhere under the tree.
But there’s a crucial element lost in all that forward-planning and that’s surprise. This is where Mummy Teehan comes to the fore with all the purchases she made, which weren’t on our lists, but turned out to be spot-on gifts for her four completely different children and difficult-to-buy-for husband. But thinking about this brought me right back to an object which is always on my Christmas list. A thing that has not only driven my career choices, my conversation and often what I do with my free time, but has also been the vessel of human thought and ideas since 3200 BCE (according to wiki). I think you will have guessed it by now. But to remove any doubt, I’m referring to the written word, a feat that we take for granted these days, but one that is incredibly important – and not just at Christmas.
What I intend you to gain from this prosaic mumbling is that a book (be it fiction or non-fiction) is, without a doubt, the greatest gift you could get anyone at any point in the year, but seeing as Christmas is synonymous with gift-giving in our culture (and timely), we’ll stick with that. And this is something I was delighted to see captured by Quercus – a publisher renowned for its top commercial titles. So when the lovely Ella approached me asking to share some thoughts on why books are the greatest gifts to give, I could not turn her down (and when the giveaway for you lovely readers was revealed, there was no turning back!)
So let’s return to that magic sparkly sensation of holding an unknown present where you’re super excited to find out its contents. Obviously, this moment only lasts one second as the wrapping paper is soon destroyed by the enthusiastic desperation taking over your fingers. For some, that tingly feeling is over fast as you uncover another bubble bath gift set to add to a growing pile thrown in a cupboard somewhere. But for others, the adventure has only just begun as a (hopefully) beautiful cover is revealed containing within its grasp unimaginable journeys just waiting to be enjoyed. It’s true, you may have guessed that it was a book from that giveaway rectangular shape, but who knows what lies within its leaves and the rest of the day lays ahead just waiting for you to avoid setting the table and instead cosying up (maybe in those dreaded pjs?) to delight in a new story.
But the joy isn’t just in the receiving (this is sounding much more like those lessons taught in school assemblies, isn’t it?), it’s in those sessions spent dawdling around the tables and shelves in a bookshop, or scrolling down a page online, umm-ing and ahh-ing about which particular story would entice its receiver. Would your sister want Zoella’s hyped-up novel? Or would she rather tuck into a more sultry read, like the Lemon Grove, transporting her away from thick knits and cold noses to summer nights and all manners of temptation? I know Daddy Teehan will be chuffed with his crime fiction bundle – I mean, how excited can you get over a pair of elastic-free socks? Buying a book really makes you think about your friend, family member or loved one – what do they like? Would they be up for trying something new? It brings you back to what makes that person an individual and that, for me, is a very special moment.
When Amy and I launched this blog earlier this year, I had no idea how difficult it was to write a book review. Of course, I remembered the school days, writing analytical responses to a tiny passage of a classic text, but to concisely summarise your thoughts and personal reaction to a title is a challenging feat – hats off to all those journalists and bloggers who do this on a much more regular basis! But it has been incredibly rewarding to finish a book and, instead of swiftly moving on to the next one, taking the time to reflect on the words I had read and the emotions I had experienced as a result to formulate a piece of writing that would express them to a wider audience.
I’m not going to compile a ‘top ten books of the year’ list for you, as many of our reviews are on books which were originally published before 2014 – but in all honesty, outside the publishing world – who cares when a book is published, right? But I do want to draw your attention to some very special books which I would recommend dashing out to a bookshop and buying for a loved one this Christmas.
One of my ultimate highlights has to be Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, which I found incredibly moving and is definitely one of my favourite books of all time. I read it right at the beginning of the year (when it came out as paperback) and it was one of the first books I reviewed on the blog – it hasn’t left my mind since. Obviously, this was reinforced when I met Hannah at the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Awards! Dreams do come true, people. Four other incredible books that I have to mention were not only originally published in 2013 but were also enjoyed as audio books! If you’re like me and are often running around from place to place, have multiple journeys on trains or spend a fair amount of time cooking/baking in the kitchen, I truly recommend listening to an audio book – you can appreciate the value of a novel whilst completing other tasks. Multitasking for the win! My favourites were Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe; and A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. The latter two were especially enjoyable as they were read by their authors which, for me, gives a real warm feeling inside as I feel there is no-one else who can capture the emotion and true meaning of a book more than its author.
One other book I have to mention is actually coming out next year (yes, I’m breaking all the rules of book round-ups here), but I am so excited for it to hit the public. It’s called Hold the Dark by William Giraldi and is a dark, dark literary thriller. It’s really short so you’ll whiz right through as it is unbelievably gripping but believe me, it will stay with you for a long time. It’s coming out next February from No Exit Press so keep you’re eyes peeled! (If you can’t wait that long, and I’d completely understand why, the ebook is out this Christmas so get it onto your e-reader!)
I will give a nod to some 2014 titles as it has been another fantastic year for books. You may have noticed that there’s been a LOT of excitement around two Picador books, The Miniaturist and Station Eleven and although I wasn’t completely bowled over by either, they’ve certainly been worthy of their global attention and I’m delighted that two female authors have championed the reading public this year – special mentions go to Sandra and Sam for their amazing campaigns. GO GIRLS.
Talking of top women, we mustn’t forget Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah – this was no Half of a Yellow Sun but this woman is simply amazing. Her writing is captivating and when you hear her read, as Perks and I did earlier this year, it is magical. AND she likes my hair. Just saying. Shout out goes to The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair which, if you’re after a gripping but easy read (though I warn you, it’s long), it’s one to add to the list. Finally, aside from the Booker-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North and its equally plauded competitor How to be Both, I think We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is worthy of a mention – this is a beautiful book that I thoroughly enjoyed (and is much less heavy than its Booker shortlist counterparts!)
This post has turned into an ode to books, which I suppose was the point, but I hope it has convinced you that books really are the #GreatestGift you can give and there are so many out there ready to be enjoyed. As a congratulations prize for getting through this mammoth post, you can have the chance of winning this fantastic bundle of books and #GreatestGift goodies below from Quercus!
All you have to do is tweet why you think books are the #GreatestGift to @francesteehan and @QuercusBooks AND/OR comment on this post and we will reveal the winner at the end of the day! That’s right, you’ve only got until 5PM TODAY. So what are you waiting for? Go forth, tweet, comment and most importantly READ!