A Break (with traditions)

Two traditions that have taken root in our household at this time of year:
1. Each of the kids’ ‘Christmas Eve box’ contains new pyjamas, a fizzy bath bomb – and a book.
2. Boxing Day (i.e. what we call 26th December or St Stephen’s Day in the UK) is Reading Day. It’s a bank holiday (except in Scotland) and , spat out from the cyclone of Christmas preparation and celebration, I sit – or more probably lie – around and make major inroads into the pile of books I got given as gifts.

Below is a sample of what’s on my list this year. There are more factual than fiction books here – mainly because I buy myself novels and stories throughout the year.

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paul Byrne
Another tradition of sorts – I always get at least one biography of a writer. Usually a female writer. Often a twentieth-century female writer. This year, English novelist Barbara Pym 1913 – 1980). I have not read much by Pym, best known for  her social comedies – okay, only Quartet in Autumn, but I intent to rectify that. She is an author often seen now as neglected or ‘forgotten – see this article in the New York Times, for example. And poet Philip Larkin said of her: ‘I’d sooner read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen.’ First though, a look into her mid-century life, which traverses a fascinating period of history and change.

Patricia Highsmith – Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995
Factual again, biography (of sorts) again. A  twentieth-century female writer, again. I cannot get enough. A ground-breaking writer on several fronts, and what a life. Writer, traveller, hard drinker, chain smoker, unapologetic lover of many, mainly women. Ms Highsmith could, notoriously, be unpleasant (though reviews of these diaries suggest, apparently, this was not always the case). She has been described variously as ‘rude’, ‘misanthropic’, and ‘bloody-minded’. Was she more harshly judged because she was a women? I’ll be better equipped to decide after reading this.

Lily: A tale of revenge, by Rose Tremain
I love Rose Tremain, and must have read most of the novels by this contemporary writer (plus, yes, of course, Tremain’s own autobiography). This one is set in mid-19th-century London, a picaresque novel with a female protagonist.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
I’ve been wanting to read this for months – late to the party. It was a big success in the summer – and in many ways, a ‘summer read’. Just needed it to come down in price a bit (sorry). One of the things that interests me is that it looks to be a circadian novel, i.e. one set in the course of a single day. More examples here.

Everything: A Maximalist Style Guide by Abigail Ahern
How I admire minimalism. And how I cannot live like that. For all that I continually weed books, plants (in more than one sense), and a host of objects with more decorative that utilitarian value, still there is – stuff. I know myself by now. Let’s give in to it. And another part of the tradition – at least one non-fiction / non-biography goes on the list.

What books are on your gift wish-list?

Image thanks
Main photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

11 thoughts on “A Break (with traditions)

  1. Thanks for the suggestions. I’m going to check them out. Merry, Merry.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would like the biography of Barbara Pam, gems of humour, usually not a lot happens, but that is rather the point. She wrote what she knew. I think I first read her books when I had our first baby and the quiet single lives of her ladies was a bit of escapism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ‘not much happening’, alongside the middle-class set-ups, is presumably why Miss Pym was out of fashion for some time, in the 1960s. The escapism whilst at the thick end of babies and juggling family life makes me smile. So true.


  3. An interesting selection. I’m with Philip Larkin on this

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really didn’t like Paper Palace…the writing was OK…but I couldn’t decide if she hated men or thought of them as saviors. I felt like men always came in to “save” the day, even though she didn’t explicitly say it.I felt it was inconsistent. I get that the women were treated poorly by men, but the women still expected men to save them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. IMany thanks, interesting take. I did wonder what I would think of a woman choosing between two men – when will we see more plots that feature women choosing, preferring, to be alone?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly? Are we still feeding the notion that a woman must have a partner in order to be complete?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I miss getting books as gifts… I like your reading tradition! I used to do the same back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So many books I want to read, it’s a hard choice to pick a few as suggested gifts.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Except for Highsmith, I don’t know anybody. As far as my current purchases and readings I realize most of my choices are dead authors, or getting on in years… Mostly American. Mostly mystery or Sci-Fi. Completing Dorsai. Will re-start Dune shortly. I find SF writers are good “filters” to understand where the world might be going.
    I also need to get back to my writing.
    A bientôt mon amie du Lancashire…


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