By India Knight
I checked this book out from the library after Kinsey discussed it in her post about recommended holiday readings, and it was a very good holiday book indeed.
Here’s the thing about Comfort & Joy: the narrator, Clara, feels just like a very good friend. I wish I could just sit down and chat with her, hearing her opinions about life and sharing my opinions and just comparing our viewpoints. Just like with any friend, most of the time I think she’s very smart and interesting, and sometimes I think she’s being silly and melodramatic, and sometimes I imagine that she would think that I was being the same.
The book is broken up into three years’ worth of Christmases (or Christmi, to use an inside joke from the book). Five pages in, I had my first laugh-out-loud moment; seven pages in, I felt Knight had already perfectly captured an aspect of Christmas with this quote:
“That’s the thing about presents, isn’t it? Especially Christmas ones. The judiciously chosen present, the perfect gift, is offered up in the spirit of atonement and regeneration. It says, ‘Look, I know I don’t call as often as I should, and I know you think I’m grumpy and short-tempered’—insert your own personal failings here; I’m merely précising mine—‘but the thing is, I know you so well and I love you so much that I have bought you the perfect thing. And so now everything’s okay, at least for today.’ Which is all very lovely but a great deal easier said than done, and which is why I can feel the hair at the back of my neck curling with heat and stress.”
Honestly, it actually felt a little odd reading it at my own family Christmas. It is so realistic and engrossing (with some similarities but mostly very different from my own life) that I felt like I was almost experiencing two realities layered on top of each other.
Now that Thanksgiving is over I can officially start one of my annual holiday traditions: the rereading of the Christmas books. I don’t tend to decorate much, but there’s a certain set of books that makes it feel like Christmas to me.
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis
I am alternatively thrilled and aggravated by Connie Willis. To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my favorite books, but Blackout and All Clear were interminable (this does not mean that I didn’t cry at the end, because I totally did). But I adore this book of Christmas short stories and read it every year. Each story has at least a hint of science fiction about them, but the stories span the range of emotions. There’s a romantic comedy that involves aliens invading at Christmas and a haunting thriller about three modern-day wise men driving across the U.S. in a blizzard. In my favorite story, Mary and Jesus accidentally stumble through time into a modern day church during Christmas preparations, and a busy mom has to help them get back to Bethlehem. Plus, the forward to the book includes Willis’s own list of favorite holiday books and movies.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
This one is not overly Christmas-y–although it does feature a Christmas scene–but for some reason it puts me in a cozy, holiday state of mind. Perhaps because the story about British teenagers in the 1950s is so pretty and candy-colored that it feels like a fairy tale. I’ve read about a trillion books set in WWII England, but hardly any about the generation that came of age immediately after the war, so this offers a slightly different perspective.
Olive, the Other Reindeer
Yes, it’s a kids’ book, but it’s got a small dog! Named Olive! It’s just charming.
Comfort and Joy by India Knight
This just came out last year, but it immediately earned a permanent place on my list of holiday books. There’s not a lot of plot here, it’s just the story of a modern-day, many-branched English family trying to sort out how to celebrate Christmas. I adore India’s blog and love following her on Twitter because her writing makes you feel like you’ve just sat down with her to have a cup of tea and tell scandalous stories about all your mutual friends. This book feels exactly the same way and is full of all sorts of wonderful family and holiday details. I had to order mine from Amazon.co.uk last year, but now you can can get a nice, affordable American version.
Also, I think all of us would happier people if we all rewatched While You Were Sleeping during this time of year.