It happens every winter: I stop reading. Or, more accurately, I stop finishing books.
Instead of reading on my commute, I stare into space, or, if I do try to read, I struggle to concentrate, and read the same line over and over. During the holidays, I tend to be quite busy and, between doing things, I watch telly, or flick through a magazine, or play games on my phone: all valid things, but also things that stop me from reading. And when I do start a book, I seem not to finish them for ages. I struggle with the darkness in winter – it affects everything – so that probably has something to do with it.
But this year, I’m doing alright. Over the holidays, I read a bunch of books, and enjoyed them all. It feels like a good sign.
First up is a cookbook. I am nothing if not on brand. Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles was a delightful Christmas present. Usually the Christmas section of cookbooks is a variation on the same few things – how to cook a turkey, a turkey alternative, a soup, some canapes, mince pies, maybe a pudding, some cocktails – but this is so much more. An ode to winter, it’s full of all the things that make the darkness bearable: lights, baubles, fried things things dipped in sugar. Each entry has a passage, a page or two long, about a tradition, some folklore, a city, and then moves onto the food that would be good on such a day, and a recipe or two. It’s perfect to read cover to cover, and that’s exactly what I did: between Boxing Day and New Year, I spent a lot of time curled up with tea/mince pies/cheese/port/this cranberry stuff and reading this. We’ve already had a couple of dinners from it, too.
In the run up to Christmas, I found myself wanting to reread Carol – probably because it is a Christmas book, ish. I took much more time over it than the previous times I’ve read it, both at breakneck speed, and I found myself noticing a lot more (Harge buying Rindy a goat to distract her from her mother’s absence was a bizarre detail that I’m astounded I never noticed before). I was a little worried that reading it again would be less enjoyable, but I think I love it more each time.
My friend Sam gave me Women & Power by Mary Beard. Developed from two lectures, it explores the relationship between ancient and present-day western silencing of women. I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen it myself, but I found it accessible, enjoyable, and gave me some things to think about.
Lizzie gave me a stack of books for Christmas, and one of them was The almanac: a seasonal guide to 2018, which is full of things like a table of sunrise and sunset times, what plants to look for, seasonal food, what to grow, festivals, tides, meteor showers. It’s a lovely, soothing reminder to reconnect with nature from time to time, which I need, because I forget. I have told approximately a million people that the day gets longer by an hour and twelve minutes through January, and every one of them has been a bit heartened by it.
I also got partway through Pride and prejudice – I’ve never read Jane Austen, but my experiences of the classics at school were somewhat off-putting, and I’m sad about it. When Sam discovered this, she was horrified, so I asked her where I should start. I was enjoying it, but then it had a fight with a water bottle, so it’s on hiatus.
It’s just so good to have finished some stuff. Maybe not very much, but we’re only two weeks into the year, so it’s a good start.