Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Congrats, Iceland. Really. (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)



I know a lot of writers, librarians, academics, and lay-booklovers, so that thing about how everyone in Iceland gets books for presents on Christmas Eve and then spends the whole night snuggling under the covers and reading has lit up my Facebook feed about 80 bazillion times this holiday season. Rough estimate.


 I'm not sure if this is true or just a myth generated and perpetuated by the Internet, but either way I have this to say to Iceland.

Congrats. Seriously, congrats, Iceland, on making the rest of us look bad, all the time.

Here we are down in more temperate climes, running around like Buddy the Elf on uncut maple syrup straight from the tree, eating and drinking ourselves sick, visiting however many people we need to visit to make every family member happy, going to church however many times we need to go to make every family member happy, staying up to make sure Santa makes it to our house, getting up early to make sure we get everywhere we need to go, hoping all the decorating and wrapping and doing get done.

And there you are, Iceland, in your perpetual Yuletide darkness, with your Hygge (I know Hygge is Danish, but isn't Iceland sort of Danish, too? I am too busy to look it up. I hope I am not creating an international incident or being ignorantly offensive.), smugly watching this when you look up from your book once in a while to gaze in a magic snow globe like the one Santa has to show him what's going on down in the world below the Arctic Circle. (Are you below the Arctic Circle? I am too busy to look it up.)

My annoyance is born of jealousy. Icelandic Christmas Eve sounds like an introvert's dream, while American Christmas Eve is an introvert's nightmare. I am an introvert.

(There are some things about healthcare and gender equality I am also jealous of, but this is a Christmas post.)

But Christmas Eve is over now. Now it's the day after Christmas. Also known as St. Stephen's Day, Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas, the first day of Kwanzaa, and probably some other things, though as a child I simply thought of it as The Most Depressing Day of the Year.

Now I love this time. My family, out of necessity and sanity, began celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas about a decade ago. We don't try to do it all on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We do our visiting and traveling and so forth during the 12 Days instead. Let me tell you, it's so much better than one.

This time, this week between Christmas and New Year's, has always had a sort of unreal quality about it for me, like it's somehow not really part of time. It seems like stolen time. The rush is over, the new year not yet come. So I hope during this strange week, you can find some time to read like you were in Iceland. With that in mind, my gift to you is a list of book recommendations for this week. It's still Christmas through Twelfth Night, after all.

1. Have you seen British Library Reprints? You must see them, and you must check out the Crime Classics series. This December, I read Mystery in White and The Santa Klaus Murder, both lovely, cozy, Golden Age country house mysteries begging for the Masterpiece treatment.

2. Have you read Nancy Mitford? Do you like Jane Austen? Would you like Jane Austen with more bite? You could do worse than to check out Mitford's second novel, Christmas Pudding, the funniest Christmas book I've read.

3. Do you feel your holiday should have been more spiritual, but do you fail (as I often/always do) to make it so? Sarah Arthur's anthology of poetry and prose selected from over 2000 years of writing helps. Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany is elevating winter reading even if you're not among those Christian denominations that celebrate the seasons of the church.

4. Do you prefer short stories at this season, find them easier to digest than a whole novel? YA lovers have doubtless heard of My True Love Gave to Me, which is excellent. If you can get your hands on a copy of the out of print May Your Days Be Merry and Bright: Christmas Stories by Women, it will change your life.

5. Our own Holly Schindler recently released the novella Christmas at Ruby's, a sweet Christmas ghost story, which I read on the treadmill this afternoon. It was exactly what I needed to read, so thanks, Holly.

(I would link to all these, but I'm writing this four days before Christmas and am too busy being Buddy the Elf. Search for them wherever you like to buy books.)

Now I'd love a gift in return. What are your favorite Christmas/Holiday/Winter reads? Tell me in the comments. And give yourself a night this week to read like you're in Iceland.




14 comments:

  1. I too admire this Icelandic tradition, Courtney! Maybe next year. Thanks for the list of Christmas-y reads. My favorite story to read this time of year is "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote.

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    1. Oh, I have never read that. I'll have to add it to my list!

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  2. I can't post a pic here but believe me when I say we have a STACK of holiday books at my house! My favorite is a beautiful book called "Kringle" by Tony Abbott. I bought it purely on a whim because of its gorgeousness (gold-tipped pages! glorious art!) and my kids love the spooky Christmas story (a 12 yr old Kris Kringle and goblins!). I think we're the only family who owns it, though.

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    1. I don't own it, but I feel like I have read it. I think it came out while I was a children's librarian and I read it then. I love a spooky Christmas story.

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  3. My sister has started the jolabokaflod with her family, and it is the most peaceful, magical feeling! This winter, I'm returning to mysteries by picking up P.D. James!

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    1. On your recommendation, I started the Lord Peter Whimsey series, which is so fun. I have read maybe one P.D. James, but always intended to read more. Let me know what you think! Also, good for your sister. That sounds so fun--how does she get kids to do that on Christmas Eve? What is her secret??

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  4. My favorite read of 2017, which I just finished today: The Jane Austen Project. My head is struggling to leave that world!

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  5. Hey, thanks for reading RUBY, Courtney! So glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. :-) Great to know we still have hope for second acts!

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  6. Fun post! Thanks for all the tips, will check some of the books/anthologies out, especially Holly's new release. Happy new year to you and yours.

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  7. I am currently reading An Old Fashioned Christmas, a collection of nine Christian Historical Romances by nine different authors. It was a gift for Christmas a year ago, and I'm just getting around to it. I was braced for the stories to be hokey, but they're actually delightful.

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    1. So nice when a book exceeds your expectations! I love a surprise like that.

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