The river has frozen over this week, with just a small open patch at the narrows where the current is strongest. That means winter is firmly and finally here. Christmas is less than a week away. My fruitcake is baked. We’ll put up the tree tomorrow. And so, I’ve begun to plan my holiday reading.
The holiday reading season in our house starts on Boxing Day morning. Hubby heads out for his ski, or his walk if he’s particularly unlucky with the weather. And I hunker down with the leftover Christmas sticky buns and a pot of tea. And I read most of the day. One year Hubby bought me Clara Callen by Canadian writer Richard B. Wright for Christmas. I read the whole book on Boxing Day. Gad, I love that book.
Another year, knowing how much I love vintage everything, Hubby gave me John Steinbeck’s, The Wayward Bus, purchased from a used bookseller in Almonte. I love early twentieth century American fiction and I’d never heard of this book. You know, I may read it again this year. In a Sunburned Country was for Christmas 2002 because we were heading off to Australia later that winter. This book is Bryson’s best, in my opinion. Hilarious. And a must read if you want to visit downunder, or if you already have, or even if you live there. And Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure was an inspired choice, considering how much I love travel books and Hemingway. Palin wrote the book from letters and compiled diaries written while he was filming the television series of the same name. Hubby and I then had the fun of watching the series later that year.
So, like in years gone by, I’m hoping that my Boxing Day reading will set me up for the rest of the holidays. Skiing, eating, reading: that’s the agenda for at least a week.
This is where I do most of my holiday reading, curled up on the sofa in the sun room overlooking the frozen Rideau River. The tree lights will be twinkling and the gas stove ticking as it heats or cools. I don’t know why I find that sound so soothing. Hopefully snow will be falling on the river outside.
But what will I be reading? Now there’s a difficult question to answer. I should be reading books from the pile below. Books I own but have never read. I don’t know why I never finished Linden McIntyre’s The Only Café. I loved The Bishop’s Man. Ditto with Helen Humphreys’ The Evening Chorus. Her book The Lost Garden is one of my all time favourites. I purchased Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Our Fathers when Hubby and I were in Ireland many years ago and never read it. Shame on me. A few weeks ago Hubby, desperate for something new to read, picked it up, even though it’s one of “my books that he wouldn’t like”…aka not mysteries. He really enjoyed it and said he thought I would too.
Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O’Farrell is a recent purchase, and it’s on deck to be my Boxing Day read. I’m really looking forward to this book. I know that I will get to Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist because we’re discussing it in my book club in the new year. And Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light has been sitting on my shelf for a month or two. I deliberately held off reading that one, waiting for the dead of winter and reading by the fireside with tea and fruitcake.
So those three books are on the top of my list. And I am hoping to get to some of the other worthy books in my guilt-inducing pile. I know all of the rest are great books. And I want to say to each of them that sad break-up cliché … “it’s not you, it’s me.” Because it really is all me.
One should not have to ask an avid reader why they are planning their holiday reading. Why they are getting their books all lined up and ready for Boxing Day. Because, that’s why. Because that spell between Christmas and New Year’s has always been a quiet, bookish time. Ever since I was a child. And later, when I was a teacher, burying myself in reading for pleasure was what holidays were made for, and made such a delicious break from reading student work. Reading for pleasure was so wonderfully freeing, so unburdened with the responsibility of having to assign a grade, and provide constructive and encouraging comments.
I’m hoping that the joy of holiday reading won’t desert me this year. But if that pile of unread and unfinished books, not to mention the plethora of e-books started and abandoned since the spring, is anything to go by, I may struggle with my reading this holiday season.
My ability to focus on reading has suffered this year. I’m restless and fidgety and, at times, cranky. I have frequently struggled to finish a book. I can’t seem to get through more than a few pages, before I get up to make tea. Then when I sit back down, I pick up my ipad and check my blog for comments. I decide while I’m at it to log onto Instagram, and then log off in disgust after a few minutes because I’m so sick of IG “Reels.” All that canned music. All the dancing and strutting and flouncing. I move onto Facebook. I might begin reading an interesting article from one of the journals I follow, until the reader comments make me furious. Sometimes because of their content. Sometimes just the grammar sets me off. Can’t anyone spell “you’re” anymore? Then I return to my book and the whole cycle begins again.
I know that social isolation, worry about family, worry about whatever and whoever, and the feeling of being in limbo have all affected me more than I think. Or like to admit.
So over the holidays when I take my usual blog break, I’m also going to take a break from social media. And I’m going to force myself to abandon e-books for a while. Electronic books are convenient, especially for travel. Sometimes they are the only way to access those books that would be out of print if not for electronic copies. Like many of my favourite “gentle reads,” which have seriously helped me survive some pretty stressful times. Electronic books saved my bacon during lockdown when signing out real books from the library was impossible. But they really do make it too easy to get distracted by the internet. Hence I’ll confine myself to that pile of hard copy books for the holidays. We’ll call it my 7-day technology cleanse.
Yep, Christmas is almost here. Yesterday as I headed off to see Carmen for my Christmas haircut, I checked to see if I could spot the eagle out on the river. Now that the river has frozen, we have begun eagle watching again. Hubby swears that it’s the same huge bird that returns year after year. He circles the river, where the ice meets the open water, making two or three slow passes, flying lower and lower before he buggers off, lazily flapping his wings, right over our house.
We love to see the eagle. Except when he stays too long, and sits in the neighbour’s tree overhanging the river, waiting for the otters. Sigh. Our lovely family of otters that each year pops out of the water and up onto the ice right in front of our house. Oh, it’s so stressful. Will the eagle get one or won’t he? Yesterday he was feeding on something out on the ice. Even through binoculars Hubby couldn’t tell what it was. I think I’d rather not know.
If I’m in the sunroom reading when he arrives, I have to abandon my book until he is gone. I know, I know. Everything has to eat. But I don’t have to watch. Which as a meat-eater makes me a hypocrite. I know that too.
You know, it seems as if nature and technology have conspired to keep me from my reading. But I’m going to try my best to get my reading mojo back over the holidays. We’ll see how that goes.
I won’t say Merry Christmas yet, my friends, because I will post once more before the holidays begin. My December Vlog post. I may convince Hubby to sing. We’ll see about that too, I guess. 🙂
If you have any engrossing books that will make good holiday reading, please pass the titles on to us in the comments. Nothing too too depressing please. I’m a realist. And I love good quality fiction. But this Pollyanna sometimes needs to take a slight vacation from too much reality.
Now if I could just get the eagle to make friends with the otters I’d be perfectly happy. Ha.