Christmas is not a day, but a season. My favourite part is between Christmas Day and the New Year celebrations when, if I’m lucky, there are a few tranquil days when I can sit and be quiet with some reading knowing there is a fridge full of food.
Here are two books that always come out at that time:
These are my reading diaries. Month by month, since I was about twenty, I have recorded the books I read. For a long time I just noted the author and the book title. In recent years I sometimes record a few thoughts on the book in question, but it’s not systematic.
The blue diary was the first one. It begins in summer 1984 (with Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native) and ends in July 1998 (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark). I bought it in the Post Office, it has one of those faintly textured board coverings that hides stains from coffee cups quite well but not quite well enough. I remember buying it and wondering whether I should buy half a dozen, thinking that I would be needing more in years to come. But student frugality stopped me. It is a very good book: after thirty years it is holding together really well.
By the time summer 1998 came round I was silly enough to buy something more glamorous, hence volume 2, covered in velvet and with a spine in fraying metallic gold and red fabric. The price was £15.95 according to the label that is still inside the cover, but I got it in the sale. I regretted it almost instantly – it is pretty, but it has been on the verge of falling to bits ever since I got it. It opens with W G Sebald’s The Emigrants and last night I added A Notable Woman (which is Jean Lucey Pratt’s diary edited by Simon Garfield) to the list for December 2015.
The reason why they come out at this time of year? Because it’s a cosy thing to look back and see what I was reading five and ten and twenty (and thirty) years ago. Because it reminds me of books I once meant to read and might, now, in 2016. And because once a year I sit in an armchair with a cup of tea and look back at my reading over the past twelve months and select the book which is to be the recipient of the ‘Diane Setterfield Read of the Year’ award. There is no prize attached to it. There is no glory. The winner will not even know they have won. It’s just a thing I like to do, in private.
This year the award will be decided on Boxing Day. I am looking forward to it very much. And some time in 2016 (in the summer months I reckon, unless I do more lengthy commenting than usual) I will go shopping for a new reading diary to take me through the next decade or two. It will be a sensible one, and not something that is going to fray and fall apart in no time.
Merry Christmas – and may you have a good deal of happy reading in the holidays!