Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Holiday reads, or, Reading quirks, Part 5

With Halloween behind us and the Big Unmentionable approaching much more quickly than I'd like to acknowledge, it's time to look at another one of my reading quirks. This is all about holiday reads!

A necessary accompaniment for holiday reads.
Let's start with the closest one, the one we know as Joulu, Yule, Christmas... call it what you will, I'm going to claim that books are an important part of the holiday spirit. For me, they might even be the best part: to have several days when you don't have to do much, when you can just sit back and relax and read, read, read. Candles, the tree, a good book and, another essential, plenty of chocolate. Yes, that is indeed the best part!

And to thoroughly enjoy that, you need a good book. You need a great book. A really wonderful book. Which is why I always start the selection process well in advance. Or started, anyway... it has become much easier over the years, because I've decided to always go for certain favourites, something I can trust to be good.

My choice is usually something by Guy Gavriel Kay, who has let me down only once (with “Ysabel”). If he's published a new book that year, I save it (it's hard but hey, iron will... ;)) until I can open it on the 23rd of December. If there isn't anything new, I re-read one of the older ones. Kay is one of the first fantasy authors whose work I ever read and it looks like he'll be the last one as well. I've always been a very selective reader of fantasy, and lately I've only read works of a few authors... and since I keep dropping names off my list, there will soon be no one left! But I'm not giving up on Kay, his novels are everything I can wish for: they're entertaining but thought-provoking, there's history with just a bit of fantasy (the settings are fictional, but they are inspired by real places/locations/cultures), intriguing characters, epic events, a bit of romance, and stunningly beautiful writing. Yes, I am a big fan of his style, rather (melo)dramatic and poetic though it may be. These are books to get lost in, the sort where the story, the characters, the mood haunt me even when I'm not reading. They're the right books for Midwinter, when the world lies in darkness, when the wine is spiced and the candles glow.

Hefty tomes though most of Kay's books are, one isn't always enough to tide me over the holidays. Kaari Utrio's novels are also excellent choices, especially the ones set in Medieval times, or her great Viking/Crusader trilogy that takes you on a thrilling adventure from the pagan Finland through early Medieval Europe and the Byzantine court to the Middle East and even to Vinland. These are also books very rich in detail, in colour, and that just seems like a perfect fit for the holidays.
And what about the other holidays? For Midsummer, I like to choose something set in the pre-Christian times – it just seems to suit the magical feel of the Summer Solstice. And though Halloween hasn't yet established its place in my reading routine, it has done so regarding the bedtime stories I read to my daughter. Every year around Halloween we read “The Witch's Handbook” by Malcolm Bird. What is truly special about this hilarious book (try reading it and not wanting to be a witch!) is that I used to adore it as a child – and now my daughter is also a fan!

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