Christmas is busy, but it’s also a time for being cozy and forgetting all about regular stuff—and just curling up with a good story. Maybe it’s with a book from under the tree. Sure, that present was easy to guess, but unlike other gifts, it contains within it a whole world.
The first thing I remember ever wishing for, ever really really wanting, was a book. I didn’t have any specific book in mind, I just wanted one of my own, one of those magical things. My little bookish heart wished and wished. Our home didn’t have a lot of books and, as is usual in a family of nine people, they were mostly shared. The first book that was incontrovertibly mine—because I had won it in a Sunday School memorization contest—was Judy Began It by Ellen Elliott. It had a red cover with a little terrier dog on it. That was Judy. She discovered a mysterious note that plunged her and her four children into a mystery. The story was above my age, but I struggled through to the end. That was my first experience of sticking with a text even though I didn’t understand it well, and having it raise me to another level. Just one of so many wonderful things a book can do!
The first thing I ever prayed for very fervently was a book. That prayer was answered, and I received for Christmas a bible of my own: filmy pages with a few thicker ones where a picture was inserted, and a white leather zip-shut cover. A special little book and a prized belonging. Later, I won a copy of Little Women for having top marks in grade four, sending me into the summer holidays with hours of enchantment. I read that story every summer after, well into adulthood, until the book disintegrated from use. Well, that can happen to bookworms . . .
So, like every year since Judy Began It for me, this one has been punctuated and becharmed with books. Here are just a few memorable reads:
- The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle—This debut novel by Stuart Turton was one of my favourite reads of 2019. The Amazon description says it perfectly: A brilliantly original high concept murder mystery from a fantastic new talent: Gosford Park meets Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Oh, and it’s gorgeously written. ‘Nuf said. Read it!
- The Inner Level—Further research by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett on the deep, debilitating effects of inequality in society.
- Winners Take All—A challenging and disturbing rumination from Anand Giridharadas on how changemaking is co-opted by elites, and the damaging results. But, I was disappointed that the book doesn’t suggest any solutions. Now what? Yes, what now?
- Razor Girl—Biting hijinks as we’ve come to expect from the one and only Carl Hiaasen.
- Roller Girl—This book for young readers by Victoria Jamieson is the first graphic novel I’ve read, believe it or not. It was a Newbery winner and deservedly so. I loved it! And I found the graphic novel experience on a kindle to be brilliant.
- Me, Myself, and Them—A funny and haunting tale of mental illness and wellness, crafted by Dan Mooney.
- The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman—who is one of my literary heroes. I’ve read and loved so many of his books, including his fantastic, if less-well-known works for young children, such as I Was A Rat and Count Karlstein. As a fan of His Dark Materials, I couldn’t wait for The Book of Dust to come out and I gobbled it right up. It was just what you hope for—getting totally lost in that other world. But the ending was the worst cliff hanger! How long now till the next book??
- The Balkan Route—A noir detective story from Cal Smyth. When I first visit a new country, I always try to read a mystery book set there. Mysteries are often wonderful vehicles for day-to-day and quirky details about a place. This one was no exception . . . but it was creepy to read about the precipitating grisly murder and realize it was set on the very street where I was living in Belgrade! Yikes!
- The Knife of Never Letting Go—Besides having one of the most brilliant book titles ever, this YA story from Patrick Ness seizes you and never lets up. What would life be like if we really could hear each other’s thoughts? And in this world, what if there were people whose thoughts you couldn’t hear? How would people love or trust or know each other? A story as compelling and unrelenting as unruly, wheeling thoughts themselves.
- Wonderbook: the illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction—Sheer inspiration for creatives from Jeff VanderMeer and his collection of contributors.
So, it’s Christmas. The tortière is baking and making everything smell delicious, and I’m curling up with my last couple of books for 2019. And next year is only a week away—let the 2020 books begin!