Reading Round-Up: December 2021

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for December, 2021.

Romola, by George Eliot – I started the month with Romola on my kindle during a business trip out west. Not much to say now, because I’ll have a full review (for the Classics Club)… one of these days. I didn’t love it – partly because I was completely mistaken about what it was actually about, but mainly because it was no Middlemarch.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2021, by Lia Leendertz – I love reading Leendertz’s seasonal guides month by month through the year, and I’m always a little sad to read the last chapter. This one was a delight, as were its predecessors. Focusing on the Romani people and on migration and movement, every chapter was wonderful.

A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier – I’ve never read any of Chevalier’s historical fiction novels before. This one – focusing on a “surplus woman” who leaves her mother’s house seeking freedom and a life of her own, and falls in with a group of Cathedral embroiderers – was fun, although I found the ending a little unsatisfying.

Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden, by Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates – Another month-by-month read through the year, I really enjoyed Macdonald’s and Gates’ vivid descriptions of the seasonal shifts, flora and fauna, in a traditional English orchard – one of only a few remaining. The authors make a beautifully written and compelling case for preserving these habitats.

No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read – I was feeling a bit grinchy this holiday season, so I kicked off Christmas reading with an old favorite. Miss Quinn is looking forward to a quiet Christmas of redecorating, when she is pressed into aunt service to look after her nieces and nephew while their mother is in the hospital. It’s just the shot of Christmas spirit Miss Quinn needs, and it was just what I needed, too.

Frost Fair, by Carol Ann Duffy – A new discovery this year: Carol Ann Duffy’s Christmas poems, which have been published one each year in tiny and beautifully illustrated volumes. I picked up a couple, and started with this poem about the Great Frost of 1683. It was gorgeous.

Tied Up in Tinsel (Roderick Alleyn #27), by Ngaio Marsh – I’ve been wanting to read more Ngaio Marsh, and this Christmas country house mystery, recently reissued in the Hatchards Library limited edition set, was just the bump I needed. It was fun – and a unique twist, with the entire household staff of “Halberds” made up of convicted murderers (!!!) but I found it slow going in places.

The King and the Christmas Tree, by A.N. Wilson – I was so excited to read this nonfiction account of the reason why the people of Oslo send a Norway spruce to the people of London every Christmas – and it didn’t disappoint. The story of the King of Norway’s daring escape from the Nazis and his welcome in England is as good as a thriller. A.N. Wilson’s book is written for YA audiences, but anyone would enjoy this.

The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, stories and essential recipes for midwinter, by Nigel Slater – I normally don’t sit down and read a cookbook cover-to-cover, but as the subtitle makes clear, this is far more than “just” a cookbook. Slater loves winter and Christmas, and his beautiful notes and gorgeous photographs amply demonstrate why. I would like to make a few of the recipes (which I skimmed) but the real value in this book was the evocative writing about a season so many people struggle to love.

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday, by Carol Ann Duffy – Another of Carol Ann Duffy’s Christmas poems – this one features Dorothy Wordsworth, who walks through the snowy landscape, welcomes carolers, and hosts Samuel Taylor Coleridge for a birthday dinner at her brother’s table. Quiet and sweet.

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Correspondence, by John Julius Norwich – This is a Christmas Eve tradition for me – ten minutes’ worth of laughing, which I can always use by this point in the season. There’s no antidote to holiday stress quiet like Norwich’s hilarious letters from frazzled “Emily” to her overbearing fiance on the occasion of his gifting her a partridge in a pear tree and… you get the picture. Unless, that is, it’s Quentin Blake’s absolutely perfect illustrations.

A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book, by Philip Rhys Evans – Another Christmas tradition – I have read this on Christmas Day every year since 2018, always taking a break amid the detritus of Christmas morning, before it’s time to get up and cook (or at least help with) dinner. The “There’ll Always Be an England” segments are my favorite, but really it’s all gold.

The Country Child, by Alison Uttley – I have had a lovely Folio Society edition of this book for years, and finally picked it up for the Comfort Book Club’s December readalong. Having loved A Traveller in Time, I had high hopes for Uttley’s semi-autobiographical The Country Child. It was gorgeously written and evocative, but not as tightly plotted or drawn as A Traveller in Time, and while I loved it, I did bog down in spots.

The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, by Andrew Gant – This was under the Christmas tree (thank you, Steve!) and I excitedly opened it on the day after Christmas to get in one last holiday themed read for the season. It was really fascinating, although I expect I’d get more out of it if I knew more about music history… or music theory… or music, at all, really.

A Year of Scottish Poems, ed. Gaby Morgan – I’ve been reading this pretty volume all year, one poem a day more or less (I’ve gotten behind a few times and had to plough through several weeks’ worth to catch up). It’s a lovely way to end my day, and I really enjoyed this selection – which was a good mix of classic and new poetry, all from Scotland.

Whew! What a way to end the year, right? Fifteen books, many of them absolutely wonderful! The highlight of the month was definitely “The King and the Christmas Tree,” although I also really loved the Nigel Slater, and it was fun to revisit Miss Quinn, of course. For January, I already have a stack of wintry reads awaiting – just need some snow, now.

What were your reading highlights for December ’21?

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