Christmas day is quiet in the BookAddict’s house this year. For the most wonderful of reasons – the arrival of a healthy, hearty and much loved little boy yesterday, on Christmas Eve, into our circle, our festivities will start tomorrow with Boxing Day, and then our ‘Christmas Day’ on Monday.
That leaves a little time for reading, and blogging, today on Christmas Day and I thought it would be fun to share the books that lovely friends and family have given as presents for Christmas this year.
The tradition of giving books and other keepsakes at Christmas has ancient origins but had been largely the preserve of the affluent elite. Spring used to be the prime time for book production but with technological advances in the early 19th century, printing and books became cheaper and more plentiful and by the 1840s peak time had shifted to October, with publishers and printers rushing out enough gift books, special editions and Christmas reading to assuage the growing demands of the aspiring middle-classes to celebrate Christmas in style. Authors, too, developed an acute understanding of the potential of the Christmas market. Charles Dickens wrote Christmas-themed stories for special editions of magazines such as Household Works and All Year Round and in 1843 he published the perennial Xmas favourite, a Christmas Carol. Fables, ghost stories and fairy tales were prominent among Victorian Christmas gift books, with new fantasy stories from the likes of Charles Kingsley, Christina Rosetti and Lewis Carroll mixing with retellings of traditional stories and cheap reprints of classic works.
Books intended for the Christmas market were often elaborately and beautifully decorated and illustrated – it was an era when books were often appreciated, and shown off, for their physical appearance as much as their contents. The one shown above – a copy of the Ingoldsby Legends from the 1860s – is typical, with its generous block gold decorations. This one is in the fine care of the British Library in London, which is probably the best place for it if it can’t be under my Christmas tree!
We’ve delayed our gift giving, along with the other festivities, but I couldn’t resist opening my LibraryThing Secret Santa exchange parcel. (For booklovers, the LibraryThing Secret Santa, organised each year by wonderful Lorenne at LibraryThing HQ, is Christmas heaven – LibraryThing members opt in to send one another member a book or two for Christmas. You get to put in a little info about your reading tastes, or wishlist wants, or whatever, and Loranne matches you to someone else who has similar reading tastes (and therefore might know of little gems you have yet to discover) and they choose the books you receive. Picking the right book for someone else is enormous fun, and very rewarding when you get it right, and made much easier as LibraryThing members (mostly) have their books catalogued on LibraryThing, so you know what they already have and, perhaps, what they have enjoyed reading in the past.)
Whoever did the choosing for me this year got it just right right and, of the three books I received, two were books I would have chosen for myself if I had known of them and the third was one that I had long been wanting to read but hadn’t quite gotten around to it. (Thank you so much, Secret Santa!)
Secret Santa sent me The Art of English Murder by Lucy Worsley – a book I didn’t know existed by perfectly blends my interests in true crime, crime and detective fiction and history. I recall enjoying the series when it was shown on TV, but I didn’t get to see them all, and the book is even better! I can say this with confidence, as I’m already half way through!
The second book out of the generously-sized parcel was another I hadn’t come across before, but am now very glad to have it. The Italian Boy by Sarah Wise promises a retelling of a true story of murder and grave-robbery in 1830s London. A true crime story, set in early Victorian London couldn’t be a better choice for me.
And the final book in this special parcel is The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Winner of the Man Booker Prize a couple of years back, I’ve long been meaning to read this, and now I can!
I’ve given quite a few books as Christmas presents myself this year too. I will post about those, and why I chose them, but I don’t want to give the game away before we have our delayed present exchange on Monday. I also plan to update this book if I’m lucky enough to receive any more books this Christmas.
Have you given or received books as Christmas gifts this year? Which are your favourites & why? Blogged about them? Have the odd photo or two? Please share. Post a link to you blog or photos or whatever before and, if you like, share on Twitter using the hashtag #XmasGiftBook
There’s a lovely blog post here, on books from Christmas past, by Bristol-based book blogger, Claire.