17 December 2013

Megan's Christmas Wishlist

Posted by Megan Marsh

If you're looking to survive Christmas without any family feuds, books are a crucial weapon in your arsenal. Of course, family is what Christmas is all about, along with peace and goodwill to all men. But things can get fraught nevertheless: nerves fray, scented bath products are gifted, and unwanted advice starts to proliferate, especially in the kitchen. Having the right book to read can provide a much-needed breathing space – a quiet refuge; something to fill your hands and your brain that isn't polite conversation or yet another turkey sandwich.

You'll need a book that will take you a little while to read – the last thing you want is to be bookless on Boxing Day afternoon, left to the mercies of Monopoly and the Muppets. A good trick is to choose something which you can dip in and out of, or which will offer an intriguing second reading. And ideally, you want a book that will appear unenticing to your relatives. This will save you from the perils of having others borrow your book.

I have composed my Christmas wishlist with these important tenets in mind, and it runs as follows:

Children of the Days, by Eduardo Galeano. It's subtitled 'A Calendar of Human History', and it offers, in the model of a chapbook or a book of hours, factual delicacies for each day of the year. It's beautifully written, but what really sets it apart from the standard miscellanies is the fierce humanity and sense of outrage at the injustices of history that will be familiar to anyone who has read Galeano's previous work. It's the sort of stuff that makes my cynical heart lift and my extended family roll their eyes.

The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy. There's something fascinating about other people's love letters, and how can you resist missives addressed to 'Darling Treasure Paws' and 'Dearest Worshipped Rump'? Isherwood is an old favourite of mine, and his relationship with Bachardy has always touched a chord: seek out Bachardy's portraits of Isherwood on his deathbed if you're looking for a poignant coda to this wonderful book.

Hopscotch, by Julio Cortazar. If ever there was a book to reward a second reading, it would be this one. The original hypertext novel, it opens with two different sets of instructions for reading the book (one ending at chapter 56, the other starting at chapter 73). It features mental asylums, bohemian living and a mysterious woman called La Maga, in whatever order you choose.