I’m 99% sure I was born with a book in my hand.
I was one of those kids who read 24/7. We had to write about our weekends on Mondays at infant school, and on every single page of my book I’ve written about the Enid Blyton book I read or bought. I wrote my own stories and read them to the class. Literacy, and then English, were my favourite subject. I love words, and why wouldn’t you? I got a Kindle last year, but there’s still nothing quite like reading a real book in bed in winter. So, in light of this, I’m going to let you into some secrets about some cosy books to read in the run up to Christmas. Get yourself a cup of something hot and delicious, claim your favourite spot on the sofa and get ready to be swept into five different worlds of festive loveliness.
Scandinavian Christmas by Trine Hahnemann
This is the book that started it all. Without it, I don’t think this blog would exist. Imagine – a life without Hello Hygge! Doesn’t bear thinking about. This book is by Trine Hahnemann, a Danish chef, writer and expert in food culture (can I have that job please?), and is a glimpse into the beautiful, cosy world of Christmas in Scandinavia. The gorgeous imagery is the epitome of hygge, and every single traditional Scandi recipe looks divine. I have a few Nordic cookbooks, but this is by far my favourite, with its smattering of anecdotes and interjections about what it means to celebrate Christmas in Scandinavia.
Celebrate one of the Advent Sundays outside. Play in the snow; remember there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Serve hot drinks, salmon sandwiches, and ‘nisse’ (elf) cake, make a stew and bake bread over the open fire…
This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
Don’t you just love a title that rolls off the tongue? I must confess, I’m a bit of a Jon McGregor evangelist. He wrote my favourite book, I’m reading one of his books now, and I’m including this here, despite the fact it’s not strictly a ‘wintery book’. It’s set in Norfolk, where the author grew up, and it’s a series of snapshots of life in the fens. It’s an intimate way to explore the landscape, and McGregor’s way with words gave me heart palpitations more than once (I’m a delicate little flower, I know). The story that has always stuck with me is called In Winter The Sky. There are several little poetic interludes, and the one I really love is:
The snow will come fast in the night and
block the roads & drains and leave
(all lines & textures concealed).
A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
This book arrived literally two days ago and I’ve fallen madly in love with it. The cover is GLITTERY. You don’t get glitter on an ebook. A Boy Called Christmas is inspired by a question Matt Haig’s son asked him one day: “What was Father Christmas like as a boy?” It’s a good question, and I’m glad he asked it, because this book is an instant classic for children and adults alike. It’s hard to write an original Christmas story, but Matt Haig has unlocked the magic here. It’s fantastical, whimsical and answers all the questions that other boys and girls might have throughout the festive season. Ever wondered what it’s like to slide down your first chimney? You’d better read this book to find out. I promise you won’t regret it. And if you get your hands on a copy quickly, you could even read it to your kids as a bedtime story throughout December to prolong the festive wonder and for as long as possible.
‘Do you believe in magic, Miika?’
‘I believe in cheese, if that counts,’ said Miika.
There was no way of Nikolas knowing for sure if the mouse did or didn’t believe in magic but, comforted by hope, Nikolas and his little rodent friend managed to fall slowly and gently asleep, as the cold breeze kept blowing, and whispering all the unknown secrets of the night.
Nigella Christmas by Nigella Lawson
Hear me out, OK! Yes, there’s another Christmas cookbook in a list of five, but I absolutely stand by this decision. I hereby crown Nigella Lawson the queen of Christmas cooking. I’ve been known to read this in bed in December (and June) to lust over all the dreamy, fairylit photos. It’s thoroughly aspirational – I will never host a Christmas party worthy of Nigella’s cocktails and canapés – but that’s partly why I love it. I can make one or two things and feel like I’ve accomplished a great Christmas. Every single photo is exquisite, and Nigella’s writing is warm and inviting, meaning the flavours leap off the page and onto your tongue. Everything from the passionfruit-and-raspberry-flecked Prodigious Pavlova to the Butternut Orzotto to the Christmas Morning Muffins (made them last year – painfully delicious, everything will make you feel snug, satisfied and, to be honest, happy.
When I read the menu that follows, I feel exhausted, hungry, flabbergasted and proud. How could I have cooked so much? How could we all have eaten so much? But how I want to eat it now. I am warmed by recollection and anticipation.
101 Reykjavik by Hallgrímur Helgason
If you’re not one for traditional, saccharine Christmas cheer (and bah humbug to you too), 101 Reykjavik is probably the one for you. Now how do you equate a book about a 30-something Icelandic slacker with hygge? Here’s how: it’s BEAUTIFULLY written. It’s about a man who does nothing in moderation and essentially has a desperately miserable life, but it’s written with such humour and style that it’s a compelling read. The descriptions are absolutely bang on, and you can’t help but almost like the disturbingly lazy, incompetent protagonist. Reading about this slightly terrible man in this magnificent city makes me want to hop on a plane and fly out immediately. If downtown Reykjavik looks this charming through the eyes of Hlynur Björn, it’s got to be pretty hyggeligt. It’s not one for the easily offended, but if you want a book that will make you laugh, think and massage your wanderlust, this is the one.
Mom’s such a softener. Like a voice-over in a Fairy Liquid ad. She has that, you know, soft voice and always talks in the same tone. Doesn’t matter what she says, always sounds pretty good… she has that warm matt amber voice, with a coffee aroma. Maybe it’s the Danish element in her.
Which books do you reach for at this time of year? Do you have anything you read as a tradition? Let me know in the comments!