By Oscar Duffy
As a student of history, Michaelmas term involves a lot of reading. Seminars are loaded with page-long reading lists with articles consistently longer than 40 pages. Essays require lengthy bibliographies and achieving them involves a deep plunge into the depths of Level One at the Bill Bryson Library. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my degree and pursue it for a reason, but ten weeks’ worth of historical writing with essays looming can become a little tiring. The holidays should thus be a liberating release from the iron grip of the written word. Yet there’s something about Christmas (more so than any other part of the year) that gets me reaching for the bookshelf.
Indeed, the holidays, and the winter one at that, are made for fiction, lots of it. Just like a Christmas movie, the Christmas novel is an institution. Each year, classics like A Christmas Carol are consumed by millions. Dickens arguably invented the modern conception of Christmas, and his work is something I personally am delving into this year, reading David Copperfield for the first time. His style is warm, and the evocation of Victorian London has the built in connotations with Christmas and festivity, despite the novel itself being close to a thousand pages.
It’s the perfect time to be a reader
Yet there are other reasons to enjoy reading around Christmas, and the escape from university is central to this. Personally, the time reading for the purposes of essay writing makes me crave a stress-free story. To me, the Christmas break provides a month for just that. So much literature is on offer this time of year. The Booker Prize in October adds a list of books already approved by esteemed judges, and with two winners this year (The Testaments, the much-hyped sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, and Evaristo’s novel covering twelve characters over a handful of decades), there are plenty of novels to buy as gifts. Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities is one I’m particularly keen to read, and Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newberryport (a 1030 page stream-of-consciousness remarkably consisting of about three full stops) is one I’ll inevitably avoid. Regardless, unlike the two weeks given by schools, the month-long University holiday is a gift made for reading as much as possible.
I can also cater it specifically to my degree. Historical fiction is one of my favourites. For instance, with the March 2020 release of the third novel in the Booker Prize winning, Tudor-centric Wolf Hall series by Hilary Mantel, coupled with the fact that I spent Michaelmas studying the Tudor period, I plan on reading the first two entries in the trilogy in preparation this month.
Speaking of preparation however, inevitably, in the next few weeks, as Christmas fades into memory and Epiphany beckons, a familiar type of reading will loom once again. Indeed, Michaelmas involved plenty of reading, but second term will be no different. With two brand new modules, I can already see the countless number of reading lists I will inevitably be met with. Thus, the Christmas break is a pleasant interval between the intense terms that make up our degrees. It allows an avid reader like me a break from intense theoretical journals and an opportunity to read an array of the year’s best. Christmas is the perfect time, one with books catered to the season, but also a selection of the critically acclaimed best that have been included in the year’s end prize lists. It’s the perfect time to be a reader.
Image: Paola Chaaya via Unsplash