The clocks are ticking. Clandestine telephone calls take place while children are sleeping. The staff in Boots are being driven slowly insane by Christmas muzak. I can't put it off any longer; it's time to start my Christmas shopping.
If I had my way, I'd give everyone a book. Amidst the commotion of numerous dogs, children and aunties on Christmas Day, my husband sits, an island of calm, with his nose in a physics book. My daughter shares her father's ability to block out all extraneous stimuli. I've given her a 'box of books' for Christmas ever since she could read. In the olden days, I could fill her box with my favourites such as The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and What Katy Did. Nowadays she likes to make her own choices, but I may slip a few of my own in too.
My husband's family are practical present givers. Wishlists are exchanged or, even more practically, we buy our own gifts and pass them back to the giver to be wrapped. This approach does have its advantages, but it seems too clinical to me. Hence my book giving. This gives an element of surprise to the occasion, but it is not without risk. My husband's family have that admirable trait of finishing every book they start and I do feel a certain sense of guilt if they are still labouring through one of my choices at Easter. However, Room was a great success and The Secret Life of Bees found its way round half the family.
My own wishlist this year is made up entirely of books. I already have a year's worth of reading on my shelves and another six months on my Kindle, but as books and food are the only things I can buy without feeling guilty, books it is. I cannot settle to a novel on Christmas Day so I usually have a picture book at the top of my list. Often this will be art history, travel or photography. 1001 books you must read before you die kept me entertained with my train spotter urge to tick off all the ones I'd read and swot up on those I'll never get round to. This year I've requested Where to go when: Italy so that I can dream of sunsets on the Amalfi coast as I snuggle down with my sherry and mince pie. My next choice is Carol Ann Duffy's new collection 'The Bees'. Last but no means least, is Outside the Asylum, a collection of short stories including one by my Open University colleague William Thirsk-Gaskell.