Christmas books

Readers of this blog will surely agree that few things in life go together better than Christmas and reading a good book. And, while there can be nothing held against anyone who chooses otherwise, Christmas is surely the appropriate time to find yourself reading a good book about Christmas.

A quick search of our library catalogue reveals that our Information and Research library holds around eighty titles relating to Christmas, mainly older books that are out-of-print or hard-to-find. So, in the spirit of the festive season, let’s have a look at a few of the best titles; most of these are available for you to take home and sit with by a crackling fire – book in one hand, mulled wine or mince-pie in the other.

Display in our Information and Research library of Christmas and Winter-themed books

Display in our Information and Research library of Christmas and Winter-themed books

The obvious place to start would be with the Christmas stories of Charles Dickens. The library holds several collections of these short tales, the most interesting of which is an 1876 edition with contemporary illustrations by Sir Edwin Landseer – the English painter and sculptor best known for the Trafalgar Square Lions.

Edwin Landseer illustration from ‘A Christmas Carol’

Edwin Landseer illustration from ‘A Christmas Carol’

Other Christmas fiction available includes the stories of Anthony Trollope and the Father Christmas letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Other titles include A Book of Christmas Verse, published around one-hundred years ago, and a beautifully-illustrated volume entitled Christmas with the Poets; this latter book contains verse from the Anglo-Norman period through to 1872 and is illustrated by Birket Foster.

Birket Foster’s title illustration from Christmas with the Poets

Birket Foster’s title illustration from Christmas with the Poets

Two anthologies of Christmas miscellany – containing stories, pictures, poems and more – are available from the Information and Research library: A Treasury of Christmas and The Victorian Christmas Book.

The Victorian Christmas is perhaps the quintessential English image of the festive season; J.A.R. Pimlott’s The Englishman’s Christmas: A Social History explores this history in more detail. The global spread of Christmas can be traced through volumes such as Michael Harrison’s The Story of Christmas and Christmas: In Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan (Clement Miles); while Christmas Customs around the World describes exactly that. The Twelve Days of Christmas sees authors Miles and John Hadfield illuminating the relationships between pagan celebrations linked to the winter solstice and later Christian customs. Finally, the story of how a 4th-century Greek Saint gradually mutated into the lovable figure of Santa Claus (or, Sinterklaas) is told in S.R. Littlewood’s 1912 book for children (of all ages).

Remember – all these titles are available to loan from our Information and Research department. Contact us on 0113 2478282 for more details, or place a reservation at your local branch library.

Slightly Spooky

Everyone loves a ghost story at Christmas don’t they?

Proceedings of the Society for Psychical research

Proceedings of the Society for Psychical research

These real-life tales of haunted houses (left) are taken from the first volume of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Originally launched in 1882 to, in its members’ own words, make “an organised and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical and Spiritualistic”, the Society collected and examined accounts of events that were – as yet – unexplainable by scientific principles or laws. Among them were reports of “apparitions at the moment of death…[o]r regarding disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted.” While the Society’s efforts at uncovering the scientific reasoning behind these seemingly unnatural occurrences were to prove inconclusive, the material collected in that search makes for fascinating – and slightly spooky – modern reading.

Frontispiece of first volume of Proceedings

Frontispiece of first volume of Proceedings

 

The Information and Research department holds the Society’s proceedings from its founding in 1882 to 1901, together with two histories and a volume of additional materials by Society Council members Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers and Frank Podmore. So, why not make a visit to the library one cold and dark winters’ day, pull up a chair in some forgotten nook or cranny, and immerse yourself in some real ghost stories?

 

 

The ideal spot in the library for a ghost story?

The ideal spot in the library for a ghost story?

 

Read More: Legendary Poets meet

  • by Antony Ramm, Information and Research, Central Library

This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.

2014 marks a century since the first meeting of two legendary poets – TS Eliot and Ezra Pound. Although both were already known in literary circles (Pound more so than Eliot), this momentous occasion led directly to the composition and publication of Eliot’s 1922 masterpiece – ‘The Waste Land’ – which Pound edited; an editing of such impact that some scholars credit him with co-authoring the poem.

To celebrate this seminal moment, we would like to bring you details of some fascinating items held in our collection that relate to Eliot and his long, difficult, obscure and, yet, at-times strangely beautiful poem. One of the most interesting of these items is a facsimile and transcript of the original manuscript, a volume that has the advantage of showing Pound’s annotations of Eliot’s first draft. More information about the composition of the poem can be found in MC Bradbrook’s pamphlet “TS Eliot: The Making of ‘The Waste Land’”.

Front-piece from the facsimile of Eliot’s manuscript

Front-piece from the facsimile of Eliot’s manuscript

 

Biographies are a useful source of information about the genesis of any literature, situating the work in the wider context of the author’s life. In Eliot’s case, the Information and Research library holds several works – the most significant being Peter Ackroyd’s 1984 biography, which can be supplemented with T.S. Matthew’s Great Tom: Notes Towards the Definition of T.S. Eliot and Eliot’s Early Years by Lyndall Gordon.

The Waste Land’ as it first appeared in The Dial, 1922

The Waste Land’ as it first appeared in The Dial, 1922

Although it is relatively easy to locate the poem in literary anthologies, the Information and Research library allows you to see the poem as it was originally published. The 1922 edition of The Dial journal – part of a collection covering 1908 to 1926 presents ‘The Waste Land’ in the context seen by Eliot’s contemporaries; reactions of those peers can be traced using bibliographies such as A Half-Century of Eliot Criticism (ed., Mildred Martin) – examples available in the library include Gilbert Seldes’ essay “T.S. Eliot” (in Volume 115 of The Nation journal).

Noticeably, this first edition of the poem does not contain Eliot’s later footnotes. While it could be said that this omission renders interpretation of the poem more challenging and, perhaps, even more rewarding, those footnotes are fascinating because Eliot’s text is chocked to the brim with allusions and references to the canon of Western literature, including interpolations from Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Andrew Marvell, Virgil, Edmund Spenser, the Bible, Aldous Huxley, Dante, Ovid, and Herman Hesse.

Many of these referenced texts are available from the Information and Research library; among them are all eight-volumes of James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1911-1915), poetry collections from Charles Baudelaire and plays by John Webster and Thomas Middleton. Most notable, perhaps, is a copy of Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail Legend: From Ritual to Romance, of which Eliot wrote “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by [From Ritual to Romance]…[which] will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do.”

Those footnotes have been subjected to scholarly analysis since the day of publication. And, while we should bear in mind Eliot’s own later comment that the footnotes represent a kind of “bogus scholarship” (a remark he made in his 1956 lecture ‘The Frontiers of Criticism’, available in the volume On Poetry and Poets), it is still worthwhile investigating those literary interpretations if the reader finds something of value in the poem itself. Further critical approaches to the text are available in such volumes as Eliot in His Time: Essays on the Fiftieth Anniversary of ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘The Waste Land’ in Different Voices.

Remember – all the items mentioned here are accessible at our Information and Research library, with many being available for loan. Please contact the department for further details: 0113 24 78282.