Saturday, December 23, 2023

About Christmas books

When I was in primary school, the first Friday afternoon after the Christmas holidays was a toy day, in which each of us was permitted to bring one thing we’d received from Santa and enjoy it with our friends and/or enemies. (It was a couple of years before I realised that the kids who regularly went down with diplomatic illnesses on these days were also the kids with holes in their shoes; I suspect these festivals of conspicuous consumption wouldn’t be permitted now.)

I wasn’t one of the deprived kids although I was at a slight disadvantage in that most of the things I wanted, and got, at Christmas were books. So while everyone else was mucking around with Buckaroo or Sindy or that wind-up Evel Knievel thing, I just sat and pored over some new tome about dinosaurs or pirates or cowboys or flags or clowns or Greek myths, or maybe the latest Raymond Briggs, or something Doctor Who-related. It wasn’t clear how I could adapt this to a shared activity, unless someone else was prepared to have me read to them. There was no hostility from my classmates as far as I recall; I just did my thing.

Fast-forward. Christmas as an event means even less to me now than it did when I was eight, and if I want a book I’ll usually buy it myself (although whether I read it is another matter; I’m the poster boy for tsundoku) but it still gives an unexpected pleasure to give or receive a book, the transaction being based around that very special feeling (do the Japanese have a word for it?), not of “I needed to buy you something because it’s December” but rather “I saw this and thought of you”. Which, as we ease into an ever more digital future of downloads on demand, gets rather lost. An unfortunate victim of progress or a conscious decision by those who stand to profit from a pervasive intellectual dullness and absence of curiosity? As one user of BlueSky (where we are unless or until Twitter lances its own boils) puts it:

(Pic by Tom Gauld)

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