Bah Humbug! A reading list for Christmas-sceptics
The smell of gingerbread and hot chocolate fills the air, the lights are twinkling, the snow is falling and please please please give us a break.
Let's take a minute to talk about us, the people who dislike Christmas almost as much as we hate Valentine's Day.
There's a lot of us, but we remain in the shadows. Most people love Christmas, and they will never understand. They will give us a jolly little pat on the back and call us Grinches and Scrooges, because there's nothing like some Christmassy repertoire of tired tropes to turn that not-so-festive frown upside down. They will try to silence us with Love Actually (which is really damn creepy if you watch it with the tiniest drop of common sense), and with sweets (which are available all year round), and festive decorations (which are tacky), and don't even get us started on Paul McCartney and Mariah Carey and the lot. Just don't.
They will try to convince us that all those piles and piles of festive merchandise are in fact sweet and cute and nice and not tacky and tiring and cheap (while remaining ridiculously overpriced).
They will try to make us understand it's the time of love, the time to give and share – which is an excellent point. However, kindness and compassion should not be saved for special occasions, so let's just keep helping people and donating to good causes all year long to the best of our abilities and not make it about a fat old dude from Coca-Cola commercials.
They will try to bribe us with turkey in some countries and with herring in others and nobody will ever get any vegetarian options other than parsnips and boiled sprouts (which are great but smell like farts, which is not very festive unless you're five and trying out your first ever whoopee cushion Santa gave you and everyone hates uncle Greg now), and they will make us eat a ton of carbs to compensate for the lack of actual food.
They will make us decorate Christmas tree WAY to early and they will drag us under a mistletoe which in fact happens to be a poisonous parasite on a goddamn stick (and if that's not the most romantic thing ever then I honestly don't know what is). Not that anyone will want to kiss you there anyway, unless you count your sleazy uncle Mark.
They will never, ever get how can anyone not like Christmas, this wonderful time of awkward family meetings and weird food and pumped up kids on sugar high and so much credit card debt thanks to stuff you didn't even want to buy in the first place, and don't even get us started on Christmas-table chats during which one gets to contemplate whether or not to respond to a racist uncle, or to your dad who voted for far-right wing party, or to your sister-in-law kind enough to point out you're still single and the clock is ticking and thank goodness for the real Christmas miracle that is a well-stashed minibar.
Let's be real, there's no escaping Christmas. It's everywhere. Yesterday I tuned in to a radio station on Madagascar just to learn that George Michael just gave you his heart but the very next day you gave it away. We don't have to enjoy it. But we have to endure it. And what better way to survive all that cringeworthy cheer than with a book? Here's a few ideas.
DYING FOR CHRISTMAS by Tammy Cohen
On the first day of Christmas my psycho kidnapper gave to me... Nothing nice, to be quite honest.
Cohen tells a story of young, sweet and rather naive heroine, Jessica Gould, who – after a whole exhausting afternoon of Christmas shopping meets a dashing young man and agrees to go to his place for a drink. As you do. Someone clearly watched WAY too much Love Actually.
Anyway, you would never believe it, but the charming chap turns out to be a ruthless, manipulative kidnapper. First, he starts an elaborate game of forcing Jessica to wear his late wife's gowns and enjoy sumptuous holiday dinners with him. But what would be Christmas without gifts? The kidnapper understands it better than your great-aunt Erna (who will recycle the life out of that chocolate box before buying you something you actually like) and brings on the gifts. One a day, all the way to Christmas. However, the gifts soon take the turn from creepy and unsettling to very, very dark and horrid. And Jessica realizes that this will probably be her last Christmas ever.
It's scary, twisted and disgusting – if Gillian Flynn ever decided to write a Christmas story, she'd probably come up with something like that.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS by James Patterson
Alex Cross is six foot three and weighs two hundred pounds, which might make you feel he is a little bit like Santa, except Santa is not made of pure muscle and doesn't normally get paid to kill people.
If you're looking for some fast-paced thriller packed with suspense, action and gritty characters (just like Debenhams on the last weekend before Christmas), look no further. We all know what to expect from James Patterson books, and this is why we love them.
Alex is about to spend Christmas with his family, when he's called out to catch a thug who stole the contains of a donation box in his church. And since it's Christmas, even the FBI officer can do some good and beat someone up in holiday spirit. Just when he thinks he can now spend some quality time with his family, another emergency happens – and this time it's serious. Caught in a hostage rescue mission that's rapidly spiraling out of control, Alex has to put everything at stake, hoping that he will get to see his family again.
This fast and intense page-turner will keep you occupied for most of the Christmas afternoon – and if you're lucky, you might even forget you're only reading it because you're out of Lee Child novels.
THE VALANCOURT BOOK OF VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS GHOST STORIES, edited by Tara Moore
Okay, this one is actually pretty cool, so bear with me.
Imagine Victorian Christmas. It's magical – there's a grey, windy, rainy mayhem outside, you're all sitting in the living room illuminated with some candles with flames flickering in the draft coming from the window (but there's no fire hazard because everything is a little damp), and your little cousin Jimmy is just about to die from bronchitis.
What could possibly make a better background for some Christmas horror? And as we all know, Victorians loved their horrors even without any further encouragement. This book is full of stories by the greatest literary minds of the time, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Walter Scott. The stories were originally published in various periodicals, which enjoyed immense popularity those days (among those who could read).
The stories are moody, dark and delightfully, chillingly scary in a good old-school way, which is guaranteed to make you feel quite sentimental for the times when people were scared of ghosts and not their student loans.
HERCULE POIROT'S CHRISTMAS by Agatha Christie
And finally, a good old classic from a genius lady who wrote absolutely nothing but an endless list of good old classics.
There's no setting in which a genius Belgian detective would not be a treat. So why not enjoy yet another brilliantly crafted locked-room mystery centered around the beloved character of the meticulous little man solving an elaborate crime using nothing but a few clues and a whole lot of his little grey cells.
This was supposed to be a merry Christmas – but when it turns out that someone in the house was murdered, a jolly family reunion turns into a nightmarish labyrinth of old secrets and new crimes.
Agatha Christie is a comfort food of crime novels – which is more than you can expect from your family Christmas menu, so dive in.
THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD by Belinda Bauer
Eve Singer is a TV presenter and journalist still hoping for a big scoop that takes her out of the "meat beat" into real journalism and secure job position.
Christmas is just around the corner, but Eve finds it hard to feel the festive spirit while having to chase a very particular serial killer – especially after it turns out that it might be her who's being chased. The killer insists that him and Eve are more alike than she would like to believe; after all, they both make a living from death.
Eve has a lot on her plate: not only the serial murderer's loop is tightening around her neck and her father's dementia is getting more and more severe, making it almost too much to handle – she still hasn't gotten Christmas presents for anyone. Maybe this year she'll just skip shopping and buy everyone a charity goat.
THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD is smart, gory, intense and surprisingly funny – Belinda Bauer has a knack for dark humour, which adds some extra spice to the mix.
And because it wouldn't be Christmas without gifts, let's end this rant with a little treat – my personal favourite among Christmas tales, a gorgeous tiny gem from Neil Gaiman's brilliantly uncanny short story collection, SMOKE AND MIRRORS. Enjoy.
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.
The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.
Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.
He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.