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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

‘I was lost in a world of crystal skulls’: readers on the books they got for Christmas | Books

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What a festive joy it has been to read about the books you remember getting for Christmas – and also to see how many of you, like me, adored Kaye Webb’s I Like This Poem. Whether it was the Rupert annuals received yearly by LancsLionheart, or the boxed set of Roald Dahl’s children’s books which auspom started on Christmas Day and worked through over the rest of the holidays, it just goes to show that there’s nothing better to find under the tree than a book.

For LawrenceWindrush, a 14-year-old in 1980, it was his sister who gave him Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World. “During the Christmas week I was lost in the world of crystal skulls, the Yeti and UFOs. The world seemed magical and exciting – anything was possible among all the wrapping paper, turkey sandwiches and nuts. Exciting times.”

benwood201 was given an abridged version of Moby-Dick “which had wonderfully vivid illustrations. Queequeg, with his tattooed face, the whale tossing a boat high in the air with its fluke and Ahab being dragged down by the whale entangled in his harpoon line.”

An illustration by Isaac Walton Taber from a 1902 edition of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
An illustration by Isaac Walton Taber from a 1902 edition of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

KateSheehanFinn says her life was changed by Gobbolino, The Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams. “It was in my Christmas stocking when I was eight years old. I read it with my mum first, then on my own, over and over again. It taught me what a gripping story was and how immersive reading a good book can be.”

TheBorderGuard is “still profoundly affected by the late 1950s Lord of the Rings edition I received as a teenager from my cousin”, and staying on the science fiction and fantasy theme, Rhialto remembers getting boxed sets of paperbacks in the 1980s. “Stephen R Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series. Brian Aldiss’s Helliconia trilogy. Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. And the one that brings back the most vivid memories – Herbert’s Dune trilogy (back when it was a trilogy). Just looking at the covers of the late 70s edition Dune books today sends a jolt of nostalgia through me.”

dylan37 has a lovely story to tell, which I think contains a bit of Christmas magic. “I was given a book for my 11th Christmas called The War on William Street by Reginald Ottley. It was an amazing tale of a street gang of boys in 50s Sydney, a time and place so foreign to me, but utterly compelling. I never forgot it. I don’t know what happened to those books as I grew up and moved into adult life, but I always kept a strong memory of those Sydney boys, like the imagery in a lost Triffids song perhaps,” they write. “Thirty years later, at great expense, I tracked down a copy of the long deleted book. When it arrived, from the other side of the world, I opened it, and had the best and deepest Proustian rush I’ve ever experienced. Important books will do that to you, no matter how long you leave between reads. And I can’t be entirely sure, but I have the strongest and strangest feeling that it’s the exact same book I had as a child. There’s no markings or inscription, no missing or torn pages that remind me, but I’m connected to this book somehow beyond words and memory.”

I also love this, from PatLux: “When we were 11 and 12 my parents gave my sister and me a Christmas gift of a subscription to the village tennis courts, a tennis racket each and balls. Also a small green tennis book of the teach yourself type. I remember devouring the book and practising the moves in our bedroom. Over 50 years later I am still playing tennis twice a week and have treated myself to some lessons starting this evening. I often tell my mother that it was the best Christmas present ever.”

And I’m definitely in agreement with Clareontarget on this one: I love Jean M Auel too (although the Clan of the Cave Bear series definitely goes downhill after Plains of Passage). “When I was much younger and still living with my mother I would be given something every Christmas by an elderly neighbour of ours. Generally it would be something completely pointless or inappropriate. However one Christmas she bought me a book (hallelujah!) and it was the right kind of book. It was the third book in the Earth’s Children series by Jean M Auel and it was promptly devoured, repeatedly. It goes without saying that I am in possession of all six books of the series and they have all been worthwhile reads.”

Patching always got a book for Christmas from their parents, and remembers a particular gift at age seven: Nature’s Playground by M Cordelia and E Leigh. “Dense text, glossy paper, terribly old-fashioned even then, It had chapters on all manner of wildlife with titles like ‘A populous Queendom’ (Bees) and ‘Sun Lovers and Strange Monsters’ (Reptiles) and ‘illustrated with over 250 photographs and diagrams’. It was way, way too advanced for me, but I was fascinated and pored over diagrams of sepals and nectaries, thorax and abdomen, and fell in love with the natural world and the strange, courtly language used to write about it. ‘The nest of the long-tailed tit is most cunningly built’; ‘the extremely ugly, dull-black beetle called the Devil’s Coach Horse … but though so ugly and fierce and disagreeable, he cannot really do us any harm …’ Funny old book, but it helped to set me off on a life of fascination with the myriad, gorgeous weirdness of the natural world and attempt to write about it myself.”

After David Barnett revealed his night terrors on receiving a copy of Usborne’s The World of the Unknown: Ghosts, many others also shared beloved stories of the uncanny. “I was given a children’s book of scary stories for Christmas when I was about 10,” writes Angelaaaa. “A lovely hardcover, bound with leatherette and gold writing on the spine. It included, among other horrors, The Monkey’s Paw and Sweets to the Sweet. I was utterly terrified and fearfully read and reread it for years.”

I know many of us have been stymied in our present-giving by the lack of new Discworld novels since the much-mourned Terry Pratchett’s death, so it was glorious to read Sam Jordison’s memories of receiving The Colour of Magic. And I have definitely been inspired to add a few extra books to my pile of presents this year as a result of all your wonderful memories. I’m not sure anything will beat my most triumphant present ever, though – when I tracked down old editions of Douglas Hill’s then out-of-print Blade of the Poisoner and Master of Fiends for my similarly fantasy-obsessed husband.

Merry Christmas, and happy festive reading from the Guardian books team. Let us know in the comments what you find under the tree this year.

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