Ian McMillan: How to read all those Christmas books

Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan

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Ah, Boxing Day, a day defined by a half-eaten turkey and a scattering of cracker jokes, a pair of slippers that are just that bit too tight, and, in my case, a tower of new books and a sheaf of book tokens. The question is, at this time on Boxing Day morning, which book to read first?

You see, I’m the sort of middle-aged chap who’s easy to buy Christmas presents for because, despite the fact that I’m lucky enough to get sent lots of books through the post to review and talk about on the radio, I still love to buy books and to receive books as gifts. If in doubt, get me a book or a book token, I say to the baffled relatives.

I eat a mince pie, scattering crumbs all over my Christmas jumper.

So I survey this year’s crop of books. The novel, the collection of poetry, the book of stories, the book of photographs, the ironic annual; I begin to suffer from indecision, which is like indigestion without the burping. I pick a book up: I read the blurb at the back which informs me that this is, more or less, the best book ever written. The book of stories is garlanded with awards, as is the book of poems. They are all, if you believe what they are saying to you, the book that you must read first.

I lift them up and test them by weight. I hold them up the light and test them for brilliance. I experimentally read the first page of each of the books, and then I experimentally read the last page of each of the books. I am no further towards making the decision as to which book to read first. 
I munch disconsolately on a mince pie. Boxing Day wears on.

I allocate a number to each of the books and roll a dice; whichever number the dice falls at will be the one I start with. Roll…6! The novel!

Right, I’ll read the novel. Right. I’ll definitely read the novel, because the dice decided and anyway, that’s the one I wanted to read all along.

Except really I wanted to read the book of stories because that miniature form feels more bite-sized for this holiday period. I pick up the novel and put it down. I pick up the collection of short stories and start to read the first one. The novel and the book of poetry and the other Christmas books gaze at me; if they were puppies they would have big sorrowful puppy eyes. I wonder if people who get bottles of wine or pairs of socks for Christmas have the same problem?

I eat a mince pie, scattering crumbs all over my Christmas jumper. I like the books up like suspects in an identity parade. I stand them around in a circle like a bookhenge. Boxing Day is moving towards its endgame and I still can’t decide. I listlessly flick through a couple of older books that I still haven’t read. I stand and gaze at the mountain of books I’ve had for ages.

Okay then, forget the books for a minute; which book token should I spend first?

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