Recommended Reading, Christmas Edition: Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien

photo (1)If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas book—and maybe inspiration to write the small people in your life some larger-than-life letters—look no further than Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. 

I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time, but the number of editions and their varying states of completeness put me off buying it until this year, when I came across what I think is the best edition out there: the HarperCollins hardcover edition published in the UK in 2012 (my copy came from the Book Depository). The only thing that could make it better? Bigger pages.

In this collection, edited by J.R.R. Tolkien’s former secretary (and his daughter-in-law) Baillie Tolkien, you’ll find over twenty years’ worth of correspondence from Father Christmas (with interpolations by the North Polar Bear and later notes from the Elf secretary Ilbereth) to the Tolkien children. What’s especially wonderful is that the transcriptions of the letters are accompanied by facsimiles of the letters, envelopes, and drawings themselves, so you can revel in Father Christmas’s shaky writing, the Polar Bear’s hilarious marginal commentary (and goblin alphabet!), and the beauty of Tolkein’s drawings.

You’ll find tales of mischief and eleventh-hour turnarounds, reindeer on the loose, and lots of firecrackers in these pages, and something more, too—a record of the joys and interests of the Tolkien children, and their father’s sadness at the woes of the world around them. The Depression and the Second World War do not go unnoticed, but Father Christmas’s reassurance that hope and light will return again is touching and poignant, and a good reminder for our own times.

Highly recommended reading for parents, children, Tolkien fans, and anyone who’s looking for Christmas cheer.

The Rosemary and Reading Glasses Holiday Gift Guide (Because it was inevitable, wasn’t it?)

Dear Readers,

Last year I recommended non-book gifts for readers, and while those recommendations hold, I thought I’d recommend real live books this year.

Now, 2014 hasn’t seen one everybody’s-buying-it-even-if-they’re-not-reading-it hit like The Goldfinch (I myself got if for Christmas, and absolutely want to read it, I swear), but there have been a few high-profile books that have made the rounds of the top-10 and best-of lists (looking at you, The Martian, All The Light We Cannot See, Everything I Never Told You, The Book of Unknown Americans). Three cheers for those books and their authors!

But let’s branch out, shall we?

Fiction for Poets

Katy Simpson Smith, The Story of Land and Sea

Lindsay Hill, Sea of Hooks*

Howard Norman, Next Life Might Be Kinder

Something’s Up, and You Won’t Be Able to Put the Book Down

Kate Racculia, Bellweather Rhapsody

Rebecca Makkai, The Hundred-Year House

Big Sky and Taciturn Men with Unusual Names

Malcolm Brooks, Painted Horses

Kim Zupan, The Ploughmen

Lin Enger, The High Divide

Fabulous Tales, Re-Told

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird

Alexi Zentner, The Lobster Kings

Historical Fiction: Colliding Worlds

Laila Lalami, The Moor’s Account

Joseph Boyden, The Orenda

Women at War

TaraShea Nesbit, The Wives of Los Alamos

Laird Hunt, Neverhome

Worlds You Can’t See, Worlds You Don’t Want to See

Emmi Itäranta, Memory of Water

Sharona Muir, Invisible Beasts

Chris Beckett, Dark Eden

Poetry for Everyone (Everyone, Read More Poetry)

Hailey Leithauser, Swoop*

Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise

Mark Wunderlich, The Earth Avails

Charlotte Boulay, Foxes on the Trampoline

Books in Translation

Kyung-sook Shin, I’ll Be Right There

Elvira Dones, Sworn Virgin

In Which Letters Play a Part

Simon Garfield, To the Letter

George Prochnik, The Impossible Exile

Books by Authors Famous for Different Books

John Williams, Augustus

Jane Austen, Persuasion**

J.R.R. Tolkien, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, Together with Sellic Spell (ed. Christopher Tolkien)

Brilliant and Uncomfortable Reading

Hilary Mantel, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Richard Powers, Orfeo

Coming Up Next: Your Humble Blogger’s Reading Wishlist

*Yes, it came out last year, but I read it this year and it is awesome. So there.

** There is never a bad time to recommend Persuasion.