Accidental Critic: A Feast of Days


If you’re looking for a book to get you through the rest of the holiday season, you could do (much) worse than Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Days. It’s magical and sweet, easy to read, hard to put down.

Subtitled “12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days,” it offers 12 short stories (with plots!), interspersed with essays wrapped around recipes. With a foreword (“Christmas-Tide”) and an afterword (“Christmas Greetings from the Author”), you get two bonus essays, for a total of 14.

The value isn’t in the quantity, though. Winterson’s writing is beautiful, her imagination rich and deep, her memories sometimes funny, sometimes bittersweet, and for me always welcome. Before stumbling on this book in my public library, I had forgotten Winterson and how much I enjoy her. I fell in love with both The Passion and Sexing the Cherry years ago, but I haven’t read most of her more recent work. Though I don’t read many short stories, I decided to give this collection a try because I appreciate Winterson so much as a writer.

I was richly rewarded. The first story in the volume, “Spirit of Christmas,” captured me instantaneously, and when I got to the end of it I went right back to the start for a second read. I’ve read it three times now and am sure I’ll revisit it again. There are other pieces I reread immediately as well, including a tale of the nativity story told by the donkey: “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me,” which I’ve since learned was published on its own in 2009 as an illustrated children’s book. Asked by an angel why he is the right animal to carry the holy family on their journey, “I said, ‘Well, if He is to bear the burdens of the world, He had better be carried by me.”

Sigh.

This book has a little bit of everything. It’s chock-full of magic and miracles and love, rebirths and reawakenings. There are ghost stories, too—enough to make it ironic when eventually you reach the one called “A Ghost Story.”

The essays include lovely memories of author Ruth Rendell and others; tales from the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company; reflections on atonement and resolution-making at the new year; interesting history; and recipes ranging from trifle to author Kamila Shamsie’s turkey biryani. That’s right—turkey biryani.

I would be remiss not to mention the illustrations by Katie Scott, which are somehow both simple and subtle and complex, and are just right for this book.

Be forewarned: If you’re like me, Christmas Days will periodically break your heart. But keep reading. Mostly, it will pick up the pieces of something that already is broken and use them to build something beautiful.

Jeanette Winterson’s Website

More about Christmas Days, from The Guardian

Illustrator Katie Scott’s Website

Kim Kishbaugh is no kind of artist at all, but a lover of art in many different forms. She travels through life with an open mind and open eyes in search of magic, and sometimes finds it. She is Escape Into Life‘s social media editor and a long-time journalist with an unsettling history of seeing the companies she works for go out of business. She blogs occasionally at kkish.net.