Image description: books and a festive lantern
Although we’re a little into the Christmas vacation already, there’s still a while to go before we have to pack our bags and head back to Oxford. The Christmas period is one of seasonal comforts and festive excitement; however, it can also be a time of boredom – when you’re away from your University friends and have vac essays staring blankly at you from your laptop screen.
With this in mind, Phoebe Hyun has compiled a list of her top favourite books to read over Christmas – and why you should read them.
1: Matilda – Roald Dahl
“This child, Miss Honey told herself, seems to be interested in everything. When one is with her it is
impossible to be bored. I love it.” You can never go wrong with a little Roald Dahl. Matilda, especially, is one of his classic works. From the outset this tale seems one of tragedy: Matilda is thoroughly neglected and dismissed by her family members, while Miss Honey lives in fear of her abusive aunt. Nevertheless, this story warms your heart as you follow Matilda’s brave and unusual journey in achieving her potential and finding a new family. This book will not only remind you of your childhood, but also make you question what really makes someone your ‘family’ – is it simply sharing the same last name, or is there something more to it than that?
2: Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
“The twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all.” This is my absolute favourite book of all time – I must have at least 5copies of it in alternate covers on my bookshelf back home. This beautifully written Great American Novel, arguably Steinbeck’s best work, tells the terrifying journey as Tom and his family flee the dust bowl and move to California, the land of their dreams – or so they hope. Based on the harrowing tales of several real families Steinbeck interviewed, this book not only accurately describes the incredible difficulties thousands of families faced in the United States at this time, but also shows the strength of family bonds and how love for one another is sometimes the only things that can get people through difficult times. Highly recommend!
3: The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
“I am haunted by humans.” This beautiful yet tragic tale demonstrates how love can withstand the most heartbreaking of challenges – persecution, war, and even death. Liesel Meminger, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, Rudy Steiner and Max Vandenburg: not one of them are related to one another and yet they form one of the strongest family bonds possible. Their love and loyalty towards one another is perhaps the only thing that helps them survive the impoverished, desperate and horrific times of Nazi Germany. Literally narrated by death himself, even this emotionless, cynical entity is brought around by the strength of the familial bonds Liesel forms – as he says so himself, ‘I am haunted by humans’.
4: Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Another all-time classic which I am sure all of you have heard of, if not already read. The magic of this book lies with Antoine’s ability to describe the most intimate and ultimate truths about human emotion with utter simplicity. It is definitely a book worth investing in to re-read over and over; I myself first read this book at age 12, but having recently read it again I discovered I am now able empathise with Antoine far more so than I could 7 years ago. My mother, who recently celebrated her 50th birthday and re-read this book in celebration, says every time she re-reads this work she learns something new from it. Why not invest in a copy now? Record your thoughts on how you interpreted Antoine’s thoughts on love, then read it again in 5, 10years time to see how far your thoughts have changed since. A perfect time capsule fitted into a mere 96 magical pages.
5: The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
“Not know your own mother?” cries Auntie An-mei with disbelief. “How can you say? Your mother is
in your bones!” Although this is a story that predominantly focuses on the instinctual connection mothers share with their daughters, the range of experiences and examples Amy Tan covers in her novel is enough for anyone to empathise with. I particularly related to the tales of these four women and their mothers; having grown up in a completely different country and culture than my own mother, I felt it was a hauntingly accurate representation of the cultural differences my mother and I also had to overcome by developing our love and respect for each other as I grew up. Written in Tan’s unique style of subtly weaving in Chinese myths and idioms into her narrative, this beautiful story will make you want to call your mother after finishing it.
6: Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
This book is all the rage at the moment as there is a new movie coming out – directed by one of the few
female directors, Greta Gerwig, and starring Emma Watson as ‘Meg’ – coincidentally only 2 days after
Christmas! One of my favourite memories in high school was reading this with all my girlfriends every
morning before classes started. This unique tale of 4 sisters show how completely different characters with
diverse interests, strengths and personalities can tackle the the same difficult situation equally well in
completely different ways. It is an extremely significant feminist novel as well, as it poignantly demonstrates that there is not one ‘way’ to be a powerful women, and also shows wonderfully how these different women love and support one another through difficult times. This will definitely warm you heart and make you appreciate your friends and family even more!
7: Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling
“To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some
protection forever.” It had to be done; no winter reading list would be complete without mentioning the Harry Potter series. Not only is it my longtime obsession, but this series contains so many amazing, warming quotes on love, friendship, and family that it took me 30 minutes to pick one out. This tale follows the story of a lonely orphaned boy Harry, who forms a family with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, as well as the professors he meets at school. The entire plot of this 8 book long saga revolves around the metaphor for ‘love’, which is the one thing that protects Harry from the Death Curse. Whilst in real life there are no such spells as ‘Avada Kedavra’, I believe Dumbledore’s quote still applies to us; the feeling of being loved by someone, whether it be your parents, your friends or your partners, is sometimes what makes us strong enough to brave the trials and tribulations of life.
8: A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle
“Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it
touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had
vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.”
I must confess, when this book was first recommended to me, I had my doubts. This whole talk of wrinkles
and dimensions and time seemed too much for my humanities-oriented brain. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, however, that the actual book is extremely easy to read, and that the main message it carried was not about physics at all – in fact, it had to do with family and how there is no power greater in this universe than the innocent, passionate feelings we have for those we genuinely care about. Although the quote I’ve listed above must seem quite random without the context, I guarantee that when you come across it near the end of the book it will definitely give you goose bumps. Despite the slightly horrifying movie adaption that came out recently, I would still definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a cozy night in.
9: A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
“In short, I should have liked to have had the lightest license of a child, and yet be man enough to
know its value.” A Christmas classic – why not pick this relatively quick read just to get you in the mood for Oxmas? This famous tale follows the dreams of Ebenezer Scrooge, a highly cynical man who only cares about money and nothing else, until on Christmas Eve is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. The story follows how his entire outlook on life changes in the span of one night. I think in an environment as competitive as Oxford, it is easy to get mired in it all and lose focus on what matters most: having fun and appreciating the company of your family and friends. Could these four ghosts change your outlook on life too? A high recommendation, and a great way to get yourself in the Christmas spirit!
10: A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett
“I don’t know who it is,” she said; “but somebody cares for me a little. I have a friend.”
This comparatively less-well known book is definitely deserving of a read. When I first read it as a child, I
was ashamed at how brave Sara Crewe, the protagonist of the novel, was compared to me. This little girl,
who suddenly loses her father and finds herself an orphan during her birthday party, nevertheless perseveres ‘as if in war’ and withstands the horrible abuse her former teacher Miss Minchin imposes upon her. Despite the starvation and overwork she has to endure, she never loses the warmth in her heart, continues to make friends and remains open minded and welcoming to everyone. This book is a great way to reminisce about your childhood!