Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

The Winter Book

When I was a girl and allowed to choose my own books for a special occasion, I always selected an anthology. If I’d spotted a book like Rotraut Susanne Berner’s The Winter Book, it would have been a shoe in.

First, my choice was practical: they were larger books.

(Well, if someone is buying you a book, you want to make it count, right?)

The Winter Book‘s dimensions are a little smaller than my laptop’s, so it is delightfully oversized like a picture-book, but crammed full of text.

And although it’s not the fattest anthology on the shelf (that title is held, in my personal library, by my Tales of Enid Blyton treasury), the next bit gives it an edge.

For, next, these anthologies were always bright and colourful and, often, beautifully illustrated works of art; Rotraut Susanne Berner’s is most definitely a contender in that sense.

The style of her illustrations does change slightly (particularly in terms of colour choice and degree of detail), reflecting the variety of the content included in this volume but, overall, they are joyful and exuberant images. (If you like the cover image, you will love the book’s contents.)

And, finally, although a book of that cost would have been dismissed if it had been by a single author, something about anthologies appealed to the adults who were making such offers to me.

(I can’t explain that, but I have a lovely collection of anthologies that I managed to wriggle into Christmas and birthday stacks, so clearly I identified a weakness in the system and quickly learned to exploit it. I was not normally a sneaky child, but greedy when it came to books.)

Were anthologies more popular at one time than they are now? Did the generous older-book-buyers think back to Beano almanacs, so that the waves of nostalgia encouraged them to authorize a similar addition to my own library?

Possibly. And The Winter Book would have struck another chord with these folks, when approving purchases, for all that winter — and surviving it — was viewed as something inherently Canadian.

The contents of this anthology, however, would not have appealed to them; they would have rather read a series of stories which celebrated the traditional Christmas values that they recognized and upheld in their own homes.

My copy of The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories was family-endorsed and it contains four sections: Christmas is Christ, Christmas is Santa Claus, Christmas is Dickens, Christmas is Home.

The Winter Book certainly includes talk of Christmas, but its list of contents is of a different ilk:
O Wind, A-Blowing All Day Long O Wind that Sings So Loud a Song!; The North Wind Doth Blow and We Shall Have Snow; Christmas is Coming, The Geese are Getting Fat; and, If Winter Comes, Can Spring Be Far Behind?

Hallowe’en, Diwali, Hannukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day and St. Valentine’s Day are explored through stories, songs (with music too), poems, essays, recipes, and a menu.

The content is a pleasing mix of traditional and contemporary, from Longfellow and Stevenson poems (these often appeared in the sanctioned seasonal reading when I was a girl, too) to Matt Cohen and Jürg Schubiger, and folks in-between (like Italo Calvino and Dino Buzzati). “Nana’s Cold Days” by Adwoa Badoe offers the perspective of a new Canadian who is accustomed to warmer lands.

When it comes to a book like this, I am like the critter in the final illustration, all ears and eager eyes peering from behind a pair of spectacles, perched on a book and a goodie to chew: bring it on!

Project Notes: 
Day 35 of 45: Adam Gopnik’s Winter would have made a great choice for today’s post as well (I read it on five Thursdays last year, one post for each of the work’s five windows on the season, and I’ve thought back to  the contents many times since); here’s the link to the final window, which includes links to the other four segments in the series and the link to the Massey Lecture audio production of it too.

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