Xmas Books: Nina Stibbe’s tree…

The special CiB meme ‘Xmas scenes from books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!

Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe

published 2017

Almost Perfect Christmas Tree

[The author has gone out to buy a Christmas tree: there is only one left in the shop… ]

‘I think I’m going to take this tree,’ I said, a little anxiously.

‘You got kiddies at home?’ asked [shopkeeper] Candy menacingly.

‘Yes, and they’ll be delighted with it,’ I said.

‘No, they won’t,’ said Candy. ‘Kiddies hate trees like that, plus it might die on you – have you thought about how that’s going to affect your Christmas?’…

I got the tree home and plonked it down on a low table. ‘Is it meant to look like that?’ asked a member of my family.

‘Is that going to be our actual Christmas tree?’ asked my daughter.

‘It’s been mistreated,’ I said. ‘It was meant to be a Christmas tree but hasn’t had the chance. Let’s give it one lovely Christmas covered in baubles and bells, and then let it fade away with dignity in the back garden.’

‘I hate it,’ said my daughter.

‘Will we get a proper one next year?’ asked my son, a kinder person than my daughter.

‘Yes,’ I said.

But the tree never has faded away. It’s lived.

commentary: I’m a huge fan of Nina Stibbe – the wonderful non-fiction collection of letters Love, Nina, and her two novels: Man at the Helm and Paradise Lodge (both on the blog).

This new book is an unusual collection of Xmas-themed pieces: often this would imply they had all appeared separately on previous occasions – an author might collect various old articles and cobble them together for a book. This doesn’t seem to be the case at all. They are very varied: mostly non-fictional, amusing and light pieces about Christmases in her extended family, and throughout her life. And there are a couple of seasonal short stories too, and the book rounds off with ‘An Almost Comprehensive Glossary of Christmas’.

And the whole thing is very funny, very charming, and very real. Stibbe’s family has its own wild aberrations, and weird stories, and inexplicable past events. But then every family has their own version of these, and it is fun to read about hers: recognition turning into surprise, shock, or just laughter on a regular basis. It’s a very nice book: ideal stocking filler present, or just something to read over the Christmas season.

In an earlier post I said this about Nina Stibbe’s writing:
Her books don’t resemble anyone else’s – I’m sure creative writing classes or courses would have made her change her ways. So we’re lucky that the happy chance of the Nina letters gave us the chance to read more of her - I certainly will follow her anywhere. These read like books written by someone who doesn’t know what novels are meant to be like (though we know from her story that Nina has read an awful lot of books) and all the better for that.
--and nothing has changed since then.

The picture is Berlin Boy from the Christmas Market by Franz Skarbina, from the Athenaeum.


  1. I do like that writing style, Moira. It strikes me as honest, funny, to-the-point, and interesting. You can't get better than that! And that's a lovely image, too.

    1. Thanks Margot, I loved my Berlin Boy! And yes, it's a funny, honest book - and although her own family is very individual, most people will recognize parts of her stories...

  2. Loved those first two books so great to hear there's more. Her stories have that chatty, effortless style with real craft underneath it. And, as you say, very funny.

    1. Yes, me too, I hope she keeps on writing, always so enjoyable.

  3. Not one for me I'm afraid. Spooky timing - wifey and daughter number one are currently enjoying the delights of the Berlin Christmas markets.

    1. Hope they have a good time! We have one in Winchester and very nice it is too, though very crowded at weekends - locals only go during the week...

  4. This sounds like fun if I ever run into it.

    1. It is a nice read Tracy - very British, but you would appreciate that with all your reading...


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