Books Yule logged

Literature at Christmas is not just a time for celebrity autobiographies or TV annuals. Brian Donaldson looks at some leftfield seasonal offerings Derren Brown



✽✽ Chris Hannan Playwright and author Chris Hannan hosts a practical workshop for those interested in bringing stories to the stage. Get yourself booked early. Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 11 Dec. ✽✽ Janice Galloway A special night as part of the Chopin in Glasgow series in which the author of Clara and The Trick is to Keep Breathing chats about the composer while students from the RSAMD play some tunes. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Thu 9 Dec. ✽✽ Catherine Hermary- Vieille The popular French historical novelist introduces her new book written from the perspective of James Bothwell, and which tells the tale of his relationship with Mary Queen of Scots. Lennoxlove House, Haddington, Mon 6 Dec. ✽✽ The Big Book Group Bash! Alan Bissett and Laura Marney are among the authors chatting about the joys of bookgrouping in this free event. See caption, page 36. Central Library, Edinburgh, Thu 2 Dec. ✽✽ The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas An impressive collection of rational minds pore over the pain and pleasure of the festive season. See preview, left. The Friday Project. ✽✽ Allan Brown Since 1984, the Blue Nile have released a grand total of four albums, but in spite (or because) of this, the seemingly now-split trio have a devoted following like few other Scottish bands. Journalist and Wicker Man fan Brown is one such admirer and his Nileism is an essential read for those in mourning. See page 35. Polygon.

W hen bestselling memoirist Augusten Burroughs was a kid, he had something of an identity crisis. For him, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus were the same person. He couldn’t quite figure out which one of them came down the chimney on Christmas Eve and which one celebrated his birthday the following day. Not that he would get any clarification on the issue from his alcoholic father or his heavily-medicated mother who divorced when Burroughs was 12, leading to him being adopted by his mum’s psychiatrist.

While his complex upbringing has been bludgeoned into submission over the course of several books, kicking off with his 2002 debut Running with Scissors, which made it onto the big screen starring Annette Bening and Brian Cox, You Better Not Cry gives his childhood traumas a seasonal flavour. Dipping back into his diagnosed ‘sensory processing disorder’, condition of heightened mental sensitivity that he claims causes him to retain experiences more vividly than the rest of us (handy for an autobiographer, that), we hear tales of how his Claus/Christ confusion led to him inadvertently beating a life-sized Father Christmas to a waxy pulp, and in later years, waking up hungover next to a large Frenchman in a Santa suit. a

Wryly observant of his family mores and able to plumb the depths of his own flawed personality, Burroughs’ book is caustically hilarious. If You Better Not Cry is an extravagantly North American take on the festive season, John Julius Norwich’s Twelve Days of Christmas is as politely English as it gets. Illustrated by Quentin Blake, the slim tome imagines the fate of one woman, Emily, at the receiving end of a literal interpretation of the carol by a male suitor, 34 THE LIST 2–16 Dec 2010


Edward. The partridge, pear tree and turtle doves are warmly welcomed, but by the time the milking maids and leaping lords are cavorting in her garden, she is apoplectic with fury. Through a daily series of increasingly haughty letters, Emily expresses her concerns to Edward before putting matters into the hands of her solicitor who pens the inevitable restraining order on the 5th of January.

The meatiest collection of the season is The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, which could have been subtitled: ‘I really like Christmas, but . . .’ as many of the 42 chroniclers here are apologetic to the point of guilt about their love of the season matched only in intensity by their disdain for the underlying ‘meaning’ of it all. So, Simon Le Bon discusses his own loss of faith, while arch humourist Charlie Brooker wonders whether God has a sick sense of fun, and Derren Brown (a former Christian who saw the atheistic light when he began the psychological-illusionism game) believes that seasonal goodwill platitudes are flawed and that kindness should be for life and not just for Christmas. There are some heavyweight rationalist debates conducted by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox (the other, sciencey one) and AC Grayling, but your senses will be equally stirred at Richard Herring’s offering, ‘A Christmas Miracle’, where he writes of helping his sister’s cat get some water from the bathroom sink while he enjoys a festive poo. into



You Better Not Cry and The Twelve Days of Christmas are published by Atlantic; The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is published by The Friday Project. All books are out now.