New Year holidays are just around the corner and it looks like this year there will be plenty of time for reading. Below, HSE University faculty members recommend some books worth reading.
For me, this is the most festive book since my adolescence. It is not all about Christmas — it’s a series of autobiographical stories from the childhood of an unlucky German boy, imbued with light ironic sadness. But some parts of the book are incredibly heartwarming, and one of these parts is the story about celebrating Christmas: it describes the way his German family prepares for the holiday, sings Christmas carols, the parents make riddles for the children about their gifts, and children secretly take chocolate toys from the back of the Christmas tree.
It’s a magical winter story that includes all the important components of any holiday: charming and unusual people, real miracles, a lot of music and special effects, and, of course, sweets. This is a story about family and friendship between people, which makes any boy a world champion (as in another book by Dahl). And I am very happy that this year my little son shared the pleasure of reading this book with me.
Recommended by Jorge Luis Mendez Martinez, Research Assistant at the International Laboratory for Logic, Linguistics and Formal Philosophy
I love reading, but I don't choose my readings on a seasonal basis or depending mood. I'm currently reading the Dostoyevskogo Karamazov Brothers, and Herman Hesse's Siddharta. But I doubt these can be included in the description.
On the other hand, if you ask me about seasonal music, then I can recommend something: the Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio, or Рожденственская Оратория) of Johann Sebastian Bach.
There is an interesting book about this from the historical, biographical and musicological point of view: Meinrad Walter's "Johann Sebastian Bach Weihnachtsoratorium" (in German), which is an interesting reading
Recommended by Michael Dan Gordin, Chief Research Fellow at the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities
Most of the books I read are rather depressing. I did have one thought: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts. (Here’s the website.) It is a memoir, written late in life, about when the Englishman walked (пешком) across Europe, in the 1930s. That was a very dark time in Europe’s history, but the enthusiasm of the boy and his engagement with all of Europe’s cultures is really heartening. And there is a lovely Christmas scene in it!
Recommended by Gleb Cherkasov, Director of the Media Practices Centre
We should read historical novels both to find out what was and to try to understand how it was. In fact, these are two different genres, united by one umbrella term. However, sometimes these genres overlap.
Somerset Maugham seems to succeed in it. His book tells us about people — there is the main character himself, and Caesar Borgia, and other people who are remembered only by attentive admirers of Italy, and dozens of characters who do not get any reference in the most detailed historical textbooks. Of course, this is all about ‘what was’, although the author doesn’t describe the main episode of that time, and it’s also about ‘how it was’. Because while reading you feel like a book character dipping bread in wine at breakfast, walking along the narrow streets of the city, seeing the corpses of marauders hanged in honor of Cesare Borgia’s justice. We knew how the story ends before reading, but now we know what it was like.