Tidings by Ruth Padel & Other Christmassy Reading

img_0834Ruth Padel is one of my favorite poets, so I jumped at the chance to read her new book-length holiday poem, Tidings: A Christmas Journey. Set across one Christmas Eve and Christmas day and narrated by Charoum, the Angel of Silence, the poem switches between Holly, a seven-year-old girl excited for Christmas, and Robin, a forty-four-year-old homeless man who follows a fox to a Crisis Centre. Here he gets a hot meal and some human kindness to make up for the usual bleakness of the holidays:

Christmas is the salt mine.

Salt in the wound, a nothing-time.

I was loved once. Who by? Can’t remember.

I especially liked the fragments that juxtapose this contemporary London story with centuries of history:

Up here the evening glides over golden moss

on the flat-top tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft


Pagan Christmas fizzes and teems with ghosts,

midwinter fires, mummers and waites, Yule

logs and mistletoe.

The poem also journeys to Jerusalem and Rome to survey a whole world of Christmas traditions, then and now.


It’s a lovely little volume, with the red, black and white theme offset by touches of gold. The illustrations are gorgeous, but the story line disappointed me: starting with the character names, it all felt rather clichéd. Padel has treated urban foxes much more successfully in her collection The Soho Leopard, and apart from a very few instances – like the above quotes – the verse struck me as largely undistinguished, even awkward (like the out-of-place clinical vocabulary in “Love, / and the lack of it, can change the limbic brain”). This means that, for me, this book fails to earn a place as a Christmas classic I’ll reread year after year.

Tidings was published in the UK by Chatto & Windus on November 3rd. My thanks to Cat Mitchell of Random House for the free review copy.

My rating: 3-star-rating


Other Christmassy Reading

waiting-on-the-wordThis year I’m resuming my place in Waiting on the Word, Malcolm Guite’s selection of religious-slanted poems to read from the start of Advent through Epiphany. For those who want to explore the history and interpretation of Christmas, I can recommend The First Christmas by the late Marcus Borg, one of my favorite progressive theologians.

As I have for the past several years, I’ll dip into The Ecco Book of Christmas Stories, edited by Alberto Manguel. My favorites are by Truman Capote, John Cheever, Jane Gardam and Jeanette Winterson (who has a brand-new, full-length Christmas story collection out this year). I’ll also sample some Russian classics via A Very Russian Christmas, which has short stories from Tolstoy, Chekhov and more.

very-russianIn addition, I have Cleveland Amory’s The Cat Who Came for Christmas and The Cat Who Stayed for Christmas out from the library, which should make for some very cozy reading under the cat. I’ll browse the numerous Christmas-themed poems in U.A. Fanthorpe’s Collected Poems, another library book. And I may even deign to try Hogfather, one from my husband’s beloved Discworld series by the late Terry Pratchett.

[See also this wonderful list of Christmas reading suggestions from Heaven Ali.]

Are you reading anything special this Christmas season?

10 responses

  1. It’s a shame that the Ruth Padel doesn’t hit the spot. The illustrations look lovely, as does the whole Christmassy appearance of the book.


    1. The book could not have been presented more beautifully, but in her attempt to pay homage to Christmas classics (Dickens, Dylan Thomas et al.) I felt she lapsed into cliche.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I rarely read Christmas themed books. It’s not because I don’t want to – it’s only because I don’t trust Christmas-y books to be as good as the other books on my pile. I’d love some recommendations that are!
    My daughter is reading A Christmas Carol in school right now, and I’m so pleased for her. That’s one that I’m tempted to read every year, but then end up watching one of the many movies of it (usually the Muppet one), and then don’t feel like reading it anymore.


    1. I’m really enjoying The Cat Who Came for Christmas so far. I’ve actually only ever read A Christmas Carol once. My husband read Dickens’s other short Christmas books last year. As you say, it’s easier to just put on the Muppet movie instead 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Cat Who Came for Christmas does sound promising… 🙂


  3. i dont tend to go for Christmas themed reading – just never found anything that pulls me more than the non Christmas options I have. A lot of the choices on offer in the bookshops look rather twee to me. I might end up reading a classic British crime novel. On the other hand I should read Swallows and Amazons for my children’s lit course


    1. You know, I was actually thinking of picking up Swallows and Amazons over Christmas too — a British-only classic that I’ve never experienced.


  4. I spotted Tidings today while shopping. I was rather tempted by it but managed to resist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such a beautifully packaged book; I wish I could have recommended it more highly.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a shame about the Padel, I’m glad of your honest review as it’s horrible to be disappointed by cliche. That’s why I tend to avoid Christmas-themed books, although there’s a very good Maeve Binchy, “This year it will be different” which I recall being well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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