An award-winning novelist with over five million books in print, Jane Porter’s latest works of fiction are THE GOOD WOMAN and THE GOOD DAUGHTER (which releases on February 5th), the first two installments in her Brennan Sisters series. As a child, Jane read books because it slowed time for her and filled her head with countless pictures and powerful emotions. So it’s no surprise that unwrapping books was the one activity she anticipated the most as soon as she woke up on Christmas morning.
Like every little girl, I loved Christmas. Christmas was beautiful and festive and full of mystery. It also meant books. Receiving books: books about the ballet, books by favorite authors, biographies and autobiographies of those gifted writers. It was at Christmas my grandmother might hunt down a book missing from my “collection,” or my dad would buy me a new novel from an author he thought I might like.
Some people read because it kills time. As a child, I read because it slowed time, making it feel rich, full and mysterious. Reading filled my head with pictures and emotions, emotions so powerful that they made me want more of everything --- life, words, stories, ideas. Through books, I learned to dream.
Christmas, though, was the one time of year when reality was actually better than fantasy. I come from a Bavarian family, and Germans love Christmas. I loved Christmas with the old-fashioned colored lights on our tree, and the dozens of antique glass ornaments passed on from my grandmother, ornaments that shimmered and shone, reflecting light. During the holidays, I loved how my dad --- an amazing cook --- would work in the kitchen, chopping and sautéing while Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Johnny Cash and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir filled the house with traditional carols, and I’d lie on the carpet before the fire, reading by the glow and crackle of the flames.
As a girl, I had thick glasses, so thick they always ended up on the tip of my nose and reading by the fire. I’d find my rhythm --- read, turn a page, push up my glasses --- all while my dad was chopping and stirring and Bing or Elvis would be crooning, and then there’d be a pause, as a record would end, and the next would fall and the little needle made that scratching sound before starting to play.
We didn’t have snow where I grew up, just thick Tule fog that rolled in around November and hung around until March. Sometimes the fog clung to the trees and houses all day, while other times it would thin out, becoming wisps before burning off. Like kids with snow, we had a foggy day schedule at school, which meant we’d start late, or sometimes not go at all, which was heaven to me, so I could stay in bed all day reading while the fog pressed up against the window glass.
Finally Christmas Eve would arrive, and while curled up reading next to the tree, I’d steal glances at the packages next to me, and the beautifully set table in the dining room waiting for us. With the carols playing on the stereo, I’d wish, how I’d wish, the night wouldn’t end. I never wanted morning to come, as I hated how the season’s warmth and shimmering beauty got tossed out with the torn wrapping paper and flattened boxes.
And yet...if Christmas didn’t come, I wouldn’t be able to open my presents, and among the boring clothes and odd knick knacks I never wanted, would be treasure --- books. One, two, perhaps even a boxed set or the new series from my favorite author.
I’m no longer that little girl who stays awake reading beneath the Christmas tree, or stretched out by the fire with a book and a pillow as now I’m the one in the kitchen chopping and sautéing and creating the Christmas magic for my three children.
But one thing hasn’t changed. Every year I still ask for books for Christmas, and I list the ones I want and give the list to my husband and sons, who have finally understood that a gift card to a store is not the same thing as an actual book purchased, inscribed and wrapped in festive paper. I can’t help it. Call me old-fashioned. But Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Johnny Cash on the iPod, a Noble fir covered with glass ornaments, and a novel or two, tucked under the tree in gorgeous paper, waiting for me.