Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Birthday Books


Having hosted two birthday parties in two days – my daughter’s and my own – I am extremely relieved that our Christmas is going to be a relaxed one, celebrated mostly at other people’s houses. The best thing about not having to plan, shop for and cook a full Christmas meal (just our contributions) is that it leaves me with time to read my birthday books.

I’ve just finished Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, and am already deeply into Alice Munro’s Runaway. I’ve just read Munro’s memoir, so was thrilled when one of my clever party guests brought me some short stories of hers to try. The collection comes with an ecstatic introduction from Jonathan Franzen, who explains why he likes short stories so much:

I like stories because they leave the writer with no place to hide. There’s no yakking your way out of trouble; I’m going to be reaching the last page in a matter of minutes, and if you’ve got nothing to say I’m going to know it. I like stories because they’re usually set in the present or in living memory; the genre seems to resist the historical impulse that makes so many contemporary novels feel fugitive or cadaverous. I like stories because it takes the best kind of talent to invent fresh characters and situations while telling the same story over and over.

I’ve never been a fan of short stories, preferring rather to dive into a novel and luxuriate there, but I am loving the Munro book, as Nova predicted I would.

One of my friends gave me Bernhard Schlink’s Die Heimkehr. She told me as I unwrapped it that it might look like it’s written in German, but it’s really, really written in English. She was joking, of course, but perhaps this quiet down time between the years is a good moment to try reading in German again. I have resisted it, because it takes a level of concentration and effort that reading in English doesn’t. I loved The Reader, which is set right here where we live, so I’m sure to enjoy this new Schlink.

My friends seem to formed a united front, because my co-birthday girl has given me a German book that I can’t resist: Küchengeschichten: Die wunderbaren Rezepte meinen Freunde by Kristina Möller. In English that would be “Kitchen Stories: My friends’ wonderful recipes” – and it comprises a description of each of her friends, some of their favourite recipes and some wonderful art.

I love reading about food at this time of year. It’s about having the time to settle down in an armchair with a cup of coffee, or better still a glass of red wine, and dream about new foods to cook in the new year. A dear friend, who was unfortunately absent from the party, sent me Claudia Roden’s Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon, and I am entranced and delighted by the delicacies inside. I may have to take the Turkish yogurt cake to our Christmas Eve celebration with friends.

Other friends gave me wine, bath goodies, Christmas candles and jewellery, so I felt very spoilt. Thanks to all my further afield friends who phoned, emailed and sent messages on Facebook. I had a wonderful birthday. And I know that being 39 is going to be great: a year of reading, writing, cooking, travelling, loving and dreaming.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

15 thoughts on “Birthday Books

  1. Happy Birthday, Happy Christmas and Happy reading, Charlotte. And enjoy 39, knowing that 40 isn’t actually a big deal, just a continuation of 39! For me it was mostly about finding more time for myself as the children gradually got more independent, learning new things and rediscovering old ones. I hope you managed your list of 50 new things this year, it sounds like it from your blog – I stopped keeping count of mine but enough has happened that I’m sure there must be at least 50.

  2. What great gifts. I might have to check out the Schlink novel. Let us know how it is.

  3. Happy birthday and happy holidays!

    Alice Munro’s daughter, Sheila, wrote a wonderful book, ‘Lives of Mothers and Daughters’ in 2002. You might enjoy it …

  4. Ah yes, holiday reading. How delicious. It sounds like you have some great reading in store. What a wonderful idea for a cookbook too. Let us know what you discover.

  5. I love Schlink, having started with The Reader, then moving on to the detective stories. I have his book of short stories, which is in the pile of waiting to be read books.

    Wishing you a very Happy Christmas

  6. Happy Birthday! To you and your daughter!

    I am so thrilled to hear you’re liking Runaway…

    What did you think of Emperor’s Children? For some reason I’ve had a hard time getting into it, but I love her previous book.

  7. I loved Runaway. Alice Munro is brilliant.

    Happy 39 and happy Christmas!

  8. I love the title story in Runaway, the haunting image of the goat in headlights. Unforgettable.

  9. What a lovely lot of books you received. I very nearly bought the Bernard Schlink the other day — I look forward to hearing your impressions of it.

    Happy Christmas to you and your family, Charlotte. I hope it’s a wonderful day.

  10. A belated Happy Birthday to you Charlotte! Enjoy your reading and cooking and have a very Merry Christmas. I can’t wait to hear more about those exotic recipes.

  11. Happy (belatedly) birthday! Great set of books – I think I might have bought Arabesque for Someone, actually. Enjoy 39 – but being 40 is even better.

  12. I loved Runaway too — and that’s a great description of short stories — I would like to read more of them! Happy (belated) birthday — enjoy your reading time!

  13. Happy Belated Birthday! Enjoy your books – Alice Munro is wonderful.

  14. Here’s a bit of literary gossip: Bernhard Schlink used to live in the house beside mine when he was a university student in Heidelberg. There should be a sign outside. The owner, who was his landlady, gave me the inside scoop once. Neat, eh?

  15. Pingback: Susiej » Is Preschool killing childhood?

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