“I read Wuthering Heights every Christmas. It’s my favorite book.” – The Proposal*
When people ask me what I’m reading at this time of year, I always hesitate to answer honestly. I used to think people wouldn’t really understand my answer. Then The Proposal came out, and for all its straight-up, fruffy rom-com-ness, the sincerity of this scene, made me rethink my constant skirting of a question I get a lot.
People know I read. I get asked what I’m reading at least once a day. Apparently, I have a reputation or something.
Every Christmas, I reread Little Women. I don’t know that I would label Alcott’s semi-autobiographical turn at novel writing my “favorite” book, but it lies super close to my heart if not inside it completely.
Little Women was read to me by my mother when I was little. Every night, we read another chapter of the hard back, cloth-covered book that she had read as a girl. The illustrations were delicate and watercolor-like. The font was old, and the paper smelled of glue, mildew and that inexplicable magic that is “old book”.
I still have that edition. It’s the only one I own, actually. Since my mother died, I have hunted down two more copies of the same edition from Little Brown and Co. printed in 1946 so that my brothers could read them with their children – a little piece of the grandmother they would never know.
It’s not that the book is different every year.
It’s not that the physical book changes the story.
It’s that there is something magical about reading the words I read with my mom from the same book while cuddled up under a comforter with a cup of hot cocoa in my hands. The mental images I have of Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth will always be the softly muted illustrations painted and drawn by Elinore Blaisdell. No actor will ever live up to those pictures in my head.
The pages are smoother than normal. They feel soft like fabric and have taken on a weird mix of cloves and cinnamon in addition to the normal old book smell. Their corners are rounded and fold easily. There is marginalia from three generations of women in my family. My mother poked my father’s name into one corner with a pin when she was in high school. One of the illustrations hangs out slightly from the rest, taped in with cellophane strips by a child’s fingers. I didn’t rip the picture out; it fell from the binding sometime around my tenth birthday.
This copy of Little Women has survived eight moves, two summers in storage spaces, and more airplane rides than I have. I can’t get through Christmas without it.
With the holidays upon me again, I head back to the Snow Belt where I grew up, and tuck this novel in my carryall again, content with the knowledge that I will fall back into the warm embrace of the fireside with Jo and Meg and Amy and Beth as they pick and prod each other about a Christmas with no presents. And every time I crack the binding gently and inhale its perfume, I wonder at the Christmas traditions or holiday traditions, everyone holds so close to their hearts that no one knows about them.
*I really tried to find a still of this scene to include in this post. FYI, googling Ryan Reynolds and The Proposal leads to a search screen that is NSFW and is incredibly distracting.
**Since Thanksgiving, I’ve had two friends tell me about to magical rare bookseller websites. I wanted to reach through the internet to hug them.
Image is my own. Yes, that’s my pretty book.