A Christmas Cornucopia!

I love how Christmas is described as the ‘Holiday Season’. I equate holidays with feeling relaxed and stress free. Christmas is not proving to be so for me! There is so much to see and do and it all involves so much rushing around…I have had barely a minute to breathe these past couple of weeks! Christmas is not really a lie down on a sunny beach, is it?!

Reading wise, I have been doing very little. I am slowly making my way through Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which is absolutely sublime, and I am enjoying it immensely. However, it’s so beautifully written and filled with so much to think on, that I want to take my time with it. I have, however, been buying a fair amount of books. My excuse for doing so is that I am mainly collecting beautiful antique copies of American books I can’t buy in the UK. So it’s completely justifiable! It’s collecting, not hoarding!  Books I have bought from ebay are a lovely first edition of Anne’s House of Dreams by L M Montgomery, within the pages of which I found pressed not one, but two, four leaved clovers; an equally beautiful copy of F H Burnett’s In the Closed Room, which I have been wanting for YEARS, is incredibly difficult to find at a reasonable price (I found mine for under $10) and has stunning hand tipped illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith – I am just in love with it!; and a delightful first edition of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which has the most lovely illustrations, and I can’t wait to read it! None of these books cost me more than $15 to buy and have sent to me, so they were bargains!

I have also acquired a lovely art deco copy of Hudson River Bracketed by Edith Wharton, Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton (a Christmas present from the lovely Jenny!), The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons, which was on the dollar shelf at The Housing Works Bookstore (thanks for the dollar, Jenny!) and a beautiful first edition of Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Oh, and a random choice from the Strand dollar bins – Mrs Parkington, by Louis Bromfield – I had never heard of him before, but the first page of this book is hilarious and the story is set in New York, and it turns out Louis Bromfield was a very popular man during the mid 20th century, so I am intrigued to try this one for size. Due to my recent book buying binge, I am now all stocked up for quite a long way in the future when it comes to my reading choices! Interestingly,while I was looking up The Matchmaker on Amazon to see what other people thought of it, I noticed that Stella Gibbons’ books are being brought back into print by Vintage next August – there’s a press release about it here. So if, like me, you’re a huge fan of Stella Gibbons, look out for that – they are starting with the Cold Comfort Farm sequels, which is fantastic news, as they’re virtually impossible to get hold of!

In other Christmas related news, this past Thursday night I had the immense pleasure of attending the St Patrick’s Cathedral Carol Concert. St Patrick’s Cathedral is absolutely breathtaking inside, and in the dim light, with candles flickering, hordes of New Yorkers young and old packed into the pews, and the voices of the various choirs floating up into the vaulted ceiling, it was a simply beautiful and truly special experience to be part of. At the end, we all lit candles and sung Silent Night together, and in that warm, candlelit, peaceful space, it really did feel like the embodiment of the true meaning of Christmas, in bringing joy, peace and hope to all. It gave me goosebumps! I loved EVERY minute of it, and I think it’s wonderful that the Cathedral provides this opportunity for New Yorkers to come together and forget about the lists of things they ‘have’ to get ready for Christmas day, and the lure of the department stores outside, and just spend a couple of hours enjoying beautiful music and being at peace with the world.

On Friday night, still in the Christmas spirit, I went caroling in Greenwich Village with some American friends; we had a marvellous time, and even took requests! The streets of Greenwich Village are somewhat Dickensian compared to the rest of high-rise, grid patterned Manhattan, and I loved walking around after dark, seeing the lighted Christmas trees behind the windows of beautiful 19th century row houses and old tenement building apartments, and watching people enjoying dinner in the plethora of small, cosy restaurants that line the fairy lit streets.

What else have I been doing? Knitting a pretty, soft baby blanket…my darling sister is pregnant with her third baby, who will make his or her appearance at the end of May, which is incredibly exciting.  Another little treasure to love and care for and provide with books! New York-wise, on Sunday I visited the Museum of the City of New York, which is very off the beaten path, even though it is on 5th Avenue’s ‘Museum Mile’; you’ll find it in Spanish Harlem, on 105th street. An imposing, federal style building, built specifically to house the Museum in the 1930s, it overlooks the rather more wild stretch of Central Park and contains a pleasant mishmash of interesting exhibitions and collections relating to the history of New York City. Their current blockbuster exhibition is ‘Notable and Notorious’, chronicling the dress and jewellery of a century of prominent female New Yorkers. The dresses were breathtaking, but disappointingly, the mannequins the dresses were mounted upon had not been padded or shaped to fit the era of the clothes they were supporting. Most of the dresses therefore hung rather limply, and were not shown to their best effect. Having worked at the V&A and seen the attention to detail and expense paid to padding mannequins to accurately fit period clothes, I can appreciate now why so much effort was put into this mounting process; without it, dress exhibitions really do fall flat. Aside from this niggle, however, I found the Museum lovely, and there is another wonderful exhibition besides ‘Notorious and Notable’, of paintings by Herbert Katzman, whose depictions of the skies over Manhattan is simply breathtaking. It’s well worth a visit if you’ve been to New York before and want to avoid the big tourist attractions; it has a very local feel and is particularly friendly for families with young children – there’s a whole suite of galleries just for kids, which I thought was a brilliant touch.

On Sunday evening, after a leisurely afternoon spent sipping enormous bowls of Belgian hot chocolate in Le Pain Quotidien, I saw The King’s Speech, which I thought was absolutely marvellous, and made me feel very homesick. Colin Firth surpassed himself and Helena Bonham Carter, much to my surprise, was a perfect Queen Elizabeth. I adored every cosy minute of it, and I highly recommend it!

So I might not be reading much, but I am keeping busy; New York is such a playground of fun and often I feel that I can’t sit and read when there is so much to do outside of my own front door!


  1. Oh, Rachel, I am sitting here dripping with envy, turning green, in fact, at your bounty of books – and what joy you bring with your excitement as you explore New York City at Christmas.

    Those children’s book authors and illustrator are among my favorite. I know my friend Janet will love seeing that cover of L.M Montgomery’s book, as I did, but, for me, a first edition of Little House in the Big Woods makes me all giddy. They couldn’t be in better hands than yours. You have real treasures in them, as well as the other books you have acquired.

    Isn’t St. Patrick’s Cathedral grand? To see it and hear music there at Christmastime sounds so very, very divine – and your caroling in Greenwich Village. Well, what can I say but thank you for the merry adventures you take us on each and every time you write a post.

    There will be time for reading. For now, enjoy your adventures and know this is one old soul with the heart of a child who will appreciate whatever words you turn upon these pages.

    Oh, glad to hear you enjoyed The King’s Speech. I can’t wait to see it myself.

    1. Oh Penny! I’m sorry to have brought out the green eyed monster in you! 😉

      It’s so wonderful to have such an enthusiastic reader as you, it really is. I am so excited to have these books as well and I will truly enjoy and treasure them as only a real book lover can. Rest assured! I will be posting about them in due course.

      Oh yes, it is – I’m not Catholic but I’m tempted to attend mass just to experience the beautiful space during a time of worship again. It’s a pleasure to share my adventures with you, and to know that they bring you so much joy! Thank you for another wonderful comment – and please do run and see The King’s Speech – I know you would very much appreciate it and be moved by it.

  2. What a wonderful time you’re having and what amazing books, you’d never have found them here. The only one I’ve read is The Matchmaker, but don’t go into it expecting Cold Comfort Farm! Hoping you have a very happy American Christmas, Rachel.

    1. I know, which makes me feel fine about buying them. 🙂 Ok, I will be duly warned! Knowing me I won’t get around to reading it until I’m back in England anyway! Thank you Mary, and I wish you a wonderful Christmas too!

  3. Oh, Rachel, that first-edition Anne book made me drool. And the FH Burnett! I never even HEARD of it, and I have quite a lot of her books. (Do you have a copy of T. Tembarom? It takes place half in NYC and half in England, and it is totally charming – I love the turn-of-the-century New York slang! I might even have two copies, if you want one…)

    I love Christmas in Louisiana (and someday I will go to see the bonfires on the bayou that light Pere Noel to the Cajun children’s homes) but hearing about Christmas in New York has made me wistful and a little homesick for the beautiful city I loved back in the day.

    1. Oh Mumsy! I’m so glad you’re a FH Burnett fan too!! I DO have a copy of T Tembarom at home in England, thanks so much for asking – I have a huge collection that I’ve barely dipped into…it’s waiting for many a rainy Autumnal day when I feel like immersing myself in Victorian melodrama!

      Well maybe next year you can come up and experience it with Jenny…until then, have a wonderful Christmas in Louisiana..I’d love to experience that!

  4. Rachel, I could almost be there! Thank you! What wonderful books you’ve been acquiring! Totally gloatable-over!
    Interesting what you said about the padding. I’ll mention this to my son, who’s studying museum theory and practice at the moment as well as working part-time in a small museum. I wonder how many places think of this very important aspect of displaying clothes and showing how they would have looked…

    1. Oh Penny, I’m glad you love the books…makes me feel so much better about splurging on them!
      Re: museums – the trouble with adequately padding and mounting period clothes is that it’s collossally expensive. The average cost of a period mannequin custom made to an item of clothing is around £5,000, and then you’ve got at least one member of specialised staff doing the mounting and padding – this can take up to a week for one garment and can involve having to make a toile of the piece so that they aren’t pulling the original on and off the mannequin to test the fit constantly. The materials are also very expensive, as often they will try and use silk and other natural fibres to minimise damage to delicate fabrics. It’s a very exact science, and because of the training and cost involved, I think it tends to only be the larger museums that can afford to do it. However it makes a HUGE difference – if I had been allowed to take photos I could show you – they had Victorian dresses that needed to be shown on a tightly corseted mannequin just hanging off normal sized ones – totally ruining the look and making it difficult for people to comprehend the exact cut and shape of the dress. Such a shame!

  5. See, you always say interesting things about museums and museum exhibitions. I would never have pinpointed manikin padding as a problem, though of course it makes perfect sense.

    The King’s Speech looks so good, I really want to see it, now that I am finally in a place where I have forgiven Colin Firth for how scummy his character in Shakespeare in Love was. Many years, I’ve held onto that grudge. :p

    1. My two years working at the V&A filled my head with so many useless facts Jenny – I try and get use of them whenever I can!

      You are going to love The King’s Speech. I think you should watch it and then make me laugh with your fake English accent. 😉 And you silly thing – Colin Firth is lovely – I’m so glad you let go of that grudge!

  6. Well you certainly have been enjoying everything that NYC has to offer for Christmas. I have always wanted to go to Christmas mass at Notre Dame and enjoy all the Christmas concerts at the churches in Paris.
    I am so envious of some of your books-Montgomery and Ingalls both great authors. Have you thought of going to PEI while you are here to see the home?

    By the way-I opened your present before Christmas. Thank you so much. I so love the garnishing kit and the book-chocolate and body lotion are always a nice accessory to have together around the house. I cannot wait to start playing with the garnishing book.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness.


    1. I’ve been trying to, Esme! Notre Dame, and Paris in general, are places I’ve always wanted to go – I just haven’t had the opportunity yet. One day! I’d love to go to PEI as well – hopefully I will find time at some point during my year here.

      Oh, Esme! I think you must have had another book blogger with my name send you a present because I didn’t! 😦 I’d happily take the compliment but I couldn’t deprive someone else of the thanks they are due! I am not this wonderful kind person! But it’s lovely to have you come over here and give me all these compliments anyway! 🙂

    1. What a wonderful post, Sara! It so articulates the feelings I have when I am reading it. It’s beautiful and absolutely remarkable, I think, in its perceptiveness. I can’t wait to finish and I hope the sequel is just as good.

  7. I love reading your posts from New York. I’ve visited many times but you’ve already highlighted so much I’ve missed. So I’m compiling A List for next time! Good to hear of your festive exploits.

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad to hear that – I am so happy to be able to be hear for long enough to see and do everything I want to. I hope you get to do everything you want next time and that I give you some fun ideas of things to do that interest you!

  8. What a nice post! Lovely photos – I love that painting! – and I’m glad you went to St. Patrick’s.

    I’m plowing through “Dr. Zhivago” – surprised that I actually like it, although there are a lot of cliches in this old translation. Also, keeping all the characters straight is a bit confusing to me. I’m trying to read some every day, so as to have some continuity with it.

    I bet you’ll have a merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you – how kind! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      Fantastic news – I’m delighted. I was worried you wouldn’t like it! The character confusion hit me too – it’s a common problem with Russian novels I find! Too many characters, too many name variations, too many random relations! I hope it continues to be enjoyable and that you get as swept up in it as I was!

      I am sure I will – I hope you do too!

  9. The first edition Anne book is gorgeous. That alone would spell a very happy Christmas for me but with all your other new books and activities it sounds like you’re having a wonderful and exciting time! You’re making me quite desperate to visit New York!

    1. Isn’t it? I spent quite a while just looking at it when it arrived! It is a very wonderful and exciting time – because New York is a very wonderful and exciting city! You have to come! I hope you have a fantastic Christmas at home, Claire!

  10. Oh I am so jealous of your wonderful books. The first edition Anne book is marvelous. None of us have much time to read during this season. I am glad you are able to absorb what America has to offer at Christmas. The holiday season is a joyous one. Some people complain about the hustle and bustle of the season, but I relish it. It is wonderful. Merry Christmas to you.

    1. Oh, I’m sorry, Janet! They are lovely though, aren’t they?! Yes, Christmas here is so very different from at home and I am enjoying every minute of it, despite the busyness of it all. I wish you a wonderful Christmas too, Janet!

  11. Anne’s House of Dreams is my very favorite of that series. What a beautiful copy you found! I will readily admit to be quite jealous.

    Glad to hear that you are enjoying your American Christmas!

    1. I was so lucky to snag this, I really was – I want to wait to read it until I get copies of the two in between that and Anne of Green Gables though, so it might be a while before I get around to it!

      I very much am – Americans really do things with gusto!

  12. I so enjoyed Gilead. I have remember storing quite a few quotes from it. I look forward to reading your review of it and reliving the story.
    Happy Reading – and buying -books don’t count as they never go out of fashion…

    1. If you loved it, then so will I, I am perfectly sure. I don’t want to finish, I like it, and John Ames, so much. His voice is like no other I’ve read before.

      Ha! Thanks – I shall remember that!!

  13. Such wonderful news about the new baby and I love that you are knitting!

    Glad to hear that you really enjoyed The King’s Speech, we’re hoping to see it on the 27th. Perhaps I should sneak in a flask of tea and some scones instead of the pop and popcorn!

    …and you’re making me tired with your whirlwind pace, Rachel, how long can you keep this up do you think?

    1. Thank you Darlene! We are all just thrilled to bits and I will be making a special trip home when he/she is born, so that’s very exciting. I know – look at me! I’m doing quite well too! Pictures will come when I’m nearing the finish line!

      Oh Darlene, you will just LOVE The King’s Speech. The anglophile in you will be dying with pleasure!

      I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m tiring myself too – it’s very exhausting and I think I shall be hibernating a little more now it’s getting colder. 🙂

  14. Sigh. (Just stealing a few moments online at the library!) This all sounds lovely, Rachel. Anne’s House of Dreams and singing in a beautiful old church especially. Take care of yourself and Merry Christmas.

    1. Thank you Carolyn – I hope you manage to have a restful and lovely Christmas at home after all the worry and stress of recent months – am thinking of you!

  15. Ooh, the St Patrick’s Cathedral Carol Concert sounds great – I’ll have to look out for it next year. Another wonderful place to hear music is Saint Thomas Church, also on 5th Ave ( http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/ ) – I went to see their boys’ choir sing Britten’s Ceremony of Carols a few years back and it was beautiful and, yes, goosebump-inducing.

    I’m visiting family in Georgia at the moment and my mom and I both want to see The King’s Speech, but it doesn’t seem to be playing anywhere down here – sigh! (My stepdad, meanwhile, was oblivious to its existence – after my mom asked him if he could doublecheck online to see if he could find anything we had missed, he came back and said “The King’s Beach? I can’t find anything about it at all!” Ha.)

    1. It was magnificent, Heather – and free! You must go next year, but get there at least an hour early if you want a seat! I want to go to St Thomas’ Church – I missed the carols this year but I’m sure there will be other occasions to visit!

      Yes The King’s Speech is only on limited release unfortunately – such a shame that quality films like this get such little exposure when terrible films that have big stars in get splashed around everywhere! How funny about your stepdad – good thing you didn’t get him to book you tickets; who knows what you’d end up seeing!

      Have a wonderful Christmas! 🙂

  16. I am super jealous, Rachel, of your first edition of Anne’s House of Dreams! It’s probably the best of the Anne sequels, even though Anne of the Island is a close second. I hope you enjoy it!

    And I hope you have a very merry Christmas in New York. It can be hard to be away from family for the holidays, but it seems like you are keeping busy with friends. I hope you enjoy the season!

    1. I’m sorry to make you jealous, Virginia! It is a beautiful book though, I have to admit! A lot of people seem to love Anne’s House of Dreams so I am very much looking forward to reading it – I’m sure it’s not going to disappoint!

      Thank you – I am. It’s going to be sad not to see my family but I am having a wonderful experience nonetheless! I hope you have a lovely Christmas yourself!

  17. I absolutely love ANNE’S HOUSE OF DREAMS, which is my favorite among the ANNE books (if it’s possible to have a favorite among those wonderful books). I think it was actually the third in the series (after ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and, I believe, ANNE OF THE ISLAND). Anyway, because the three books were so popular, L.M. Montgomery went back and “filled in” some of the time gaps between the books with two other books. I think there’s a total of eight books in the series, the last one is about Anne’s daughter, Rilla (named for Marilla, of course).

    1. Another one who loves Anne’s House of Dreams! I am so excited to read it now! Thanks for all that information, Deb – I’ve got quite a way to go until I’ve collected them all!

  18. Oh Rachel what a wonderful collection of books for Christmas.Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.I would like to thank you so much for a wonderful blog and I am enjoying the books you recommend I have a very long list and entering any shop that has a hint of books.Looking forward to reading your blog next year.Our holidays are just starting here and they last a good 2 weeks. Its our summer holidays so weather hot with 100% humidity at the moment.

    1. Thank you so much Merilyn! You are wonderfully kind! I’m so happy to hear you like my blog so much, and I’m so glad you are gathering a list of good books – it’s always lovely to have a lots of titles to look out for. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas holiday and enjoy spending time with your family!

  19. What beautiful books! And I’ve never heard of that FH Burnett before. I see Project Gutenberg has it online, so I know what I’ll be reading tonight!

    It sounds like you’re having a lovely holiday, albeit madly busy. Congratulations on the upcoming baby – I hope we get to see your blanket as you knit it. We’re going to see ‘The King’s Speech’ on Christmas night – I’m loving the idea of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the same film again. 🙂

    I hope you have a really peaceful holiday! Take care, Rachel.

    1. Oh Kate! I hope you are enjoying In the Closed Room right now!

      I am! Being busy isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Thank you – yes, I will post pictures soon! Oh good – I know you will absolutely love it, and Jennifer Ehle is delightful, and does a wonderful Australian accent!

      Thank you – the same to you, Kate! 🙂

  20. Hi,
    I’m sure you know that the Anne of Green Gables series and their author are considered treasured member of our Canadian heritage, so I’d have to take exception to their being included in a collection of “American” books. That said, what a wonderful find! I look forward to spending time in New York vicariously through your blog.
    Happy New Year!

    1. Hello Ruth! Yes, sorry – I meant American printed books rather than American books per se – FH Burnett was British! But I should have been clearer. I know the great Canadian treasure that is L M Montgomery could never be claimed by any other country!

      Thank you Ruth – it will be a pleasure to have you reading along! Happy New Year to you too and have a wonderful Christmas!

  21. Books are an investment and I think you should never feel guilty about buying them. Besides you are finding such great second hand books and giving them a second life–lots of great finds and not too expensive either. Besides they will all have fond memories attached to them later when you pick them up and open them. Glad to hear you are taking advantage of the many things NY has to offer–it’s nice doing fun things like that during the holiday season! Have a great Holiday and hope you can get in a few relaxing moments as well!

    1. Danielle, that is a wonderful justification – I shall remember it well! Thank you, I am doing my best to see and do as much as I can! You have a wonderful Christmas and I will be sure to spend at least a day on the sofa!

  22. Oh my goodness I am completely green with envy to hear about your first edition Little House in the Big Woods! The Little House books are my absolute favourite books, but unfortuntely living on the wrong side of the pond means that I am quite unlikely to ever come across a first edition Little House book. I can dream though!

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