This article is from Francesca Beauman’s Introduction to The Literary Almanac and is reproduced here with the kind permission of her publisher, Greenfinch, an imprint of Quercus Books.
First published on Writing.ie in September 2021 and reproduced here to mark the start of the new year, 2022.
As a child, I used to get into trouble with my parents if I forgot to bring a book with me any time we left the house. The dentist, a long car journey, in a restaurant on holiday: they were doing what they could to shield me from the horrifying prospect of having three minutes to spare with nothing to read. Sometimes, when our family had had a particularly busy or difficult day, my mum and dad would go as far as to compel us to read while we were eating, too: ‘Supper’s ready, bring your book!’, they would shout up the stairs. To others, it may have seemed strange, even unfriendly; I, however, felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Decades later, I maintain a close- to-psychotic compulsion to carry a book around wherever I go. I even took The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford with me to the hospital when I went into labour with my first baby – you know, just in case I got bored in between contractions (it won’t surprise you to know that I didn’t even crack the spine).
Sometimes, though, I wake up in the night worrying about all the books that I won’t have time to read before I die. Will I take my last breath wishing I’d spent that long weekend in February immersed in Zadie Smith, rather than irritated by Jonathan Franzen? Entertained by Elizabeth Gaskell rather than filled with ennui by Herman Melville? I mean, probably, yes, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. The dilemma of What to Read Next can become overwhelming, can’t it? Paralyzing, even. Flummoxed and exhausted by book recommendations from friends, newspapers and social media, you give in and buy the latest new release that ‘everyone’ says is a masterpiece. However, a couple of chapters in, you find yourself flinging it across the room in frustration, thinking there is something wrong with you. Well, I am here to tell you that it’s not you; it’s the book. Maybe it’s (whisper it) not actually very good; maybe it doesn’t suit your current mood, or your current age, or your current pyjamas. And you know what? That’s just fine.
‘To everything there is a season,’ according to chapter three of Ecclesiastes, and books are no exception. Centuries of tradition have made us feel one way in early spring, when the sun peeps out for the first time in ages and the earliest flowers begin to emerge out of the ground, but another way in the dreary days of winter when everyone is hunkered down, eating crisps and feeling depressed. Our reading habits naturally shift accordingly, inspiring us to reach for different kinds of novels at different times of the year.
This is where The Literary Almanac comes in. The ultimate reading list for book lovers everywhere, it offers a seasonal structure to take you through the calendar year. Each book has been selected to chime with a specific month, opening our imaginations to the different seasons and rhythms of our world and signposting the passage of time. From The Count of Monte Cristo to snuggle up with on long winter nights to My Brilliant Friend on the beach in high summer to Diary of a Provincial Lady to get you through a family Christmas while eating too much chocolate and trying to avoid chit-chat, I hope you will find oodles of inspiration within these pages. And so, when next faced with the groaning tables of your local bookshop as the shop assistant tries to recommend a new Czech novel in translation (‘Although I also have the untranslated version, if you’re interested…’), you can instead allow the seasons to guide your choice, rather than your fear of offending the delightful young person in question.
Contained within the pages of The Literary Almanac are more than three hundred suggestions of what to read and when. Every book featured is one that I love and adore with a passion and I am confident that you will, too. In my view, the point of reading novels is – well, firstly for fun, but secondly to explain how the world works, to help us understand why people behave the way they do. I can’t guarantee that you will want to clutch all of my recommendations to your bosom in joy and admiration, but you will find, I promise, that they open you up to a world of insight and empathy. As you turn to page one of Childhood by Tove Ditlevsen in February or The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins in October, you can be confident that there is no better time to embark upon that particular reading adventure.
Quite recently, the same daughter to whom I’d given birth while not reading The Pursuit of Love insisted on taking one of the longest in Rick Riordan’s series of Percy Jackson books to a Beyoncé concert. You know, ‘just in case’. I was about to object; I mean, who takes a book to a Beyoncé concert?! But then I realized that we do – our family – that’s who. Off we went, my daughter carrying an enormous, heavy hardback under her arm, a picture of a dragon on the cover. To others, it may have seemed strange, even unfriendly; I hope she, however, felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
(c) Francesca Beauman
Author photograph (c) Kris Keevers
About The Literary Almanac:
Discover over 300 seasonal book recommendations in the ultimate reading list for book lovers everywhere.
Spanning the dreary, cold days of January to the first flushes of spring and then the blazing August heat, bibliophile Francesca Beauman offers up a wealth of book recommendations. From The Count of Monte Cristo to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, each has been selected to chime with a particular time of year and provide a richer reading experience.
Beautifully illustrated throughout, this charming guide will delight, inspire and seriously extend your ‘To Be Read’ list!
‘I will be giving this book to everyone I know’ – Elizabeth Day
‘Francesca Beauman writes about the books she loves with irresistible passion, knowledge and warmth … This is the best kind of reading celebration’ – Rachel Joyce
Order your copy online here.