It’s beginning to look a lot like Sphaera recommendations.
With the holidays right around the corner, it is also time for the Sphaera book, movie, tv-show, and music recommendations to come to town. Isn’t that all one could possibly want for Christmas? So sit back and Sphaera, as we give you all the recommendations to steal for.
The Toymakers – Robert Dinsdale
Do you ever long back to the days where you could let your imagination run wild while playing with toys? This novel about a near-magical toy store starts out pre-WW1 and tells the story of family, heartbreak, and the magic of Christmas. Although not a fast read, it is one where you can get completely lost in. The story encompasses the warmth that the holidays ought to bring to people’s hearts, as well as many of the factors which could chill this holiday spirit.
The Memory Police – Yōko Ogawa
This science-fiction novel almost feels like a holiday appropriate alternative to George Orwell’s 1984.
“It’s a great book. A bit slow, but it deals with some very interesting themes like loss and memory in the context of a dystopian reality. It is largely set during winter so the images it conjures are fitting for this time of year. Some gothic books like Wuthering Heights (Brontë) or The Turn of the Screw could also work well for this season.” – Mira Kurtovic
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
This classic, first published in 1843, knows many adaptations, both in writing and in film. From its earliest adaptation as ‘Scrooge’ (1901) to children’s movies such as ‘Barbie in a Christmas Carol’ (2008), this story is one which will be told for many more generations to come. However, all adaptations depict the same storyline: A selfish individual with a hatred for the holiday season is visited on Christmas Night by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (Yet to come). Throughout these visits, a look is given into these different holiday experiences and how they have shaped (or will shape) the characters in the book. A classic which can be recommended to all ages and walks of life.
Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
This book, recommended by Yasmina Al Ammari, is set in Greece’s “age of heroes” and follows the relationship between Patroclus, an exiled prince, and Achilles: a perfect Demi-god who is the son of a king. It follows their bond in times of war and explores sexuality in Ancient Greece. Not only is the relationship sweet and heart wrenching, but the imagery is so good it makes you feel like you’re there. Also – definitely a tear jerker.
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
This is a short book and the audio book is available on YouTube. It details the life and trials of James Baldwin, a prominent civil rights activist in the United States. It consists of two letters, written at key historical moments for the civil rights movement in the US. It’s deeply personal and thought provoking. A classic and a must-read for sure.
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennet
Explores the relationship between racially ambiguous twin sisters who went down different paths in life and lose contact completely- their racial identities, communities and families become polar opposites. It’s mainly told from the point of view of the daughter of one of the sisters, a young black lady living in a town notorious for colourism. She then makes a discovery that would change her and her mother’s life. Again, amazing storytelling and painful in the best way possible.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads – Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil
This book is both an autobiography and a biography which tells the story of Clemantine Wamariya. The story told is that of a Rwanda survivor and what being a refugee in Africa meant (or even still means). It also tells the story of an American dream and its possible facades. A more detailed explanation of the book, as told by the writer herself, can be found here.
Highlighted: Inglorious Empire (Shashi Tharoor, 2017) as Explained by Arin Doshi
Inglorious empire is a book that is written by Shashi Tharoor, former executive assistant to United Nations ex Secretary-General Kofi Annan. This is a book that goes into great detail explaining the fault lines of the British Empire when it ruled India (1858-1947) and the impacts of the empire’s rule upon it.
I like reading this book for a variety of reasons. The vocabulary and grammar used is enough to capture one’s mind instantly and make the reader glued into its pages. I myself lost track of time, reading through many chapters within hours. The command of the English language that is shown in the book is exceptional and very helpful in writing up arguments for analysis. This is a book that I would recommend for university students if they wanted to learn how to formulate their arguments as detailed as Shashi does in his book.
In fact, I also like the book, as it debunks the myths of how the British Empire supposedly helped India. Admittedly, the book sheds darkness upon the impacts India faced under the British. This is a book worth recommending for those who have a keen interest in Indian history and want to find out more about colonialism.
Home Alone – 1990
You didn’t think we could get through this list without mentioning Home Alone, now did you? This family-friendly classic is a must when binging Christmas movies.
“It’s my all time favourite Christmas movie. Most people have watched it, but if you haven’t yet definitely worth checking out. It’s fun, dynamic and heartwarming.” – Mira Kurtovic
Rise of the Guardians – 2012
A movie oftentimes forgotten about, ironically enough, is Rise of the Guardians. Although not Christmas themed in essence, its storyline and general feel match that of the holiday season perfectly. The movie follows the story of Jack Frost, a forgotten spirit. As Pitch Black starts planning his attacks against the Guardians (Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Sandman), who try to stop him from spreading his nightmares.
The Grinch – 2018
Another classic, but then ever so slightly different. This dreamworks animated version of the original (Dr Seuss’s The Grinch, 1957) follows the story of a green Grinch and his dog as they plan to steal the town’s presents and decorations. It’s a beautiful family film, with enough humour to entertain young and old.
The Holiday Calendar – 2018
If you enjoy sappy feel-good movies as much as I do, you must see the Netflix Original movie The Holiday Calendar. A wholesome movie about a woman who received a wooden holiday calendar from her grandpa. The calendar leads her to all sorts of situations, including to a potential love interest. Is he the one for her? Only the calendar knows. An extremely cheesy but charming movie, which pairs well with a cup of hot chocolate.
The Knight Before Christmas – 2019
Here’s another Netflix Original for you. This movie is a funny holiday-themed story which reminds of Enchanted (2007). It follows a 14th century knight (played by Josh Whitehouse) as he is sent to present-day times to fulfill his destiny to become a ‘true knight’. Here he comes into contact with Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens), who has lost all faith in love. A beautiful, albeit corny at times, film which is perfectly fit for the holidays.
Klaus – 2019
Our last holiday movie recommendation is Klaus, the Netflix Original movie which tells a new version of the origin story of Santa Clause. The movie follows the story of a toymaker and a postman as they work together to bring joy to the children of a gloomy winter town. Beautifully animated and the perfect movie to add to your Christmas binge-list.
Highlighted: Elf (2003) as Explained by Lauren Griesedieck
Since this article is meant to give some holiday suggestions as well, this is my favorite Christmas movie ever. Watching this movie every year is one of the few traditions that my family really sticks to. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about an elf who goes to New York City to find and meet his father. It’s a feel-good movie and has great actors like Will Ferrel and Zooey Deschanel.
Regular Movies and Shows
Suite Française – 2014
This film (based on the 2004 novel) offers a new perspective of living in War (WWII) and is based on a true story. Instead of following the action and battles, it’s about a single village. It concerns topics like love, moral dilemmas, and family. It offers a gripping new perspective that is really well written and acted out. For those interested in a film which offers a different view on stories often told, this is a must.
Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (도깨비 ) – 2016
More commonly known as Goblin, or under it’s Korean name 쓸쓸하고 찬란하신 – 도깨비, this romantic fantasy series is about a Goblin who is cursed to live an immortal life and the “bride” of this Goblin. The only way to end his life is to pull out the sword piercing his heart with the assistance of his bride. Although Goblin had been wishing to die, he started to waver from his desire after getting closer to a cheerful high school student, Ji Eun-Tak, who claims to be his bride.
“The reason why I would like to recommend this series is not only because the plot is well made and most of the scenes take place during the winter, but the views on death and life portrayed throughout the story is extremely interesting. What does it feel like to live an eternal life? What happens when people die? What could occur if transmigration is a real thing? – These are the questions that everyone should have wondered at least once, and this series answers these philosophical questions in a unique way.” – Midori Sato
Hunters – 2020
This dark-humour series (available on Amazon Prime) is about a group of vigilantes who hunt Nazi’s in America in the 1970s. It plays into aspects such as righteousness, justice, and morality. The story is based on true events (see here ) and has been renewed for a second season. The cast has a lot of great actors and actresses, like Logan Lerman, Al Pacino, Jerrika Hinton, and even Ted from How I Met Your Mother (Josh Radnor).
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – 2020
In this dramatised Netflix film, you will get to see the politicisation of justice and the courts involved. Momentum, inspiration, and the impact of ‘the whole world is watching’ will take a primary place in this movie. Follow the legal battle between the United States of America and the Chicago 7 – leading figures in the protests against the American intervention in the Vietnam war – and get to see the striking impact of the media allowing for spillover effects across the globe. Why did these individuals face the same prosecution, while some of them had never even met? How was their trial conducted and most importantly: how did the public respond to it?
“I strongly recommend watching this film, as it is based upon true events, much like how the whole world was watching the events as they played out at the time.” – Rosalie de Vries
Highlighted: Horror Movies as Recommended by Chira Tudoran
If you like horror movies then I definitely recommend these three: Hereditary (2018), Apostle (2018), and Midsommar (2019). I don’t want to spoil the stories but all three are what you want from a horror movie. They are scary, smart, heartbreaking, and keep you in suspense. The plot points pay off well. Most of all, they are the type of movies you rewatch at least once. So Netflix and don’t chill this year.
Highlighted: Sherlock Holmes (Granada television series) as Explained by Jacco van der Veen
Sherlock Holmes is hot. Especially after BBC introduced a 21st century version of the super-sleuth, and Robert Downey Jr. gave us the Great Detective as a sexy action hero, nobody with access to the internet could avoid him any longer. For those who think that these recent adaptations haven’t taken the Holmes stories far enough, there is a (frankly terrible) comedy movie starring Will Ferrell as a bizarre caricature of the detective, or the new Netflix movie starring Holmes’ imaginary sister (Enola Holmes – 2020).
As with many things, the original will always remain best. In my humble opinion, there is no adaptation of Sherlock Holmes that comes as close to Conan Doyle’s original atmosphere, storytelling, and dialogue as the Granada television series that ran from 1984 to 1994. For everyone finding themselves confused by the overwhelming number of adaptations, pastiches, or homages, the Granada series will doubtlessly be most welcome. And what is more – all episodes are free to watch on YouTube, or in better quality on one of the many (potentially illegal) streaming websites.
For this holiday season, I strongly recommend starting with “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”, the only Sherlock Holmes story set during Christmas time. This episode includes all the traditional elements of Christmas: family, friendship, and forgiveness (and it even has a Christmas goose). Enjoy watching, and a merry Christmas!
Find more information on the Granada television series here.
Closing off this list are our very first Sphaera Spotify playlists. We have compiled all song recommendations from our staff into two playlists for you, which will be further explained hereafter.
Don’t we all miss the excruciating pain we had to endure before the Corona crisis, in which we heard Christmas music everywhere we went this time of year? We solved that problem for you. Our first playlist (which you can find here) holds a variety of Christmas music, which will allow for everyone to listen to both old and new songs. The list holds more than just your regular songs, as it includes many different languages and music preferences.
Furthermore, we have also made the perfect playlist to listen to while reading, writing, or studying. Our regular playlist (which you can find here) includes both new and old songs, from all different genres.
Highlighted are Daydreams by The Velveteins & On Your Own by Vacations. “I think they are nice because they sound retro even though they have been recorded recently. They are my favourite songs ever.” – Joanna Sowinska
Also highlighted is Levanter (English Version) by Stray Kids. “Personally I believe this to be the only song in which I might prefer a translated version over the original. Although the song was originally recorded in Korean, this English version enables listeners from all over the globe to relate even better to the lyrics. It tells the story of loss and the journey of learning that sometimes it is better to let go and move on.” – Helena Reinders
A special thanks goes out to Oscar Laviolette, for creating the cover art of both playlists. An enlarged version of these can be found hereunder.
Edited by Helena Reinders
Artwork by Helena Reinders and Oscar Laviolette