I don’t mean to alarm you, but December is almost here. Seasonal coffee beverages have been released. Evergreen wreaths have been hung in shopping centers. Christmas trees are for sale. I even heard Christmas carols in a store this week.
We have a day to celebrate our love of hamburgers, yoyos, books, and every last thing under the sun, moon, and stars. So I can’t really hate on the idea of setting aside a day to honor our capacity to love—our romantic partners, sure, but also our friends, children, neighbors, the authors we’ll probably never meet but whose books opened our worlds, our mail carrier that day she gamely trudged up our icy driveway and still delivered our package with a smile, the baker whose almond croissants make Monday mornings less Monday morning-ish, the barista who gets exactly what we mean when we ask for a dry cappuccino. Continue reading “5 bookish expressions of ardent affection, or love”
In perhaps one of the greatest examples of parental avoidance, when, in 1897, eight-year old Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father if there really was a Santa Claus, he suggested she write to The New York Sun for clarification.
“If you see it in The Sun, it’s so,” he told her.
Fortunately for posterity, Virginia’s letter landed in the hands of Francis Pharcellus Church, a war correspondent during the Civil War. In his response, Church treats Santa more as concept than figure. What is most valuable, he suggests, lies not in the contents of boxes and bags but in intangibles and mysteries, enduring questions for which easy answers prove elusive. What remain and sustain are the capacities for curiosity and faith, hope and love.
In elevating the question to the realm of the philosophical, Church provided an answer for the ages. His piece subsequently became the most reprinted editorial in the English language.
I’m not saying I make a habit of reading on my phone. But it can be convenient. With my Nook app, I cue up my current read wherever I am. No spare moment is wasted. Standing on an eternally long line at CVS/the DMV/the coffee shop? I may just find it within myself my phone to summon the patience of Job.
Many of us may, this weekend, find ourselves en route or on line or just…waiting, in general. So I though to share some Christmas stories you can access right from this post. And what is a holiday reading session – even one from one’s phone – without (the facsimile of) a roaring fire?
Sedaris has a whole collection of outlandish Christmas-themed stories (Holidays on Ice). This link will take you to a special treat: Sedaris’ NPR reading of “SantaLand Diaries,” culled from his experience as a mall elf. Ho ho ho, indeed!
First published in 1956, Capote’s story, said to be largely autobiographical, takes place in the ’30s and narrates the last Christmas shared between best friends seven-year old Buddy and his elderly cousin. A beautiful, poignant Christmas story of love, loss, and what lasts.
Tolstoy’s story is set at Christmas, but it reads like a New Testament parable: After a Christmas Eve dream that Jesus will visit him, a shoemaker decides to make a gift of a special pair of shoes he made. When a cold, itinerant young mother enters his shop with her shoeless baby, the shoemaker must decide whether to save the shoes for Jesus or bestow them on the baby.
This is Dostoyevsky, so you may not need the warning…but I’ll give it to you anyway: This is a dark story, set largely at a New Year’s Eve gathering for children, about a rapacious, voracious man who gets exactly what he wants. Or does he? Let’s call it a cautionary tale, which isn’t a bad way to head towards a new year.
What Christmas stories – or other reading material – are you enjoying this holiday season?
Finding time to read during the holidays can be challenging. It’s not just carving out quiet time to spend with a book. The distraction of so much to do can make it hard to focus even when I do make the time.
So…maybe this isn’t the week to push myself to get through the last 100 pages of Jane Eyre. I can still enjoy the benefits of reading. Maybe this is the week to settle down next to my Christmas tree, snuggled under a warm blanket, with eggnog and gingerbread cookies, to read seasonal stories that celebrate the beauty of this time of year.
If you’re thinking likewise, here are nine short stories and novellas that feel like unwrapping a present you didn’t know you needed:
My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins
This collection of short seasonal stories by a who’s-who of YA authors revolves around winter holidays – Yule, Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice. Each story, to the last, iterates some version of the magic of the season.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
I’d never heard of this short, beautiful little book until last week via Words of a Reader. It’s Dylan Thomas’ enchanting story of Christmas in Wales told in the first person from a child’s point of view. I don’t think it took me half an hour to read, but it was an exhilarating half an hour.
The Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffman
Hoffman’s story of a little girl and her Christmas nutcracker provided the inspiration for the Balanchine’s ballet. If you’ve seen the ballet, it will seem lifted from the pages of this transporting read.
Christmas in the Highlands by M. C. Beaton
My love affair with Hamish Macbeth began with this novella. During Christmas in Lochdubh, PC Macbeth investigates several cases and conspires to bring the spirit of the season to his little corner of the Scottish Highlands.
As we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the United States of America, it’s a question I’ve been pondering. Since I like to think on my own but not alone, I turned to The American Idea: The Best of the Atlantic Monthly—150 Years of Writers and Thinkers Who Shaped Our History.
Published in 2007 to mark the Atlantic Monthly’s 150th anniversary, the book isn’t about American novels but rather about the larger idea of America, as a state of mind and of being. The doorstop-sized collection includes great American writing that has appeared in the magazine’s pages over the last century and a half: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Ian Frazier’s “Stalin’s Chuckle.” Continue reading “The American Idea in 10 Great American Novels”
One of the many gifts my father has given me is my love for books and reading. So it seems fitting, this father’s day, to highlight some of the loveable dads, and dad figures, I’ve met in books. In many cases, I admire them because the qualities I love in my own dad (and there are many because he’s an excellent father and human) echo in them.
If you’re a mom who has ever been in a book club with other moms (especially moms of children your child is friends with), this scenario may ring familiar: We get together to talk about the book. This lasts for a solid 12 – 17 minutes. The ensuing two hours of conversation are devoted to discussing our children.
To be clear: I’m not knocking this. It’s only natural since our children are fascinating, as are their experiences, their challenges, their relationships. Literature can help us work through and better understand all of the above, which is why we thought to start the book club in the first place! In honor of Mother’s Day, and in the spirit of reading as self-exploration, how about a list of book club books tailor made for moms?
Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, the saying goes. I love this sentiment and its idea of open-heartedly sharing each other’s celebrations. Since parades aren’t really my thing, I do believe my bookish self will mark the holiday by reading Irish (and Irish-born) authors … and I might just help myself to some bangers and mash.
If you’re of a mind to honor the day in a similar fashion (perhaps with a group of like minded readers?), here are seven Irish-born authors from whom to choose. And for nourishing the body as you nourish the mind, St. Patrick’s Day style, enjoy a link to a yummy bangers and mash recipe.
Saturday, March 14 is Pi Day, set aside to celebrate 3.14 (see what they did there?), also known as ‘pi’, also known as everyone’s favorite irrational, transcendental number, which has absorbed mathematicians and us regular folks going back at least to the third century BC. Continue reading “Happy Pi Day Reading (and Eating)”