I used to avoid seasonal books like the plague and some years I read hardly any (although I don't avoid them like the plague, anymore), but this year . . . well, I got suckered. My F2F group leader asked me to come up with ideas for our December read. Not one to go into such a request lightly, I asked for suggestions on Facebook and Twitter (my Facebook friends were the most helpful) then spent some time looking up Christmas reads on my own. In the end, my group decided to read three stories from the same book we used last year.
One could say, "Argh, what a waste of reading time!" But, no. All three of the following books are really quite special, each in its own way. I also have one Christmas e-book that I'll be touring, Lola's Secret. We'll talk about that one when the time comes.
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote was originally published in 1956 and is a classic that was not written for children, although it is marketed as such. A Christmas Memory is exactly what the title makes it out to be, the short memoir of a Christmas in Alabama when Capote was seven years old and living with elderly, distant cousins -- one of whom, Miss Sook Faulk, was his only friend. I have the copy pictured at left, with a CD narrated by Celeste Holm and watercolor illustrations by Beth Peck.
A Christmas Memory tells about a simpler time, when most everything was handmade, possessions were few and creativity was a necessity. As the story opens, Miss Sook declares that it's "fruitcake weather" and then she and the boy she calls "Buddy" gather the ingredients to make 30 fruitcakes. There's a lot to making such a huge quantity of fruitcake. All year long, the two must scrounge and work to save every penny they can, just to purchase the ingredients.
There's a sweet scene involving the acquisition of whiskey and then they dance and drink the last of the whiskey when they've finished (earning a fierce chewing-out from the other relations). Next up is finding a tree, making the decorations and decorating. The dog, Queenie, tries to eat an angel. Then, they make gifts for each other. They have so little money that they make each other kites and on Christmas Day they go outside to fly them.
The story ends with Capote's reflection that after that Christmas he was forced to leave the house and friendship behind as he was sent to attend a succession of military schools. He dearly missed Miss Sook. Queenie's death and then the slow deterioration of Miss Sook are described with touching affection.
A Christmas Memory is a tender, beautifully written, emotional story. I can't recommend it enough. I liked the illustrations in the version I purchased and enjoyed listening to the CD that came with it, as well.
A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is also very short and, while marketed to children, it was the fact that several people wrote about the language being so lovely that they thought adults would appreciate it more than children that led to my choice to purchase the book.
I was quite surprised to find that A Child's Christmas in Wales is actually quite funny. The prose is definitely lyrical, which isn't surprising given the fact that Dylan Thomas was a poet. Copyrighted in 1954, A Child's Christmas in Wales begins with the following sentence:
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
That made me laugh. You can actually find the entire story online but I like the little book I bought. It has lovely illustrations and it's worth hanging onto. My copy was published by New Directions. Highly Recommended.
In a slightly-related side note, Welsh author Simon Van Booy once told me his grandfather was Dylan Thomas's newsagent. The words "newsagent" and "Wales" paired together oddly make me crave the melty Welsh cheese I had in Llandudno, North Wales, many years ago.
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis caught my eye because it was not only close to the top of a list of recommended Christmas reads at Goodreads, but also happens to be a book by one of my favorite authors.
Connie Willis is known as a sci-fi author, although at least one of the books I've read had more of a common scientific setting than the otherworldly type of location and storyline that typifies sci-fi.
In Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, Willis shows off her knack for observing the absurdities of everyday life. Some of the stories are humorous, some just a touch magical, one a time travel, one about possible alien invasion and one a mystery. Willis said she wrote them with the goal of avoiding the usual sappy or depressing fare and I think she succeeded brilliantly. I absolutely loved this book. I had favorite stories, of course, but I really liked them all. Again, Highly Recommended.
I love this review of Miracle and Other Christmas Stories at Blogging for a Good Book.
So . . . even though it's only October and it seemed a little bizarre to sit down with Christmas stories, at first, I absolutely loved all three of the books in this post and plan to keep every one of them for rereading. Usually, I just read Christmas stories and donate them, so that's a pretty unusual statement.
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