Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Lit--the Revised Standard Version

I like to ease into the Christmas spirit in my own way. It doesn't happen simply because Steinmart and Target start hanging wreaths and piping in the canned carols; "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" sounds a little goofy when I'm still in short sleeves. I regularly opt out of the Black Friday shopping rush, and reading of the shootings and trampling deaths that occurred this year only confirms my decision.

I prefer a little literary transition into the spirit of the season. Of course, the account in the gospel of Luke serves well, but most of you already know that one. Here are a few more reading suggestions for you:

When I taught high school, I found that some pieces of literature just begged to be read aloud. Since my fondest remembrances of grade school include Mrs. Knott's reading the Little House series to us each day, I have no doubt that hearing a good story doesn't replace the desire to read; it stimulates it. Furthermore, since far too many videos were playing in classrooms up and down the halls, I didn't feel compelled to justify my reading aloud occasionally to students who were perfectly capable of reading to themselves. One story I read every year, usually to every class, is Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory."

Anyone who loves To Kill a Mockingbird enough to do some background reading knows that Truman Capote was the model for Dill, the neighbor who is passed around among relatives. This is his story of Christmases spent with a favorite cousin, much older than he, but always a child. The dialogue and details are Alabama true, and I've never read the story without a big lump in my throat by the time I reached the end.

A few years ago, I discovered a tiny little book Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol by Tom Mula. The author, an actor and playwright himself, had played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. He was bothered that Marley, who takes the time (something of which he in unlimited supply, of course), to give Scrooge a chance for redemption yet did not have the same. This is Mula's attempt to right that wrong.

If you prefer humor to sentiment, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is a good laugh-out-loud Christmas story. I've never seen the stage version, but after reading the book, I feel as if I have.

Last Christmas, my friend Claudia gave me the small book Angela and the Baby Jesus, a story by Frank McCourt of his mother Angela as a child who rescues baby Jesus from the local nativity scene. It's short enough to read (aloud, of course) at a family gathering. Another one Claudia shared with me is Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales.

Of course, you may feel free to read all the different versions of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"--Cajun, Redneck, and such. Whatever it takes, you're still more likely to get into the spirit with a good book, not with a trip to Bath and Body Works or Abercrombie.

I knew as soon as I published this post, I'd have remember other favorites. In this case, Amber Owens' comment reminded me that I'd left off at least a couple of the funniest. She mentioned David Sedaris' "Six to Eight Black Men" (from Dress Your Family... and also on the Live at Carnegie Hall CD), which she call "the best short Christmas story EVER. Best, of course, on the CD in the author's own voice." I realized I had forgotten another of his best, "Santaland Diaries" from Holiday on Ice. Yes, hearing him read his stories is the best way to encounter them, but I honestly believe he has such a skill with developing tone that his voice comes through in print. I first read "Santaland Diaries" while giving an exam. I kept catching myself almost laughing out loud. Heaven knows we need some laughs at the holidays!


Amber O said...

Don't forget Sedaris! Six to Eight Black Men (from Dress Your Family... and also on the Live at Carnegie Hall CD) is the best short Christmas story EVER. Best, of course, on the CD in the author's own voice.

susanv said...

Thanks for all the suggestions. My book club always tries to read a holiday book the month of December. I will store your list away for next year.

I just finished reading "Blue Christmas" by Mary Kaye Andrews, which was a fun, quick holiday read.