By November 4, 2009 9 Comments Read More →

Bah, Humbug!

scroogeChristmas goods have replaced the Halloween gear in the stores, and so I suppose the season is officially upon us. I feel compelled to issue a word of warning. You’re going to be very tempted in December to assign holiday theme reading to your book group: a nice little book in the spirit of the season. Joy to the world, noel, noel, and fa la la. My advice: think twice. Santa’s book bag is full of dreck.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not generally against Christmas (at least not on my good days.) I love the gatherings of friends and family, the familiar songs, the decorations, even giving and receiving a few thoughtful gifts. I’m even secretly hoping you will pass along dozens of wonderful titles that will force me to reconsider this opinion, but from what I’ve encountered, Christmas books are a sorry lot. Choice titles are more scarce than Rudolph’s childhood friends.

One learns early in a library career to avoid the temptation to put up the holiday fiction display. Sure, it sounds like a good idea, an obvious choice, but then one starts assembling the books–Oh! the pitiful books. They circulate once a year, saved from the no-use reports by our own misguided displays, eating up shelf space for the other eleven months, saved from withdrawal by our own sorry attempt at merry-making.

For every gem like A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Memory, or A Child’s Christmas in Wales, there are twenty blatant cash ins, those dreadful little books by the most commercially-oriented of writers. Even if you like these writers, for the most part a falsely sentimental and repetitive choir, you’ll do better reading their regular output. It would be easier to indulge their homilies about the deeper meaning of Christmas if they weren’t so obviously writing them to make bucks off our holiday feeling. Let’s say no, let’s say no, let’s say no.

Think I’m wrong? By all means play the Ghost of Christmas Literature: share good holiday reading in the comments. If you must go gentle into that silent night, I’ll try to round up a few of the worthwhile holiday reads in my next posting.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

9 Comments on "Bah, Humbug!"

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  1. beckerps@gmail.com' Becker says:

    My favorite holiday reading is All Seated On the Ground by Connie Willis, a gem of a novella involving aliens landing in Denver and Christmas carols.

  2. watkins.anna@paideiaschool.org' PiLibrarian says:

    I have never tried to do a holiday fiction display, maybe because a part of me realized even without thinking too hard that it wouldn’t be a worthwhile effort. Nice to have the subconscious validated in your post.

    What I have done (tho’ it’s not too helpful for reading group suggestions) is to do holiday displays of cookbooks and craft books — What Will You Eat? (emphasis on sustainable and whole foods, mindful eating, etc) and What Will You Give? (emphasis on handmade gifts) — we have books of each category that cover various food cultures and the three major December holidays.

  3. Bookworm331@gmail.com' Betty says:

    Nice article. It made me laugh as it reminded me of a book I’m reading called “Cancel Christmas”(author Rocco Leonard Martino). It’s a satirical take on canceling Christmas and how it might be pursued through government by big business. I’m really enjoying it!

  4. congerjan@alum.syracuse.edu' congerjan says:

    Christmas would not be the same if my daughter and I did not read “The Story of Holly and Ivy” by Rumer Godden.
    http://www.amazon.com/Story-Holly-Ivy-Rumer-Godden/dp/0670062197/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258031880&sr=8-1
    🙂

  5. zambellab@etown.edu' BethAnn says:

    Since Connie Willis has been mentioned, I would be remiss is not recommending her Doomsday Book, which takes place during Christmas, 2048. According to the Amazon review, “The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis’ understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.” Oh, and it’s also about the Plague, capital P, and a flu outbreak.

  6. moses@northnet.org' Camelia says:

    Have you seen Cynthia Rylant’s short story collection entited Children of Christmas? Nice stories…we use with upper elementary students as an example of colorful, descriptive writing where the focus is more on the characters. The season is just a setting…backdrop but not the main focus. The stories make a point and generate all kinds of interesting discussions with 4th graders.

    Just my 2 cents worth!

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