By November 7, 2009 7 Comments Read More →

Bah, Humbug: Revisited

A few days ago, I put forth my miserly opinion that Christmas literature, for the most part, is ho, ho, horrible. I even asked you to convince me otherwise, and in response, fair readers, not one of you was stirring, not even a mouse.

But I know book groups, and you will not yield to my well-meaning advice. As in every group I’ve ever been in, some sickly Tiny Tim will pipe up at your November meeting with “we should read a Christmas book next month” and god**** us everyone, others will strike that harp, join that chorus, and you’ll be stuck looking for something decent to read. I don’t want to leave you hung out like a stocking waiting for a lump of coal: Here are the best Christmas reads I can find.

Stay far away from famous contemporary authors. They’re just paying for their Christmas with “seasonal offerings.” This is especially true for authors that put out a Christmas book every year. I’ll let Santa list the names and deal the karma, but you know who they are. Don’t. Be. Tempted.

you-better-not-cryIf you must read a Christmas book, listen to that inner cynic. Instead of warming your heart, warm your spleen with dark humor from twisted folks like David Sedaris (Holidays on Ice, which contains my all-time favorite Xmas tale “The Santaland Diaries” ), Christopher Moore (The Stupidest Angel), or Augusten Burroughs (You Better Not Cry).

If you insist on something nice, indulge your inner child. Kid’s holiday stories are better on the whole than those for adults. You won’t go wrong with classics like Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Barbaralatke-who-couldnt-stop-screaming Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly and Ivy, or Lemony Snicket’s The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming.

If you’ve got to be nice and mature, you’ll probably get what you deserve, but you might still find something readable. Stick to the classics. The Christmas Carol by christmas-storyDickens, A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, or A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd won’t stick in your gullet any worse than figgy pudding will.

Finally, if all that fails, at least keep it short. Schmaltz and sentiment arechristmas-at-the-new-yorker more palatable in small doses. Nobody has EVER written a decent long book about Christmas: too bad we can’t apply that lesson to the people who keep making the holiday season longer every year. I can recommend the short stories and anecdotes in the compilations Christmas at the New Yorker and The Greatest Christmas Stories of All Time, or those in Connie Willis’s Miracle and Other Christmas Stories.

There you go, enjoy your book group. As for me, I’ll be dreaming of some white pages.



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).

7 Comments on "Bah, Humbug: Revisited"

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  1.' Joan Bares says:

    Have you seen the illustrated adult book about Longfellow and his poem – I heard the bells on Christmas Day. Awesome.

  2.' Alex says:

    When I first began facilitating our group, I tried to have holiday-themed titles. After doing the few classics (Christmas Carol, Christmas Memory, and….well that’s it) we tried a few titles that I struggled to find. We quickly learned why it was such a struggle.

    Now, instead of doing a holiday title, I make a point to find titles that are easier, shorter reads. December is a very busy month for most and having lighter fare for the club turns reading from another ‘must do’ during the holidays into a anticipated respite.

  3. The Gift by Pete Hamill takes place at Christmastime in Brooklyn, NY in 1952. My book group read it last year and enjoyed it. It’s not needlessly sappy, and it is a good story.

    Also, Pete’s brother Denis wrote Empty Stockings, a “Brooklyn Christmas Tale” that takes place in 1963, the Christmas after President Kennedy was shot. It is also a good story, and I’m considering it for my group (if I can get enought copies) next year!

  4. Try The Gift by Pete Hamill, or Empty Stockings by Denis Hamill. Both are good, not sappy, focus on an the Irish in Brooklyn, NY, one in 1952, and one in 1963, the Christmas after JFK’s assassination.

  5.' Aracelis Matteson says:

    Sehr toller Bericht. Mein Urlaub soll dieses Jahr wirklich traumhaft werden. Ich reise mit meinem Mann dieses mal in die USA. Unser unvergesslichster Urlaub war bis jetzt im Jahr 2002 in Kenia, es war einfach unglaublich. Urlaubsreife Grüße

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