It's the most wonderful time of the year, and when I'm not jinglebelling and caroling out in the snoooow, I've got my nose stuck in a book. I have a shelf in my living room that is devoted to Christmas books and these are a few of my favorites:
1. "Reader's Digest Book of Christmas," a big red book that is quite easy to find in grandparents' homes and used book sales. It includes an excerpt from "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," Betty Smith's marvelous story of Irish immigrants in New York, circa 1910. The story, "Francie Nolan's Christmas," is about two poor kids determined to get a Christmas tree, and the bruising punishment they endure to obtain it. (On reflection, it reads better than it sounds.) This volume is loaded with holiday songs, traditions and stories.
2. "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. Simply one of the best short stories ever written. Capote's enduring story of a young boy and his unconventional elderly aunt is available in many editions, including a children's book version with illustrations by Beth Peck, that is a favorite. The story is also included in the Reader's Digest book above (find that book!)
3. "Why the Chimes Rang." This is probably out of print, but it is included in the Reader's Digest book (gotta get that book!). I found an ancient hardcover at a Goodwill book sale years ago, and I treasure it. The story is about two young brothers travelling on Christmas Eve to a great cathedral, and the sacrifices they make in order to hear the chimes ring. I remember my grade school teacher reading this story to my class. Sentimental and essential.
A few more, in no particular order,
4. "Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Park. The Herdman children smoke cigars and learn about Jesus' birthday. I've never cried so much over the presence of a ham.
5. "A Certain Small Shepherd." More sentimental stuff, but I love it.
6. "Christmas Letters" by Lee Smith. Like all of Lee Smith's stories, it involves laughter through tears, or is that tears through laughter? Also includes recipes, so some might say it's the perfect Christmas book.
7. "Silent Night" by Philip Lee Wiliams. Memoir by one of Georgia's most elegant writers.
8. "To Whom the Angel Spoke" by Terry Kay. The real joy of this book is to hear it read by Terry Kay, who is blessed with the voice of a preacher.
9. "The Hand-Carved Creche" by the late James Kilgo. My college professor and a terrific writer.
If you'll excuse me, I have a date with a cup of tea and a book....