Thursday, December 22, 2011

My favorite books for Christmas

My favorite Christmas books. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and when I'm not jingle-belling 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:

By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

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.

By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

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). All these years later, I still worry for Buddy and Sook when they visit Mr. Haha Jones to get the liquor for the fruitcakes.

By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

3. "Why the Chimes Rang" by Raymond Macdonald Alden. The short story can be difficult to find on its own, but it is included in the Reader's Digest book and some anthologies. 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.

Illustrations from "Why the Chimes Rang." Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

A few more, in no particular order,

4. "Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson. The Herdman children smoke cigars and learn about Jesus' birthday. I've never cried so much over the presence of a ham.

By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

5. "A Certain Small Shepherd" by Rebecca Caudill. More sentimental stuff, but I love it. A young boy in Appalachia becomes a part of a Christmas miracle.

By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

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 Williams. Memoir by one of Georgia's most elegant writers, published by Algonquin.

8. "To Whom the Angel Spoke" by Terry Kay. The real joy of this retelling of the Christmas story is to hear it read by Georgia's own Terry Kay, who is blessed with the voice of a preacher.

By Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

9. "Miracle on 34th Street" by Valentine Davies.  Of course, it's more famous as a movie, but among my treasured books is a first edition of the novel.

These are just a few of my favorites - I haven't even discussed children's picture books for Christmas - what would Christmas be without "The Polar Express" and William Joyce's "Santa Calls?"

Please tell me your favorite Christmas stories and books, the ones you read each year, in the comments section. 

And Merry Christmas!

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer

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