Sunday, December 19, 2010

Seasonal reading

The majority of books that I read through the year are newly published -- a hazard/benefit (depending on my amount of reading time available) of working in a library.  Some others are new to me but not to the world at large ... these tend to fall into two categories for me: classics and former bestsellers that I didn't read while they were hot because everyone else was dying to get them.  I also have the compulsion to reread books in a series when a new title is coming out either due to the eager anticipation for the next installment or because, sadly, it's been so long since the last book came out that I've kind of forgotten what's going on.  I have to admit that lately the latter has been more important after I picked up a new title and 100 pages in was trying to figure out who a character was ... he had been one of the three major characters through all of the first ten books ... oops!

However, there are some very special stories that I pick up at certain times of the year.  I like to head off with Bilbo and the dwarves in the fall.  Every summer, I choose a different Shakespeare play to reread in one greedy gulp during a hot afternoon.  For some reason, Anne of Green Gables and Betsy from Deep Valley tend to come calling in the grimness of March's dirty snow and ice.  I don't reread all of them every year, but it's often enough that I can definitely see a pattern.

So, if you have some extra time in the next few days, here are some of my favorites for this time of year.  Many of them are short stories, so it's easy to find a few minutes to fit one in.
    • The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis  This is my favorite time travel book ever.  It's set both in Oxford of the not-so-distant future and the countryside of England near Oxford in the year 1348 during the Christmas season.  I like all of the time travel books that Connie Willis has written, but this one tops list for me.  I will warn you, it's not necessarily a happy book.  However, daily life during the English middle ages is vivid as Kivrin deals with all the challenges that she did expect as a historian studying "in time" and many many more that she isn't prepared for.  At the same time, the parallel story in the future keeps adding tension to the situation.
    • "Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor" by John Cheever  A short story that never fails to entertain me. I love to picture Charlie telling Mrs. Gadshill that the elevator is going to do the loop-de-loop and drool over the descriptions of all of the varied Christmas dinners.
    • "Dulce Domum" from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame  As a single person, this bit resonates with me for those first hours after I come home from celebrating the holidays with my family.  The house is quiet and cold, there never seems to be something I want to eat in the frig, and I'm exhausted.  But there's also the familiarity of my own things (humble as they might seem to others), the joy of my cat greeting me with excited dashing about, and the knowledge that once I get a fire started in the woodstove my outlook will improve.
    • "Old Folks' Christmas" by Ring Lardner  This story fascinates me because it is so different from my own experience.  I hope that my parents would agree that our family does not mimic this one.
    • "A Hint for Next Christmas" by A. A. Milne  Though I've never been in this situation, the cheek of adding one's name to a card intrigues me and makes me wonder if the author once found himself in this situation.
    • "Our Crafty Little Christmas" by John Neary  It seems to go in cycles - the fad for excessive, lavish gifts giving way to the handmade price-limit exchange.  While I try not to indulge in either end of the extreme, I must admit that a crafty gift goes over better when you have some experience with the craft in question.
    • "Miracle" by Connie Willis  Quick!  What's your favorite Christmas movie?  This story might change your mind.  Or, at least, make you think about the next mysterious "Chris" that you meet.
    • "Mr. K*A*P*L*A*N and the Magi" by Leo Rosten  I don't think that many school classes still buy presents as a group for their teachers, but this story brings out all of the anguish of choice by committee on several levels.
    • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott  You can just read the first bit where the girls discuss what they want for Christmas, speculate on the boy next door, and send their breakfast to the Hummels.  However, once you start, it's easy to continue on as they become friends with Laurie, fall in love, and grow up.
    • "Crisp New Bills for Mr. Teagle" by Frank Sullivan  There are some days - rare and far between - when only good things seem to fall out of the sky.  Perhaps they aren't as overt as this story, but they are meant to be cherished.

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