Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some Books To Read This Holiday Season

E. E. Cummings' SANTA CLAUS: A MORALITY. I've read this already, and it is very good. There was a time when I saw no connection between Halloween and Christmas, when I thought THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS an impossible conjunction. But as Ray Bradbury and many others have noted, the season is about life, death, and rebirth.

And beyond that, love. E. E. Cummings said it well in this 1946 play, which is revised and revived in Terry Pratchett's own eccentric way in HOGFATHER, also excellent. Death-in-life and Santa, same/same.

Christmas used to be the designated time for ghost stories, as at this link, and the most enthralling ghosts of all in Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL and its many derivatives.

THE DREADED FEAST: WRITERS ON ENDURING THE HOLIDAYS edited by Michele Clarke and Taylor Plimpton, with an introduction by P. J. O'Rourke. Includes essays by Lewis Lapham, James Thurber, Roy Blunt, jr., Robert Benchley, David Sedaris, Charles Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, Dave Barry, S. J. Perelman, Jay McInerney, John Cheever, and many others.

I'M DREAMING OF A BLACK CHRISTMAS by Lewis Black. I read this one yesterday, a quick rant of a read. He was reluctant to write a book ranting about Christmas, being Jewish, but I'm glad that he did. The last chapter is a memoir of his participation in the USO tour to Afghanistan along with Kid Rock, Lance Armstrong, and fellow comic Robin Williams.

THE FAT MAN: A TALE OF NORTH POLE NOIR by Kent Harmon. At first I took this to be comparable to Christopher Moore's THE STUPIDIST ANGEL, but this looks like a much better book. And something of a collector's item in first edition. Like Scott Phillips THE ICE HARVEST and others at this link, this must be something of an anti-Christmas novel. We'll see.

Earlier this year, I read Clancy Martin's excellent HOW TO SELL: A NOVEL, and if you're looking for a darkly humorous read for the holidays, I highly recommend it.  The first part of the novel ends at Christmas, and it is a darkly humorous indictment of capitalist greed.

CHRISTMAS AT THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP, edited by Otto Penzler. The proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop commissioned stories for this collection by Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Michael Malone, Donald Westlake, Thomas H. Cook, and other mystery authors. It looks good to me.

Ed McBain's DOWNTOWN and MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. The former is a stand alone novel, a thriller that doesn't take itself seriously occuring on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, neither predictable nor logical, but fun if you can grasp the little jokes and topical references, contemporary when this was published in 1993 but now dated. The latter is a suitcase-full-of-money 87th Precinct novel which takes place over the holidays, one of McBain's best novels.  THE RAP sheet was kind enough to carry my long review of it, here.

R. D. Wingfield's FROST AT CHRISTMAS. After reading his HARD FROST that takes place from Halloween to Guy Fawkes Day. His series protagonist is British and a sexist, but his political incorrectness seems intentional/satirical rather than blind.

A FATAL GRACE by Louise Penny. I read her first novel, STILL LIFE, which takes place over (Canadian) Thanksgiving, and her main characters all continue into this novel, which takes place during the Christmas holidays. Louise Penny has garnered a lot of awards.  STILL LIFE seemed too implausible for my taste, but maybe I'll find her later novels more interesting.

HOLIDAY GRIND by Cleo Coyle. Another cozy murder mystery taking place over the holidays, this one containing "recipes and coffee-making tips."  It's gotten some good reviews.  We'll see.

PANDORA'S CLOCK by John J. Nance. A thriller set during the holidays involving an airplane with a virus on board and Christian countries which refuse to let it land.

Craig Johnson's THE COLD DISH which takes place in the winter (and over the holidays) in snowy Wyoming. 

IN THE DARK STREETS SHINETH by historian David McCullough.  A handsome hardcover with small print but a mighty thin book.  It comes with a DVD which we watched on Pearl Harbor Day.  He briefly tells some stories of the 1941 Christmas in the United States and also gives the background behind two Christmas Carols.  Nicely done, and the Mormon Tabornacle Choir sings in the background.

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