Last week, we offered holiday shopping suggestions for poetry lovers, with all our Poetry Friday authors. But we didn’t want to leave out other books and writers we’ve featured in 2009!
First, just in case you’re still looking for books with Christmas themes, here are a few favorites from WVFC contributing editor Elizabeth Willse, who each year produces a holiday round-up for the Newark Star Ledger and confesses to being “giddy about all things Christmas, from music to tree trimming”:
Many of Father Andrew Greeley’s novels highlight themes that come to mind at Christmas: kindness, love, family, responsibility and faith. One of the central characters is a soldier deployed to Afghanistan, adding a timely element to this Christmas romance.
Almost everyone in Father Jimmy’s parish knows that Petey Pat and Mariana have been destined for one another since childhood. After a prom-night tragedy, Petey Pat enlists in the military, leaving everything familiar behind.
The many kinds of healing at the core of this novel seem a lot to pack into a tender Christmas romance. Told in brief, choppy scenes, letters, even dialogue that reads like a transcript of a news broadcast, Greeley’s story gets disjointed and in its own way at times. But as the story gains momentum, it gains emotional power.
Greeley confronts the complexity of grief as the two reconnect and face the past. Although he tackles serious themes, banter between Petey and Mariana, and Father Jimmy’s kind humor, add playful warmth.
The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, Les Standford, Crown Publishers, 256 pp., $19.95
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a treasure trove of information about Dickens’ past, the evolution of the publishing industry and, of course, the beginning of the modern Christmas celebration. Readers may be surprised to know that the Christmas holiday Bob Cratchit asked Scrooge for was not commonplace in 19th-century England or America, and Christmas cards, gifts and turkey dinners were not prevalent in 1843. For Charles Dickens, who published “A Christmas Carol” himself, marketing the story was quite a gamble, with no indication of the classic it would become or the traditions it would inspire.
Although Standford reveals himself as more of an academic than a storyteller in somewhat dry prose, his attention to historical detail is sure to fascinate and delight curious readers, and may inspire reading or rereading of the original “A Christmas Carol” or other Dickens works.
Best-selling novelist Elizabeth Berg’s lyrical prose draws the reader into the lives of Mary and Joseph, forced to travel far from everything familiar in Nazareth. Berg transforms the familiar Nativity story into a close look at a very human couple, struggling with their faith in each other and in God. Her writing gives a sense of a distant place and time, while keeping the couple’s tangled emotions immediate.
This is a story of faith in many senses. It is not easy for Joseph and Mary to comprehend her pregnancy, with only her own faith and a few muddled dreams as guidance. Joseph wrestles with his religious beliefs, as well as his ability to trust Mary’s word and stay close to her.
Berg’s tale is an intimate view of the love and utterly human flaws in Mary and Joseph’s relationship, and a respectful invitation to the reader to meditate on their place in the larger tradition.
Lakeshore Christmas, Susan Wiggs, Mira Books, 384 pp., $21.95
Thrown together to plan Avalon’s annual Christmas pageant, shy librarian Maureen Davenport and former child star–turned–rock musician Eddie Haven have nothing in common. She loves the beauty and hope of the season. He’s helping the pageant as court-ordered community service. As sparks of argument and attraction fly between the mismatched pageant directors, there are few surprises.
Few surprises, but still an engaging Christmas tale, fueled by the warmth and humor of their budding romance, along with the stories of the rest of the community. It would have been nice to see more of the rest of the pageant volunteers, like the wisecracking Veltry brothers, geeky Cecil Byrne and photographer Daisy Bellamy, whose subplot feels particularly unresolved.
What makes Wiggs’ story work so well is the plausible flaws and insecurities of her ensemble cast, particularly the screwball comedy of the central lovers edging warily toward a relationship. Even a touch of outright Christmas magic works to add genuine warmth to the story.
But to fill your gift list with the voices we’ve shared this year on Women’s Voices for Change, you can start with the list below. Click on their name to see their post, and the second to their latest books.
When we caught up with Gail Collins a few month ago, she gave all of us lots of reasons to buy her new book, When Everything Changed. But you also might love her previous book, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines, which reminds us that women’s resilience has always been the fulcrum of change.
In times like these, when Alaska is in the news for all sorts of reasons, it’s good to know that we can pick up Narrow Road to the Deep North by Katherine McNamara, editor of the long-lost, pioneering Archipelago.
If it’s awards that most interest your book-loving gift recipients, try Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer winner, Olive Kitteredge, or Annette Gordon-Reed‘s already iconic The Hemingses of Monticello (which also won the National Book Award).
Similar intellectual heft comes from Beverly Guy Sheftall, director of the Women’s Resource and Research Center and professor of women’s studies at Spelman College. We plan on starting with her newest, Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies.
Ginnah Howard, who graced us with a two-part interview, is still in the middle of writing her grand trilogy, which we can so far enter only with The New York Times–praised Night Navigation.
Susan B. Johnson, one of our newer columnists, gave us a Christmas memory just this week. But for a better shot at why she was named Georgia Author of the Year, you might want to pick up Savannah’s Little Crooked Houses. If Elizabeth Flock‘s essays were more your style, try her newest novel, But Inside I’m Screaming.
Jean Hanff Korelitz, one of our first Ten Questions at WVFC, talked about reporting and writing the acclaimed Admission, while Lisa Genova, our most recent, let us peek at her journey from neuroscientist to novelist, and that of her novel Still Alice from self-published upstart to center of a national dialogue on Alzheimer’s disease.
Please tell us in comments what books, if any, you’re buying this season, and whether you’re choosing new, used or e-books.
I’m writing my second novel, Left Neglected. This is a story about a woman in her mid-thirties who is like so many women I know today—multi-tasking all day long, trying to be everything to everyone at work and at home, trying to succeed at everything, spread extremely thin. One typical morning, racing in her car on her way to work, she tries to make a call on her cell and takes her eye off the road for one second too long. And in that blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her over-scheduled, high-achieving life come to a screeching halt. She suffers a traumatic head injury. Her memory and intellect are intact. But she has lost all interest in and awareness of the left side of everything.
The left side of the world is gone. She has Left side Neglect. She finds herself living in a bizarre hemi-existence, where she eats food only on the right side of her plate, reads only the right half of a page, and can easily forget that her left hand even belongs to her. Through rehabilitation, she struggles not only to recover the very idea of left, but also to recover her life, the one she had always meant to live.
2. Your first novel, Still Alice, went from being a self-published labor of love to a national resource, especially for families touched by Alzheimer’s. How did you do that?
Oh, what a difference a year makes! In 2008, I was selling copies of Still Alice one at a time out of the trunk of my car. And I was guerrilla marketing it online—at my website, amazon.com, social networking sites, blogs—trying to reach as many people as possible, trying to create a buzz. As David Meerman Scott would say, I was trying to create a World Wide Rave. A literary agent eventually heard this buzz, and the book then sold at auction to Simon & Schuster, who published it in January of 2009. They continue to reach a far wider audience than I ever could have from the trunk of my car. It debuted at # 5 on the New York Times Bestseller list (and is still on the extended list this week), and it’s in its 17th printing with somewhere around 400,000 copies in print in the US. It’s also been translated into 17 foreign languages.
3. What was your biggest challenge in completing it?
I didn’t find completing it difficult. I didn’t mind “killing my darlings” in the editing process (the scientist in me felt right at home reading my own book with a ruthless and analytical eye), and I felt very comfortable drawing a line in the sand, declaring it done. There was no agonizing. The biggest challenge was getting it published.
4. What do you do for fun or relaxation?
I love yoga, a hike on the beach with my husband. If I had more time, I’d love to get back to dancing and acting.
6. Last movie or play you saw?
Romeo and Juliet at the Monomoy Theatre this summer. I have a one-year-old and a nine=year old; I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies.
6. Best part about being your age?
Best part—everything still works. I don’t mind getting older—it sure beats the alternative!
7. Have you ever wanted to revinvent yourself? Do you feel you did, going from neuroscientist to novelist?
I think after my divorce, I started becoming increasingly fearless. I wanted to proceed in whatever was next in my life more consciously aware of the life I wanted to live, the me I wanted to be. When I got divorced, I asked myself this great question, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would that be?” My answer didn’t send me back to my old job as a strategy consultant for the healthcare industry. I decided to write a novel instead. And I’d always wanted to learn how to act. So I became an actress as well.
8. What do you know now that you didn’t when you were younger?
9. What’s next for you?
I have a two-book contract with Simon & Schuster, so I’ll be writing two more novels within the next couple of years. I’ll also continue to talk to audiences about Alzheimer’s, to increase understanding and awareness and to help raise funds for a cure.
10. What do you value most in life?