Here is an anthology of stories, songs, poems and memories that will remind you of your own childhood Christmases -- just the way a Rockwell painting or illustration evokes all those nostalgic feelings. It's a great book for a family to own together, because there is something in it for everyone. In addition to poetry by Shakespeare and Milton, there are stories from Laura Ingalls Wilder, O. Henry, and Hans Christian Andersen -- plus so many of your favorite carols! And it's all accompanied by so much beautiful Rockwell art. First published in 1977, it was revised and expanded in 2009. So you may have a family memory of owning a version of the book, but this newer edition has even more to love!
Merry Christmas, Grandma! We came in our new Plymouth!" (1950) for Chrysler
I think it's an interesting phenomenon that for so many people, Rockwell's art evokes memories -- and they feel like true memories -- of a childhood that we didn't necessarily experience ourselves. That cultural memory still feels so powerful -- at least it does for me.
"An Uneasy Christmas in the Birthplace of Christ" (1970), for LIFE magazine
This painting is included in the book. I have always I loved it. Apparently Rockwell tussled with the editors of LIFE, who wanted him to eliminate the Arab and one of the Israeli soldiers from the painting. He refused. He said that the soldiers were always, always in pairs. And that Bethlehem was the Arab man's home.
"Thirst asks nothing more" (1941) for Coca-Cola
Well, so this image is not in the book, but most of you know why it's here. I mean, come on!
Well, so here is another book for us to enjoy during Advent, but this one is definitely more for the babes in your family than for the babies. I have actually included Holidays on Ice in a Advent calendar book basket before, but it has earned a repeat appearance this year because the whole collection of stories and musings is wonderful, and because it includes one of the funniest essays I have ever listened to in my life. Don't you love audiobooks that give you the author reading his or her own words?
"Six to Eight Black Men" starts out as an essay discussing the ways that the author -- the snort-wine-through-your-nose funny David Sedaris -- familiarizes himself with the culture of a place. He asserts that a great way to learn about the true heart of a culture is to ask people about their Christmas customs and traditions. And that's when you'll start shrieking with laughter. Seriously. This essay shuts me right down.
The girl in charge is a voracious reader -- and has never been one to hold back an opinion. Here's her in-progress report on one of my favorite novels.
People, I weep.
And by the way, hold back on the obituaries for the liberal arts education. This girl (loving her theater class and tolerating her Victorian literature class) plans to major in the sciences. Oxford College of Emory University -- gotta love it!
So I read this book this past summer and just adored it. It's like nothing I've read before. I've been pressing it on all of my friends ever since, because it's just lovely. The girl in charge had to be convinced to give it a try, but then proceeded to stay up all night, devouring it in one big delicious gulp.
It's that good.
So my girl and I were both so happy when we discovered that the audio version of the book has been recorded by someone we regard as an old friend.
Jim Dale narrates all seven books of the American editions of the Harry Potter series -- and he is a chameleon-voiced treasure. The British editions are read by Stephen Fry, a delicious treat of a different flavor -- but we are faithful to the version we have been listening to since the urchins were very small.
We have even been known to listen to books based solely on the fact that they are narrated by Jim Dale -- which is how we discovered this fabulous novel, which concerns an American acting troupe, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and some time-traveling magic!
Well, so I loved reading the book version of The Night Circus, and I love to listen to Jim Dale read anything, so throw the two together and it makes the happies explode!
So I am not one of those people who can name her All-Time Top Five Favorite Books, or who keeps a list like, "Books I Would Never Be Without On A Desert Island," or some such exercise in futility. I say this is futile because, while I love to read such compilations made by other people (and mock their choices), the very idea of such a list for myself paralyzes me with indecision.
How could I ever decide, for example, between that funny, tragic, romantically beautiful re-telling of the King Arthur story, The Once and Future King, and my favorite Jane Austen novel, the melancholy love story, Persuasion?
And what about series fiction? Do all of the Little House books count as one big delicious book? I say yes, but then do I bring my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder books to the island at the expense of the six volumes of the Lymond Chronicles -- filled with Scottish history and gasp-causing intrigue and yearning romance, and written in the most gorgeous prose? NO! -- I couldn't bear it!
Even within one author's works, I could never choose: The Solace of Leaving Early stays on the list because I love the two little girls at the heart of the story so much (Eloise and Madeline, who must change their names to Immaculata and Epiphany), but -- leave the stoic and heroic Cassie Claiborne of Something Rising (Light and Swift) behind? I don't think so!
You see my dilemma.
My book group companions -- and well, really just about every one of my friends -- have seen me get worked up while describing any particularly fabulous book. But I will say that there is one book that has literally caused a "When Harry Met Sally" moment for the people who watched me recommend it.
This one -- let's call her Mary -- was there to witness it. She and I had traveled for the day to the Green Valley Book Fair, which is just as wonderful as it sounds. It has gotten a lot fancier, by which I mean air-conditioned, since she and I went, but the main concept is the same: four times a year, this book fair (really a series of inter-connected barns) opens its doors and lucky book-lovers can wander among thousands and thousands of book titles, and buy books at a bargain, bargain, bargain cost. It's heaven, I'm telling you. The books are sometimes shelved like at a regular bookstore, but they are also sometimes displayed in piles on tables. Mary and I were standing at opposite sides of a table, on which were stacked about ten copies of Possession, the Booker Prize-winning novel by A.S. Byatt. She casually asked if I had read it.
Had I read it? Oh, my dears.
I immediately and rapturously began to tell her all the ways it is wonderful: it reveals the intertwined stories of two fictional Victorian poets and the modern day researchers who discover a startling relationship between the nineteenth century writers. It's a multi-layered love story, and a witty commentary on the wily ways of modern academic researchers, and it's filled with lush poetry and diary entries that shock the reader and passionate love letters -- all created by Byatt herself . . . . As I rhapsodized about the book, I picked up a copy from the pile on the table. Look how stunning the cover is! I love all the Pre-Raphaelite painters, so the cover makes me cherish the book even more. I gazed at the illustration adoringly as I continued on. Gosh -- it was so pretty! I began to stroke the book lovingly as I talked, and Mary began to smirk as, one by one, the other shoppers in the room (all women) began to take copies of the book for themselves. When I came up for air, I was holding the only remaining copy of the book.
Mary just looked at me, and then held out her hand and said, "I guess I'll buy it then."
Image credit: "Book List" (2010) by Patricia Mumau