Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christina's Top Ten Books to Read during the Holidays

Yes oh yes, Tuesday is here again. This week I (Christina) will be sharing with you my top ten books to read during the holidays. In case you don't already know, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by our friends over at The Broke and the Bookish.
To be honest, I had a hard time coming up with 10 holiday-themed books that I even
liked, let alone would want to put in any kind of Top Ten list with my name attached to it. This is because I abhor sappiness, and (imho) there is a terrible dearth of unsappy Christmas books in the world. I did come up with some good titles, though, which I'm listing here in the order that they came to mind. If you can think of any other non-cheesy holiday reads for grouches like me, please comment!

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown
I LOVE this unconventional and mighty funny story. A latke flees its frying pan and runs screaming through the bucolic, snow-covered village. "This may seem like unusual behavior for a potato pancake, but this is a Christmas story, in which things tend to happen that would never occur in real life." As the latke converses with some Christmas lights, a candy cane, and an evergreen tree, we learn a little about what Hanukkah commemorates and how it really is
different from Christmas.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Here's a collection of humorous essays and stories that will serve as an antidote when you're overdosing on family togetherness. It features the famous "Santaland Diaries," in which Sedaris describes his experience working as an elf at Macy's. "Dinah, the Christmas Whore" is another fond memory.
("Season's Greetings To Our Friends and Family!!!" starts out great and ends very disturbingly. Consider yourself warned.)

3. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Um... obvs. If you haven't read this already, you probably should.

4. Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou, Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
If you yearn for something hearfelt and idealistic around the holidays, Amazing Peace is a good place to start. The textured, warm illustrations show a family joining with their community for a candle-lit potluck dinner, and Ms. Angelou's poem emphasizes the general goodwill and calm that the holidays can bring out in all of us. Here are a few lines I particularly like:
"We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace."

5. Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Frank McCourt tells this family anecdote about his mother who, at the age of 6, worried that the baby Jesus would be cold when she saw him lying nearly naked in the church's nativity. With its amusing narrative, beautiful illustrations (see right) and
charming, lilting dialogue, Angela and the Baby Jesus manages that difficult balance of humor and heartwarmth.

6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
I need to reread this, but I remember laughing SO hard when my mom read it to me back in, oh, 1990 or so. If the following excerpt and my rather vague memories of it are any indication, I think I would like it at least as much now as I did then.
"All of a sudden Imogene Herdman dug me in the ribs with her elbow. She has the sharpest elbows of anybody I ever knew. 'What's the pageant?' she said.
'It's a play,' I said, and for the first time that day (except when she saw the collection basket) Imogene looked interested.
'What's the play about?' Imogene asked.
'It's about Jesus,' I said.
'Everything here is,' she muttered, so I figured Imogene didn't care much about the Christmas pageant."

7. Madeline's Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
I've been enjoying this one all year long; my 3-year-old daughter loves Madeline. I don't mind reading it again and again because I love the scribbly illustrations and the way some rhymes turn awkward when translated from French:
"The merchant, who was tall and thin
(And also a ma-gi-ci-an)
Bravely took his medicine."
Besides, it's an adorable story about how Madeline procures flying carpets for all the other girls so that they can go home to their families for Christmas. Sweet, but not overemotional. How refreshing!

8. The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
I haven't actually read this one yet. Sorry, I know it's cheating to include something I haven't read. I had a really hard time coming up with ten, remember? And I thought that title was good for a laugh.

9. Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story by Janet Beeler Shaw

Kirsten was my favorite American Girl, and I loved this book. She's adapting to life in Minnesota after emigrating from Sweden, and she wants to surprise her family with a St. Lucia day tradition. There's also some adventure tied in with a snowstorm. I can't vouche for the unsappiness of this one since I read it when I was, like, ten.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Yep, it's a classic. Yep, as a child I was terrified of the Grinch. Yep, I get that Christmas isn't about presents. Yep, it's simplistic, but YEP, I love it.