Christmas Classics, Old and New

Looking for a Christmas read? Look no further!

Five Old Classics

dickensA Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens’ famous novella about an old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who receives a lesson in the true meaning of Christmas and is transformed into a kinder, gentler version of his former self after visitations from the ghost of his former business partner and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. First published in London in December, 1843, and immediately popular, this work has never been out of print.

tolkienLetters From Father Christmas, by J.R.R.Tolkien
Tolkien wrote these lovely illustrated letters to his children between 1920 and 1942. From the pens of Father Christmas and his secretary, they document the goings-on of the preceding year at the North Pole, focusing on the exploits of Father Christmas, his elvish assistants, and the North Polar Bear and his cubs, Paksu and Valkotukka. The stories include a description of the huge firework display that creates the northern lights; the 1939 letter makes a reference to the Second World War.

lwLittle Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, Little Women tells the lives of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – as they grow into young women in nineteenth-century New England. The novel is loosely based on the lives of the author and her three sisters. Alcott followed her Little Women with a sequel, Little Men.

cciwA Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s delightful and nostalgic description of a Christmas from his boyhood: “One Christmas was so much like the other in those years around the sea-town corner now … that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six”. You can read the book, or listen to Dylan Thomas reading the story himself (1952 recording) on YouTube.

togThe Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatrix Potter
A tailor sends his cat, Simpkin, on an errand to fetch food and some thread that he needs to complete a waistcoat for the mayor, who is to be married on Christmas Day. Once the cat is out, he discovers the mice that the cat had concealed under some teacups. Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, this children’s story was published in 1903. Potter declared that, of her own works, this was her favourite.

Five Modern Classics

chlistThe Christmas List, by Richard Evans
A Utah real estate developer by the name of James Kier opens the newspaper on the Saturday three weeks before Christmas, and is surprised to see his obituary and read that he has died in a car crash. The New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Box and The Walk series returns with a holiday novel of hope, love, and redemption.*

acpA Christmas Promise, by Thomas Kinkade
James Cameron, a minister who runs a mission in Central America, has decided to spend the holidays in Cape Light. But when his car collides with another car, a hint of trouble befalls this close-knit community. No one is hurt, but out-of-towner Leigh Baxter is forced to stay in town until her car is fixed. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that the charm of this beautiful seaside hamlet and its citizens will soon win her over.*

hoiHolidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
A re-release of a holiday classic, expanded with new stories. This collection includes Sedaris’s famously hilarious Santaland Diaries, in which he describes his stint as a Christmas elf at Macy’s department store in New York.

polarThe Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
A young boy takes a magical train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and receives the first gift of Christmas from Santa. This work won the annual Caldecott Medal for illustration of an American children’s picture book in 1986.

scjgSkipping Christmas, by John Grisham
Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty; they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren’t even going to have a tree. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences.*

*Description from Bibliocommons

Patricia’s Top 10 Reads of 2014

I don’t know if it’s because I’m an insomniac, a bookaholic, or a library employee/student, but I read A LOT in 2014.  I read to the point that my children made up a song about how much I read, and my adult friends and family just assume that if I’m meeting them for lunch, they should bring a magazine at the very least.  (Both stories are true, btw.)  Not all of what I read was published this year.  Some great reads were from 2013 (The Bunker Diary, Longbourn) and some were from much earlier than that (LM Montgomery’s The Story Girl, Jeff Smith’s Bone series), but 2014 had its share of great books.  Here are my favourite reads from 2014 (alphabetical by title):

dreamlessAbove the Dreamless Dead edited by Chris Duffy*

Best for:  Readers curious about WWI; poetry fans; graphic novel fans; history buffs

What’s the appeal?  For me the appeal wasn’t just the poetry (which was powerful) or the artwork (which was moving), but the way the two synergized to create a magical reading experience.  The poems work as individual entities, but the volume as a whole paints an arresting portrait of World War I.

bloodwilloutBlood Will Out by Walter Kirn*

Best for: Readers who love complicated relationships

What’s the appeal?  Blood Will Out is not the kind of book I am normally attracted to. I found the story of Clark Rockefeller compelling, but even more interesting than that was the relationship between Kirn and Rockefeller and Kirn’s grappling with how frustrating it is that he will never truly know his longtime friend.

deptDept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill*

Best for:  Readers who appreciate concise writing; fans of Reynolds Price

What’s the appeal?  This clear-eyed look at the inner workings of a marriage is both unflinching and wise.

enchantedThe Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Best for:  Readers looking for something slightly quirky; fans of Alice Sebold

What’s the appeal?  It’s a beautifully odd book.  This tale of life on death row, ably balances mundane bleakness with moments of fancy.

martianThe Martian by Andy Weir

Best for:  Readers looking for a good survival story; Matt Damon fans (read on!)

What’s the appeal?  The Martian is a smart, fast-paced novel about Mark Watney, an American astronaut mistakenly abandoned on Mars.  Does Watney have what it takes to survive?  Will NASA rescue him before he starves?  This page turned is soon to be adapted for the silver screen with Matt Damon (drool…) as Watney.

salingerMy Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff*

Best for:  Salinger enthusiasts

What’s the appeal?  Working as an assistant for Salinger’s agent, there is one thing young Joanna Rakoff must not do:  deviate from the form letters she sends to Salinger’s fans.  Slowly, she begins sending personalized responses.  This book perfectly balances the well-meaning enthusiasm of youth with the fading glamour of the pre-internet publishing industry.

natchezNatchez Burning by Greg Iles

Best for:  people looking for a gripping holiday read

What’s the appeal?  I wasn’t looking to get into an 800 page book when I picked this one up. I thought I’d read a chapter or two and move onto something else. Couldn’t. Loved it. The book had so many interesting threads: small town politics, complicated history, father-son tensions, forbidden loves. I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait for the sequel. Get writing, Mr. Iles!

nightgardenerThe Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Best for:  Readers who love dark Children’s Lit; families to read aloud together

What’s the appeal?  The Night Gardener explores the difference between stories and lies against a Gothic backdrop. Irish Orphans Molly and Kip find work in an isolated manor in England. They are servants of the Windsor family. The family mysteriously declines in health and Molly and Kip trace it to a tree growing against the house. The tree is tended by the spectral night gardener. Even the supporting cast of this novel is well-drawn, particularly Hester Kettle, a wandering storyteller. The Night Gardener is one of those rare books that are both deep and a page turner.

undertakingThe Undertaking by Audrey Magee*

Best for:  Fans of Ann Enright; those who don’t need a happy ending

What’s the appeal?  I read a lot of fiction set in WWII, and this book stands out. The Undertaking in question is a marriage of convenience that offers each of the main characters something they need to survive the war.  Unflinching and bleak.

My favourite 2014 read…

grossmanThe Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Best for: Adult fans of Narnia and Harry Potter (but please promise you’ll read the first two books first!)

What’s the appeal?  Quentin Coldwater and his friends are normal, messed up people trying to make it in a magical world.  Their adventures are exciting and unforgettable. Grossman’s writing is spot on, making allusions to fantasy works we all know and love and introducing his own world, Fillory.


*Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for providing ARCs of these titles.

We Remember

Truly magical reading experiences happen when we feel like we’ve discovered a book that few others know about.  These books were meant just for us, we think.  And yet we wonder: how is it that not everyone knows about this book, that not everyone is reading it entranced?  And so we want to share ‘our’ book with select others, so they too can experience the magic of this book, and hopefully love it as we have loved it.

dreamlessRecently, I was assigned the book Above the Dreamless Dead* for a course that I’m taking.  The book was published just this year, but I was lucky enough to find a copy checked in her at the library.  I curled up in one of our armchairs with a hot cup of tea and the rain stream down the windowpanes as I read.  Enchanted.  I wasn’t here in the present day in a public library.  I was gone.

In a matter of pages, I was whisked away to Europe.  To the trenches.  To World War I.poetry

The poetry of the Trench Poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Isaac Rosenberg has been adapted by modern day comic book artists.  Each artist takes on a different poem and their vision breathes new life into old verse.  Reading it I experienced loss and lice, glory and horror.

poppyThis Remembrance Day when we are thinking about how far we have come in the last one hundred years, and how far we still have to go to find peace, I urge you to get lost in Above the Dreamless Dead.  It is a powerful reminder of the cost of war.


*Thank you to NetGalley and First Second for providing an Advanced Readers Copy of this title.

Can I See Your Poetic License Please?

Can I See Your Poetic License Please?      © Joan Boxall         November 2013.

…recalls my last car chase, in hot pursuit of an errant poet.

(officer)  You’re writing erratically

Like a wild Haiku

Tripping and looping, all over the page.

I’m gonna pull you over and throw the hardcover at you…(siren and flashers on)

Heh, you didn’t signal…pull over…(on radio)…Constable Cutterdown here, I’m not reading her.  Licence plate, RUB41ZEE; driving an Alice-in-mun-ro-land Hybrid, 10-4…


To hear the rest of the poem, join Joan here at North Vancouver City Library on November 27th for An Evening of Poetry where she’ll be reading along with Dina Del Bucchia.  The event is free, but please register.