short stories

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

North Shore Giller Prize Party!

The 2nd Annual North Shore Giller Prize Viewing Party returns to North Vancouver on Tuesday, November 10 from 5:30pm-8:30pm.  

Join notable CBC Radio broadcaster and acclaimed author, Grant Lawrence, to celebrate Canadian Literature. The Scotiabank Giller Prize Awards Gala will be livestreamed from Toronto.

There will be light appies, readings from the 5 shortlisted books, beverages and raffle prizes.

Let’s have a look at the opening passages of shortlisted titles:

from Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis:

One evening in Toronto, the gods Apollo and Hermes were at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern. Apollo had allowed his beard to grow until it reached his clavicle. Hermes, more fastidious, was cleanshaven, but his clothes were distinctly terrestrial: black jeans, a black leather jacket, a blue shirt.

They had been drinking, but it wasn’t the alcohol that intoxicated them. It was the worship their presence elicited. The Wheat Sheaf felt like a temple, and the gods were gratified. In the men’s washroom, Apollo allowed parts of himself to be touched by an older man in a business suit. This pleasure, more intense than any the man had known or would ever know again, cost him eight years of his life.

from Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated by Donald Winkler:

My grandmother, mother of my father, often said:

“There are no thieves in Arvida.”

For a long time, it’s true, there were only good people in Arvida. Honest and industrious Catholics, and the Protestant owners and managers of the aluminum plant, who were basically, if you could believe my father, good human beings. You could leave your tools lying around in the garage. You could leave car doors unlocked and house doors open.

There was a very beautiful photo from after the war, which was, like all beautiful photos, an empty picture, with practically nothing in it and everything outside it. In it, a dozen bicycles were strewn over the lawn in front of the clinic. Outside the photo, in the building’s basement, children were lined up before a large white curtain, waiting to be vaccinated against polio. Outside the photo, the few times I saw it, my grandmother pressed her finger down on it, saying:

“You see? There are no thieves in Arvida.”

That’s what she said all her life, my grandmother, mother of my father. Except for about twenty years when, from time to time, she looked at my father and said:

“There were no thieves in Arvida. Now there’s you.”

from Outline by Rachel Cusk

Before the flight I was invited for lunch at a London club with a billionaire I’d been promised had liberal credentials. He talked in his open-necked shirt about the new software he was developing, that could help organisations identify the employees most likely to rob and betray them in the future. We were meant to be discussing a literary magazine he was thinking of starting up: unfortunately I had to leave before we arrived at that subject. He insisted on paying for a taxi to the airport, which was useful since I was late and had a heavy suitcase.

The billionaire had been keen to give me the outline of his life story, which had begun unprepossessingly and ended – obviously – with him being the relaxed, well-heeled man who sat across the table from me today. I wondered whether in fact what he wanted now was to be a writer, with the literary magazine as his entrée. A lot of people want to be writers: there was no reason to think you couldn’t buy your way into it. This man had bought himself in, and out, of a great many things.

from Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

One afternoon in 1946 a child was telling his toy soldiers the tale of a certain tall, menacing-looking Gypsy who was walking down a road in rural France. He had a trained bear and he played the violin. Something magical was meant to happen to him, naturally. However, in the middle of the tale, the child was called to lunch and never returned to the story.

The Gypsy stood there, contemplating his existence. He wasn’t even a real Gypsy, not a member of the great Romany people, but more like the fictional kind, like the ones that you see in old-fashioned storybooks. He had on a pair of black leather boots, a pinstriped suit and a hat with its brim pulled down over one eye. He had a twinkle in the eye that you could see and a violin case under his arm. At least the boy must have thought that Gypsies were the most handsome men in the world, because he was darn good-looking. He was just a stereotype, a collection of spiffy attributes and flashy characteristics. He was one dimensional in that sense. He had no depth.

from Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Mam repeatedly asks whether or not he can hear her — d’ya hear me Martin John? Because we can assume she doesn’t feel heard. She doesn’t want to hear what it is he would say, if he were to speak the truth. She saw a man on telly once. She has seen plenty men on telly, but this one frightened her. She has seen many men on telly who frighten her. But he frightened her in a particular way. He frightened her the way she feels frightened when she sees someone lash out at a dog. In actual fact, she’s not a woman easily frighted. The dark, insects, vermin, death, moths in the flour — none bother her.

But a glance, a moment, in which there’s an indication of what might be the truth of a person sits longer at her. A rat would run under the cupboard sooner than look at you. A man or woman who lets a boot fly at a dog or throws an item at a chicken in their way has a raw and sealed-in-something that she’s convinced can never be dislodged. That man on the television made her afraid because she recognized something of her son in him. There were many who talked of their crimes in that programme. They talked like they were uncomfortable ingredients in a recipe. Something hard to shop for like chopped walnuts, ground lemon rind or tamarind. They used the names of the crime, I murdered, I raped, I killed, I punched. Not him. The details are gone. He talked above and around his crime. He remained oblivious or chose oblivion. He was unsure why he was in here. He did not say he hadn’t done it. He did not say it was a mistake. He merely said nothing either way.

Limited tickets available, get yours today! 

All funds benefit the 2016 North Shore Writers Festival, co-planned by the North Vancouver District Public Library, the North Vancouver City Library, and the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

Sponsored by: The North Shore News
Food and beverage provided by Thrifty Foods, Bridge Brewing Company, and Loblaw’s City Market.

For more information, email Meghan Crowe at crowem@nvdpl.ca

–Patricia

Reading like a Canuck

I’m baaaaack!  For the past six weeks I’ve been reading like mad for a course in Canadian children’s lit.  One of the things that struck me time and time again as we read through this often amazing works of literature is how diversely Canadians write.  Sure we can say that Canadian are born in Canada or call Canada home, but beyond these broad geographical realities: what makes a Canadian writer Canadian?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  Here are some recent Canadian titles for you to enjoy:

secondsSeconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Like O’Malley’s other protagonist, Scott Pilgrim, Kate is kind of a self-absorbed jerk.  I have to admit I routed for her anyway as she continually struggled to undo past mistakes and open the restaurant of her dreams.  Named after herself, obviously.  O’Malley draws inspiration from Russian folklore for this standalone graphic novel.

saturdayThe Girl who was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

Motherless twins meet 1990s Quebecois politics in this unflinching second novel from the author of Lullabies for Little Criminals.  Kirkus Review raved, “vigorous writing makes the book; the story is surprising and satisfying, but the real star is Nouschka and how she tells it.”

rivkaAmerican Innovations: Stories by Rivka Galchen

All of the stories in Galchen’s collection are in conversation with stories we already know and love.  “The Lost Order” is hanging out with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and the title story is chatting it up with Gogol’s “The Nose.”  If you like fiction that is rewarding in its own right and asks you to revisit past favourites, this volume of short stories is for you.

 

 

–Patricia