The Twelve Books of Christmas

Unknown   Despite the song, the real twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and continue through the eve of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). But the countdown to Christmas may start as early as December 1st if you have an Advent Calendar and sometimes right after Halloween in shopping malls.

With twelve days left, here is a short list of Christmas themed books you might have missed.

  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan

What would you do if you found a notebook in the stacks of a New York City bookstore with a mysterious note, challenging you to solve a mystery?  In this young adult book, the authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist create a quirky and delightful story combining a love of books with teenage first love.

Lily, an avid reader and dog walker, has written a set of clues and challenges in a red notebook and left it on her favorite bookstore shelf hoping for the right guy to find it.  Dash (short for Dashiell), a lover of books and yogurt, finds the notebook and they begin passing it between them with clues, sometimes literary, leading each to new places and experiences around the city during Christmas.

  • Agatha Christie Christmas Mysteries

A Christmas family get-together abruptly ends in a murder with Hercule Poirot called in to investigate in Hercules Poirot’s Christmas, and in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a wonderful BBC audiobook), Poirot finds a scrawled note on his pillow: “DON’T EAT NONE OF THE PLUM PUDDING. ONE WHO WISHES YOU WELL”.  A fun alternative to listening to The Night Before Christmas.

9781509848195  Pablo Picasso’s Noel by Carol Ann Duffy follows the famous painter as he moves through a small town in the south of France on Christmas Eve, drawing the residents and the festive scenes he encounters, accompanied by his small dog.

  • The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus by Dr. Hannah Fry provides mathematical proof of Santa with puzzles and games.
  • Christmas: A Biography by Judith Sanders gives a social historian’s examination of the origins, myths, legends and history of the season.
  • Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive, a funny children’s story based on real events and people, is seen through the eyes of a prim eight-year old girl in a large Edwardian country house.
  •  Christmas Remembered (audiobook) by children’s author Tommy dePaola shares his love for Christmas in fifteen vivid memories, spanning six decades – as a teenager in Connecticut, an art student in Brooklyn, a novice monk in Vermont, and an artist in New Hampshire.

To get to twelve, try some Charles Dickens:  The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, A Christmas Tree, and The Holly Tree – all available on line at Dickens on Line.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mark Twain Unfinished – The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

61q+5s8-QzL._AC_US218_In the spirit of great unfinished work – Schubert’s unfinished symphony, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia – an unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain, now titled The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, was discovered among Twain’s papers in 2011.  Like other unfinished art, contemporary masters often take up the task to finish; in this case, the Newbery Medal winners Philip and Erin Stead provided the art and supplemental text to Twain’s scribbled notes and skeletal outline of a bedtime story he had created for his young daughters over several days.

The story has a little boy on a quest with a chicken and a skunk named Sally. A magic flower when eaten has him able to communicate with animals. The King with a short man complex has banned anyone taller than he is, the willowy Queen sits knitting below his high throne, and someone had kidnapped the Prince. Conversations between Philip Stead and Mark Twain interrupt the action periodically, and Twain’s story ends with the Prince in a cave guarded by dragons.  

Erin Stead draws a beautiful assortment of animals in muted watercolors with the chicken and skunk taking on special roles.  Her moving portraits of the queen and the boy will remind you of someone you care about.

Recently watching the Mark Twain Prize presented to David Letterman, I thought about Twain’s role in American humor.  Twain was well known for mixing his humor with truth; reading Twain can be fun for children and philosophical for adults.  Although the action seems a little slow, the Steads completion of this unfinished story adds another piece to Twain’s impressive canon.

The satisfying ending the Steads provide is timely and poignant.

“…the words that could save mankind from all its silly, ceaseless violence, if only mankind could say them once in a while and make them truly meant…

I am glad to know you.”

If only…

Alice’s Restaurant – a Massacree on Thanksgiving

alices_restaurant_patch_file-1511293439-4222   Arlo Guthrie’s song – “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” has its fiftieth anniversary this year. Some radio stations, especially in the Northeast United States and around Stockbridge, Massachusetts – the song’s epicenter –  still play it each Thanksgiving,

Spencer Kornhaber for “The Atlantic” explains the song’s role as a Thanksgiving anthem:

“In the small canon of Thanksgiving-related popular music, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” stands out for a few reasons, one of which is that it’s only barely related to Thanksgiving. The other reasons include its 16-minute runtime, and that it’s politically minded art of the sort worth revisiting this particular holiday season.”

As the son of legendary folk singer Woodie Guthrie (This Land is Your Land), Arlo knew how to send a message.  Listen to it by clicking on the title – Alice’s Restaurant –   and sing along now – Unknown

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

Walk right in it’s around the back, just a half a mile from the railroad track

An’ you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”

 

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Atlantic Article: Alice’s Restaurant, An Undying Thanksgiving Protest Song

In Honor of Poldark’s Aunt Agatha

Unknown-1   Spoiler Alert:  If you have not yet seen the final episode of Poldark, the eighteenth century saga set in Cornwall, you probably want to stop reading now.

Despite the rugged terrain with wild rides along the sea and rivalries among the families, one steady character, reportedly about to celebrate her 100th birthday, challenges the evil doers and maintains her upright moral code despite the corruption around her.  Sadly, Aunt Agatha finally has her heart broken when the cold calculating George Warleggan cancels her birthday party.  Of course, the stalwart Aunt Agatha has her revenge before she takes her last breath.

In the Masterpiece Studio Podcast interview of Catherine Blakiston, the actress playing Aunt Agatha, she mentions she was gifted the tarot cards she often shuffled on scene as she predicted dire consequences for others, and the book Aunt Agatha continually read around the fire – Tristram Shandy.

Hepburn7_logLaurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, with its first of nine volumes published in 1759, begins with its hero about to be born and becomes so sidetracked by digressions that the story ends shortly after his birth, but not before introducing a vivid group of eccentric and farcical characters in a comic tour de force.  Tristram Shandy was a bestseller of its time and Sterne is recognized as one of the forerunners of psychological fiction.

I’ve never read it, so in honor of Aunt Agatha, I’ve downloaded the classic for free from Project Gutenberg – all 760 pages.

Related Information:

 

Scandal Reboot – Young Jane Young

Unknown-3  Since Alexander Hamilton had an extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds in the seventeen nineties, American politicians have been notorious for sex scandals, but Gabrielle Zevin uses the details of one of the most famous in recent history, involving an intern, in her hilarious yet poignant story of Young Jane Young.

With the requisite degree in political science and aspirations to someday hold office herself, Aviva uses her family connections for an unpaid internship in a legislative office. Her voluptuous figure does not go unnoticed by her supervisor who advises her to find a blouse to better contain her overflowing breasts, and by the Congressman himself who mentally notes her possibilities.  The story continues as expected, following the historic details fairly closely, but with a few embellishments on Aviva’s mother, Holocaust survivor grandmother, and philandering father.  The scandal is exposed when the Congressman and Aviva are involved in a bizarre car accident, reminiscent of Ted Kennedy’s scandal in Chappaquiddick,  and Aviva is branded with the scarlet letter; the Congressman apologizes for any pain he might have caused, and successfully wins reelection.  Sound familiar?

Zevin then imagines what life would have been like if Monica Lewinsky, the inspiration for the tale, had changed her name and moved to an obscure town in Maine.  Instead of trying to sell handbags or giving paid interviews to pay her legal fees as the infamous intern did, Aviva quietly disappears when she becomes pregnant.  Using the Jennifer Lopez movie as her inspiration, she creates a career as a wedding planner and seems to be on the road to recovery and a new satisfying life, until Aviva decides to run for mayor of the small town.  Her opponent, a former disgruntled client, discovers her secret, and inadvertently exposes her past to her thirteen year old daughter, Ruby.  When Aviva’s lurid blog resurfaces after fifteen years – nothing disappears from the internet – Ruby uses her mother’s credit card to fly to Florida to confront the Congressman she thinks might be her father.

The story is divided into five segments, from the point of view of Aviva’s mother with her own dating debacles and Zevin’s exaggerated take on the Jewish mother who only wants the best for her daughter.  The other sections involve one with Aviva herself as she reminisces years after the affair, and another with her daughter Ruby’s protracted missives with her penpal in Indonesia.  A funny pick-your own-adventure chapter details how different decisions made by two people with extremely different levels of power could have averted the disaster.  With a reverent nod to the politician’s wives who endure their husbands indiscretions, Zevin creates a sympathetic character in the legislator’s wife, who manages to retain her self-respect throughout the ordeal.

Zevin offers a redemptive  ending with Aviva surviving the slut-shaming and winning her election   – this is fiction, after all.    Zevin has her heroine choose not to be ashamed in the end – a good prescriptive for anyone with mistakes in the past.

Review of Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry