Holidays Are Not Just for Children
Some Surprising Books for Adults
Compiled by Brian Lampkin
Book people can be difficult. They pretty much acquire the books they need with no regard for the impending holiday season, so you’re left with nothing literary to get them to show how much you care about their reading life. Below are a few holiday-related books that just might be off the radar of a well-read book lover. Or perhaps there’s a forgotten gem or two to reinspire an old love.
Rock Crystal, Adalbert Stifter (Author), Marianne Moore (Translator), Elizabeth Mayer (Translator), W. H. Auden (Introduction) (NY Review of Books, $12.95). Seemingly the simplest of stories — a passing anecdote of village life — Rock Crystal opens up into a tale of almost unendurable suspense. This jewel-like novella by the writer that Thomas Mann praised as “one of the most extraordinary, the most enigmatic, the most secretly daring and the most strangely gripping narrators in world literature” is among the most unusual, moving and memorable of Christmas stories.
Pretty Paper, by Willie Nelson with Dave Ritz (Blue Rider, $23). For over 50 years, Willie Nelson has wondered about the life story of the legless man who sold wrapping paper to customers on the street in front of a downtown department store in Fort Worth. This seller of “pretty paper” inspired Willie’s classic Christmas song, and now, with a leap of imagination, the singer/songwriter tells the tale of Tom Winthrop. I too thought this was a book on holiday-themed rolling papers.
Yuletide in Dixie: Slavery, Christmas, and Southern Memory, by Robert E. May (University of Virginia, $34.95). We don’t get to shut off our brains or ignore history just because it’s the holiday season. How did enslaved African Americans in the Old South really experience Christmas? Did Christmastime provide slaves with a lengthy and jubilant respite from labor and the whip, as is generally assumed, or is the story far more complex and troubling? In this provocative, revisionist and sometimes chilling account, Robert E. May chides the conventional wisdom for simplifying black perspectives, uncritically accepting Southern white literary tropes about the holiday, and overlooking evidence not only that countless Southern whites passed Christmases fearful that their slaves would revolt but also that slavery’s most punitive features persisted at holiday time.
Holidays On Ice, by David Sedaris (Back Bay, $12.99). Sedaris’ recent sold-out appearance at the Carolina Theatre reminds us all that he’s a much-loved institution in North Carolina. This 2010 update has six new pieces and is written especially for those left quite queasy about the syrupy emotions of the holiday season.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie (William Morrow, $29.99). Every year it’s impossible to find the right book for Aunt June or Uncle Beasley. But 2019, is different. They love English mysteries, they love the classics, they have even forgiven you for last year’s debacle of the gift of the adult coloring book. Who knew that they made “adult” coloring books? Agatha is never a misstep.
How to Spell Chanukah . . . and Other Holiday Dilemmas:18 Writers Celebrate 8 Nights of Lights, essays by Jonathan Tropper, Jennifer Gilmore, Steve Almond, Joanna Smith Rakoff, Adam Langer and others. (Algonquin, $13.95). Whether your Chanukahs were spent singing “I have a Little Dreidel” or playing the “Maoz Tzur” on the piano, whether your family tradition included a Christmas tree or a Chanukah bush, whether the fights among your siblings over who would light the menorah candles rivaled the battles of the Maccabees, or even if you haven’t a clue who the Maccabees were, this little book proves there are as many ways to celebrate Chanukah as there are ways to spell it.
You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas, by Augusten Burroughs (Picador, $16). At 8 years old, Augusten Burroughs profoundly misunderstood the meaning of Christmas. Now proving himself once more “a master of making tragedy funny” (The Miami Herald), he shows how the holidays can bring out the worst in us and sometimes, just sometimes, the very best. From the author described in USA Today as “one of the most compelling and screamingly funny voices of the new century,” comes a book about surviving the holiday we love to hate, and hate to love.
Sex Position Coloring Book: Playtime for Couples (Hollan Publishing, $15.95). Who knew indeed. OH
Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.