With your sentiments suitably primed, A Very Southern Christmas: Holiday Stories from the South's Best Writers, edited by Judy H. Tucker and Charline R. McCord, should move you even further along the road to a jolly Christmas. These 10 short stories by gifted Southern writers, including Lee Smith and Robert Olen Butler, take you into the lives of an array of characters struggling to make peace with their own conflicted selves, their less-than-perfect relatives and the wider world. Without overdoing the Christmas cheer, each story manages to touch on some aspect of the hope, disappointment, joy and pathos the season can evoke. In "Deputy Sid's Gift," author Tim Gautreaux makes only one reference to the holiday: "One day after Christmas my wife, Monette, told me to get rid of the tree and the holiday junk, so I went to crank the truck." Despite the lack of holly and mistletoe, this soul-searching story speaks volumes about the true nature of giving. Adorned by Wyatt Waters' graceful watercolors, this compact volume would make a great little gift itself.

Linda Stankard admits to making her own mincemeat one jangled Christmas.

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