If you need a moment to relax amidst holiday festivities, peruse these Christmas books from the BookPage archives.
Also: What are you reading over the long weekend? I’m diving into Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered (out in March 2010).
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou
The celebrated poet first read this poem at the 2005 White House tree-lighting ceremony, and now it graces the pages of a picture book. The poem isn't an obvious choice for a children's book - it's philosophical, thought-provoking and full of big words like covenant, rancor and apprehension. Yet it is a powerful message—sermon-like—and a good one for children to hear.
The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket
A Christmas story by Lemony Snicket? For those who know Snicket's best-selling series of books, this sounds like an oxymoron. He's well-known for his funny but often bleak, Edward Gorey-like view of the world. Never fear, The Lump of Coal is a small holiday gem, a follow-up of sorts to last year's Hanukkah tale, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming. Yes, it does have its share of grim moments—after all, it's about a lump of coal! But it's also full of humor, and it serves as a nice diversion from all the holiday schmaltz.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Rarely is a holiday book so lovely in every way as Kate DiCamillo's Great Joy. The story is heartwarming yet wonderfully subdued; the artwork glows. What's more, this short tale has a message that's bound to resonate with readers of all ages.
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
The weather outside is decidedly not frightful in balmy Savannah, Georgia, where Weezie Foley is gearing up for what she hopes is her best Christmas ever. She expects her antique shop to grab first prize in the annual historical district window-decorating contest, even if the nasty new owners of the shop across the street seem hell-bent on sabotaging her victory. Even better, Weezie suspects this might be the year that her boyfriend, Daniel, finally pops the question.
Christmas Remembered by Tomie DePaola
Tomie dePaola's new book, Christmas Remembered, is billed as the renowned illustrator's first work for all ages. In 15 short chapters he describes his favorite holiday memories, starting in 1937 when he was three years old and his parents installed a fake, plug-in fireplace in their Connecticut apartment.
The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg
In Elizabeth Berg's lyrical recasting of the story of Mary and Joseph, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, we are reminded that the parents of Jesus were a startlingly young, humble couple. Deeply in love, they are struggling to understand the mystery of what visiting angels have told them: that Mary will bear the Son of God.
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
February 2010, Algonquin Books
There are no black people in Nature today. Only us.
The wind catches me at the ankles now. My socks have fallen on the climb up the stairs to this lookout point.
“No way we could get Miss Doris up to see this,” Drew says.
“There’s no way my mama wants to be out in the thick of cold climbing up stairs to see anything but the Lord himself,” Aunt Loretta says. “But if she did. . .”
Aunt Loretta doesn’t finish what she’s saying. She stares out at the falls and moves her hands in the air like she can measure what she is seeing. Like she’s framing it with her hands.
“You about done with this cold, Rachel?” Drew asks.
Aunt Loretta is leaning on the rail, looking at the waterfall now. She’s hypnotized. I think she is crying.
Drew sees that she is crying too.
Aunt Loretta cries without sound, but I can see a shudder go through her. Is it the cold wind? Drew is saying something to her. I hear in only half volume. The wind is in my good ear, and in the other a thrumming, a hum.
“I want to be that girl again,” is all I can hear of what Aunt Loretta says. Drew seems to know what she means. He leans into her, but I move away. I don’t want hands on me.
I take small steps backing off the bridge. I walk slowly and carefully. What I’m scared of I can’t explain. It’s the look in Aunt Loretta’s eyes, the way her voice sounds small and hurt. Maybe she’s measured a long icy fall.
If you're looking for something to give the literature lover in your life—the reader in the family who likes nothing more than to get lost in a big story—look no further. A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book is a masterful look at the early years of the 20th century through the lens of a large, upper-class bohemian Edwardian family.
Byatt builds her world meticulously, and the reader feels fully enveloped in a world that is in some ways before its time: full of artists, feminists, anarchists, nudists and other idealists who thought they could create utopia. What came instead was the Great War, which provides a powerful coda to this memorable story.
Read the rest of our 12 books of Christmas series.
OK, so choosing a John Irving novel for our 12 books of Christmas series isn't exactly going out on a limb—the book was one of the most anticipated releases of the fall and got some serious attention back in November, including our interview. But when Alden Mudge (who has been conducting interviews with literary luminaries for BookPage since long before my tenure here) writes that Last Night in Twisted River contains "some of the most entertaining and intellectually playful storytelling of Irving’s career," I sit up and take notice. Though it didn't make our Top 10 list for 2009, this novel would make a great gift for the guy (especially a dad) in your life who likes to read.
Read more in our 12 books of Christmas series.
Read more about John Irving on BookPage.com.
Any architecture or history buff would be pleased to find The Secret Lives of Buildings under the tree. Through the eyes of first-time author Edward Hollis, an architect who specializes in restoring historic buildings, readers will discover that iconic structures like the Parthenon, the Berlin Wall and even the Vegas Strip have led more storied lives than we realize. Hollis shares them with a fairy-tale charm, says reviewer Anne Bartlett, even going so far as to begin "most of his chapters with 'Once upon a time.' "
Still not convinced? We at BookPage enjoyed this book so much that it made it onto our list of 2009's Top 10 Nonfiction books.
You can find more great gift ideas in our holiday catalog.
When I looked at my calendar this morning, I realized that today is the Winter Solstice. For many people, the 21st of December signifies the start of winter, the shortest day of the year, or a day for religious or cultural celebration. For me, thoughts of the date immediately brought to mind a scene from one of my very favorite children’s novels: Jerry Spinelli’s Love, Stargirl.
Much of the book anticipates a Winter Solstice party. As she plans this event, Stargirl is distracted from other sad or confusing occurrences in her life. For one, she’s recently moved to a new city and lost her first love.
But at sunrise on the Solstice, Stargirl is blown away:
When I think back on it, I'm not sure which was the highlight for me—the sunrise itself or the moments before. I stood to one side, next to Archie, Betty Lou's sled in front of me. I would never have guessed that so many people could be so silent. It was more than the absence of sound. It was a presence. An expectation. A reverence. All of us staring at the blank tent wall, the black curtain that would not uncover the show but would become the show itself, staring, waiting, as pure a waiting as I've ever known. I never had the sense that it arrived—it was simply not there, and then it was there: a long thin stem of light the width of Dootsie's little wrist, a thin golden gift from the sun come 93 million miles to mark a perfect golden circle on the Blackbone panel. Gasps erupted behind me. The circle blurred as tears filled my eyes. Someone sobbed, “Oh my.” Someone cried softly, “Beautiful!” Many of us could have reached out and touched the golden stem. No one did.
And according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, there will be a Stargirl movie out in December 2010, although I’ve got no confirmation on that.
Any Stargirl fans have a plug they’d like to share in the comments?
Related in Bookpage: In 2000, reviewer Miriam Drennan wrote that Stargirl “is an anti-teenager, if ever there was one: She's not cool, she shuns the attentions and opinions of others, and offers her heart in completely constructive ways.”
Got an armchair traveler in the family? Then don't miss LIFE Wonders of the World. Not content to stop at 7 wonders, the LIFE editors have chosen 50 to include in this full-color, coffee table book. As reviewer Linda Castellitto says, "Each wondrous entity—such as the Empire State Building, the Serengeti and the International Space Station, to name a few—gets the full-on LIFE magazine treatment in large, color-drenched photos taken by a variety of talented photographers." (Read Linda's full review here.) The book also includes 8x10 posters of the 7 wonders of the world for readers to hang on their walls.
What are you buying for the book lovers in your life this year?
You can find more great gift ideas in our holiday catalog.
Yesterday I interviewed YA author Ally Carter to chat about her February 9 release, Heist Society. The novel has been described as “Ocean's 11 meets Veronica Mars,” and I think that’s a fair assessment. Without giving away too many details of the plot, I’ll just say that Heist Society is a perfect pick for teens who love watching “The Thomas Crown Affair,” or for those who have visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and are more fascinated by what’s missing than what’s there.
Because I know BookPage readers love a good teaser, I’ll share a few tidbits I was able to squeeze out of Carter.
The fourth book in her hugely popular Gallagher Girls series is coming out in June 2010, and she plans to release the title “very very soon,” she said. “Stay tuned within the next two weeks.” She sent a draft of the manuscript to her editor earlier this week, and it should be in copy edits soon.
This book will take up a few weeks after we left Cammie in Galagher Girls #3, Don't Judge A Girl By Her Cover. Cammie has gone to visit BFF Bex in London during winter break, Carter said, “and of course the threats and the danger have gone with her.”
“The action kicks off really fast in this one and hopefully it stays really fast throughout the whole thing. Cammie’s in some serious hot water this time around, so it’s been very interesting to see her get herself out of it.”
And that’s all I’ll share right now! Stay tuned for the complete interview. It’ll go live on BookPage.com on February 9.
And a fun question for our commenters: If you could talk to any YA novelist, who would it be? I think I'd like to talk to E.L. Konigsburg.
This time of year there are “Best Books of 2009” lists everywhere you turn – most authoritatively of all, BookPage’s. :)
But since we can only highlight a handful of the great titles out there, we wanted to let you weigh in. At the end of our most recent edition of BookPageXTRA, we asked our readers to tell us their favorite book of 2009. Many of the results confirmed our own opinions. Others surprised us. Others just cracked us up. (Staff favorite response: “Only one??? – You MUST be kidding!!!! Which genre???” We understand that reader’s frustration.)
After reviewing the 2,000+ responses in our reader poll, I've made some unscientific conclusions:
If you’re not already a BookPageXTRA subscriber and you’d like to enter our reader poll, click the “CLICK HERE TO ENTER” ad at the top of this e-newsletter. (And you can also subscribe to BookPageXTRA.) If you do receive XTRA and you haven’t entered, look for the e-mail in your inbox titled “BookPageXTRA: Celebrate the New Year with free books.” (It’s probably buried under the 84,000 other e-newsletters you’re getting this time of year.)
And please enter before Dec. 22. We're ready to tally our book winner and award a lucky reader a box of free books!
At BookPage, we were excited to read about Paul Lewis’s Wilkie Collins project; from now until August 22, you can receive The Woman in White in daily e-mail installations.
If you like reading in this format, you are going to go crazy over DailyLit. (And hey! You can read books at work and pretend like you’re checking e-mail.) This website will e-mail you books that are public domain or available under Creative Commons licenses – for free!
DailyLit’s FAQ page provides an example of a typical reading experience:
I am currently reading Dracula, which has 187 installments and I am receiving installments on weekdays, i.e. 5 days/week. So at most it will take me 187/5 = 37 weeks. But when I am on the train or waiting, I often read more than one installment, so I usually wind up reading about 10 installments/week. This means I will finish Dracula in about 19 weeks or 5 months.
Would you like to read a book via e-mail? Do any of their book options look good to you?