I have pretty low standards for how coherent something has to be before I post it, but the 800 words I wrote on George Barr McCutcheon’s Mr. Bingle last week didn’t meet them. Basically, the problem was that I loved the first few chapters of the book, hated the rest, and allowed my extremely conflicted feelings about George Barr McCutcheon to get all over everything. Read the rest of this entry ?
Posts Tagged ‘christmas’
I realized, as I was looking around for Christmas stories to read this year, that when I think about Christmas stories I’m only thinking about one kind of Christmas story. For me to even read a Christmas story means it’s probably set in the modern day, or, you know, the time period in which it was written. And it’s got to be set in something resembling reality. Like, I’ve enjoyed stories about talking mice, for sure, but if your Christmas story consists of a talking mouse telling a story about how another talking mouse got killed by a cat as a direct result of not believing in Santa Claus, I’m hitting the back button. So it was fitting that I want directly from The Mouse and the Moonbeam to The Blossoming Rod, which is the most prosaic Christmas story I’ve ever read. Read the rest of this entry ?
So, Thomas Nelson Page was apparently a Lost Cause-er. Gross. I’m glad I didn’t love Santa Claus’s Partner. I mean, it’s fine. It’s a nice, workmanlike Christmas story with no indication that the author was super into slavery. It just doesn’t make me want to read others of Page’s books, which is nice because I wouldn’t want to give Dead Thomas Nelson Page the satisfaction.
Also, while I’m not actually going to spend this review referring to the main character by Benedict Cumberbatch names, well…I want you to know that I could. Because his name is Berryman Livingstone, and if Butterfly Creamsicle is close enough for the internet, then Berryman Livingstone is, too. Read the rest of this entry ?
Just Sweethearts, by Harry Stillwell Edwards, is subtitled “a Christmas Love Story,” but it’s not really a Christmas story at all, although it does make a halfhearted stab at the Unity of Christmastimes. It starts with a Christmas Eve meet cute, and ends the following Christmas Eve. I suspect the subtitle was mostly an excuse to publish an edition with a fancy Christmas-themed binding.
Two years ago I spent a day in December at the library and read all the Christmas stories I could get my hands on, plus this. I promptly forgot the title, but I’ve thought of it from time to time over the past couple of years, and when I finally figured out what it was, I reread it to see if I could figure out why it was so memorable, and whether it was as terrible an excuse for a Christmas story as I remembered. And it was definitely the latter, but the former still has me stumped. Read the rest of this entry ?
You know how some authors have specific things that they really like? Stuff you come across and think, “Well, if I didn’t know this was a book by ____, I would know now?” And you know how some of those things are weirdly specific?
Annie Fellows Johnston has a thing about fairytales and practical life-lessons and jewelry, in combination. There’s always a fairytale, it always has a specific application, and the child hearing it always gets a trinket to remember it by. And hey, that’s cool. All of those things appeal to me, separately and together. But clearly not as much as they appeal to Johnston. And it’s not that weird the first time around, but each time it seems weirder. And I’ve read all of the Little Colonel books, so at this point it seems pretty weird.
That’s a shame, though, because the morally significant jewelry is much more organic in Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman Car than in any of the Little Colonel books. Also, some of the morally significant jewelry isn’t jewelry at all. Read the rest of this entry ?
I didn’t love A Reversible Santa Claus, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. I can’t think of anything I wanted from it that I didn’t get, anyway.
It’s by Meredith Nicholson, author of the excellent House of a Thousand Candles, and it’s got a pretty good setup: a former thief known as Billy the Hopper — for the ease with which he’s always made his escapes — has retired with one last haul and settled down on a chicken farm with his wife, Mary, and another former thief, Humpy. Mary used to be a pickpocket. Humpy used to raise chickens in jail, so he’s got valuable experience. All three of them are glad to be living a quiet life within the law, but one day the Hopper sees a wallet sticking out of someone’s jacket on the train and is unable to resist pocketing it. This sets in motion a chain of events that results in the Hopper accidentally kidnapping a toddler.
From the point when the Hopper steals the wallet, through the accidental kidnapping and well into the middle of the story, he seems set on making things worse for himself and it’s a little uncomfortable to read. It doesn’t help that Mary and Humpy are so hostile to him. Things shift into a smoother gear when he tries to return the kidnapped child and ends up being sent on a supremely ridiculous quest. Everything goes a little more slapstick, and a lot more easily, from that point on — maybe too much so, as the various difficulties the Hopper still faces turn out to be implausibly easy to deal with. Still, it’s reassuring after the nerve-wracking beginning, so I didn’t really mind.
That’s the case with most of The Reversible Santa Claus‘ imperfections: there are things wrong with it, I guess; they just don’t seem like problems. This story has all the Christmas story things — a cute kid, a slightly beleaguered young couple, a reformed criminal, two vaguely Scrooge-like individuals, and themes of forgiveness and people being totally ridiculous. And when you take a closer look, none of it makes much sense, but the whole thing proceeds so smoothly and pleasantly that it’s hard to care. I don’t think this is going to be anyone’s favorite Christmas story, because Nicholson doesn’t try too hard with the emotional stuff — probably for the best — but it’s more than adequate.
I read The Old Peabody Pew last winter, but couldn’t figure out how to talk about it in time for Christmas. Also I was annoyed with it for being a Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin Christmas story about a woman in a small New England town and the man who left town and left her behind, and yet not being The Romance of a Christmas Card. So this year I read it again, trying to keep an open mind and not to skim for things actually happening. It helped to know that they never would.
And on one hand, I liked it better this time. On the other, it’s still not The Romance of a Christmas Card and, well, nothing ever happens. Read the rest of this entry ?
I keep reading Christmas stories that aren’t Christmas stories, but I guess I can’t blame The Weapons of Mystery or Joseph Hocking for the mistake this time. Project Gutenberg claims it’s a Christmas book — they list it on their Christmas bookshelf — but as far as I can tell no one else does.
There are a lot of things I can blame this book and its author for — terrible prose, extreme stupidity, racism, etc. — and I spent maybe the first third of Weapons of Mystery coming up with mean things to say about it. But the more I read, the less inclined I was to make fun of it. It never stops being terrible, and simultaneously predictable and insane. But it also has a weird appeal, and I say that as someone who had no intention of being appealed to by it. There was the stilted prose, for starters. And Joseph Hocking (a Methodist minister) had named his villains Herod Voltaire and Miss Staggles, which was, to say the least, unsubtle. Read the rest of this entry ?
I might be too cynical for Abbie Farwell Brown’s story about how you shouldn’t be cynical on Christmas, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Angelina Terry is an older woman who’s pretty much on board with the “Bah, humbug” view of Christmas. When the story starts, she’s busy ignoring her brother Tom’s request for a Christmas reconciliation (we never find out what they originally fought about) and making fun of the Christmas spirit. As if that weren’t enough, she decides to spend the evening burning toys, which probably rates just below kicking puppies on the Everybody Hates You Now scale. Then she decides that no, she’ll burn most of them, but she’ll keep aside her favorites to perform weird social experiments. She’ll put the toys out on the sidewalk one by one, and people will come along and show how selfish and un-Christmas spirit-y they are. Read the rest of this entry ?
It’s not as if I needed another reason to like Mary Jane Holmes, but I’m grateful to her for creating the need for this subject line, which may be my favorite ever.
I wish she had a better grasp of her subject matter, though. I’m not talking about stories like “Adam Floyd,” a straightforward but tense religious romance, or “John Logan,” a fairly cute story of a young couple renovating their house that could do with some more hijinks. I don’t know that I’m even talking about “Red-Bird,” the story of a Floridian bird who, after being captured and caged for a year, returns home to find that her family and friends have moved on with their lives. There was a bit of Christmas in that one, but I don’t know if it’s meant to be a Christmas story — and that’s kind of the problem with the ones that are meant to be Christmas stories. It seems a little bit as if Holmes, when she said “Christmas stories,” meant “stories with Christmas in them,” which isn’t the same thing at all. Read the rest of this entry ?
Life and Sylvia, by Josephine Balestier, wins the award for Most Condescending Christmas Story Ever. It looks like a children’s book, and it sounds like a children’s book, but I haven’t been able to figure out what the appeal is meant to be for kids. All the jokes are aimed at adults. All of them. And they’re all of the “isn’t it cute that kids don’t know anything” variety. Read the rest of this entry ?
I kind of loved Jimsy: the Christmas kid, mostly for the way Leona Dalrymple always manages to stop short of sentimentality. It’s classic Christmas story stuff — an elderly couple volunteers to house a poor boy from the city over Christmas, and he ends up changing their lives — but there’s no classic Christmas story wallowing, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Read the rest of this entry ?
I am so angry at Louise Elise Gibbons that, when I finished Janet, or, The Christmas Stockings, I took a few moments to fantasize about finding out where she was buried, digging her up, punching her corpse in the face, and then somehow making her watch a dog drown. And I know that sounds horrible, but honestly, it’s a lot less morbid than the content of this story. Read the rest of this entry ?
Today I read seven Christmas stories — except that I’d already read half of one of them, and one of them turned out not to have anything to do with Christmas.
The one I was already halfway through was the creatively titled Christmas: a story, by Zona Gale, inventor of Jarvo and Akko of the prehensile feet. Christmas is, surprisingly, much better than Romance Island, but then, it’s completely different. Read the rest of this entry ?