It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
As I typed that, I couldn’t help but sing the words in my head. It seems that as soon as Thanksgiving passes, the holiday season is also roaring past. Lights and decorations go up as everyone seems to rush to get their shopping completed. For me though, the magic of the season is best seen in the little moments. It’s in that chillingly cold morning where you can see your breath for the first time (I call it a Narnia moment). It’s in the bright, twinkling lights that help to stave off the dark of the longer nights. It’s in the scent of an apricot coffee cake baking after making it with my mom, just as she did with hers. It’s in the traditions passed down from one generation to the next, and the sharing of joy with others. As Washington Irving said, “Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”
Though the songs we hear say that this is the happiest season of all, it can also be the busiest! With so many holiday parties and commitments filling the calendar, it can be daunting to sit down with a doorstopper of a book. For that reason, I find myself gravitating toward short novels, novellas and short stories during the holiday season. They are delicious, bite size morsels that can be enjoyed in a single sitting, or over the course of multiple days, depending on your schedule.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is the quintessential Christmas tale and has shaped holiday traditions since its publication in 1843. It’s only 100 pages long and so easy to read during busy times. Penguin released an updated version in 2003 that contains other Christmas writings by Dickens that also enchant.
For those of you who prefer lyrical prose, I recommend Ru by Kim Thúy, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill and Bluets by Maggie Nelson. Ru is a powerful short novel based on the author’s experiences after the Vietnam War. From the palatial house in Saigon, to a Malaysian refugee camp and finally on to Quebec, the prose is moving and the story celebrates life in all its powerful moments from brutality to beauty. Dept. of Speculation is the portrait of a marriage whose subjects are never named. It is easy to devour in one sitting, though its piercing language and insights will leave you thinking for quite some time. Bluets is a wonderful, philosophical and sometimes explicit exploration of love and personal suffering as seen through the color blue.
If you are interested in exploring short stories, there are so many fantastic collections out there and now is a great time to pick one up. A couple I have recently read and enjoyed include Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson and The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet and Other Stories by Vandana Singh. Adam’s first novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, won a Pulitzer Prize, and his short story collection gives voice to characters rarely heard from. This collection has only six stories, but they are riveting, disturbing and yet written with such a timeless quality. The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories is a collection of 11 speculative fiction stories. Although each story contains some fantastical or otherworldly element, the stories are rooted in the personal struggles of their characters. Also, I mentioned in my last article that I was reading Tom Hanks’ collection Uncommon Type: Some Stories and having finished it recently, I heartily recommend it as well.
If you would prefer to check out some collections of essays, I recommend In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays by Anaïs Nin, and TheBraindead Megaphone by George Saunders. Anaïs Nin is probably most famous for her journals, but these essays on relationships, written decades ago, are still incredibly relevant. The Braindead Megaphone is George’s first foray into the world of nonfiction. Published back in 2007, its core is his essays based on his travels. George has a perceptively comedic eye and his voice resonates clearly throughout this collection.
As for me, I am currently loving The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson and Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and The Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald.
Also featured in the December 9, 2017 issue of The Independent
Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!
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