Holiday reading to drive away the Grinch

December 13, 2011

Forgive me as I give in to the temptation to begin this entry with a bit of Joni Mitchell:

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

Okay. That’s out of my system. For now, anyway.

I have a cold. N has a cold. Dot has a cold that will probably turn into another ear infection within the week. I’m still reeling a bit from that conversation N & I had in the kitchen last week, and I’m also feeling insecure about my holiday letter and generally discontented with my lot, for a variety of reasons, most of them petty. I’m rather mad at myself about all this, too, which isn’t improving my mood.

I am the Grinch.

Books are usually the river I prefer to sail away on, as it turns out. And since I seem to be almost irredeemably cranky today, I’m going to attempt to overcome my own Grinchiness by talking about books. Here’s a selection of some favorite holiday-time reads, with annotations:*

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis: This is a book of short stories, written by someone who really loves Christmas stories. The stories all have some elements of humor to them, but there are romances, mystery, and stories that defy my descriptive abilities. Also the best holiday letter ever. And the word “miracle” is in the title and I don’t hate it, which is saying a lot these days. Willis includes her own list of reading and viewing suggestions at the end of the book, and they are good lists; she knows her stuff.

The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper: This is a book about an epic battle between good and evil, but it’s also a book about snow, Christmas carols, holly, a big family, and magic. The atmosphere of winter is conjured up brilliantly in this book – there menace is truly menacing and the warmth is truly heartening. One of the things that keeps me coming back to this one is the way Cooper weaves mythical and magical elements into an everyday world in ways that never seem overdone or new-age-y. I used to come home from college, check this one out from the library and read it by the fire with a cup of tea – it’s the perfect book for that. One warning – there’s a very tender and very brief mention of a baby who died a few days after he was born.

Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett: I’ve written about this one before. I love the way it explores belief and what it means to be human and what it means to be a family. Also, it’s just hilarious.

The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery: A gentle romance about Valancy Sterling, long-suffering captive of her prominent family and their stuffy expectations, and what happens when she finds out she hasn’t long to live. A friend gave this to me one year for Christmas (I believe we were in Junior High) and I’ve loved reading it at this time of year ever since. A warning should go along with this one, too, though. One of the characters, Valancy’s friend, Cissy Gay, is dying and also mourning her baby. There are a few passages when Cissy speaks about her baby that still make me curl up in a corner and cry.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: You’ve read this, or encountered some version of this already, right? Right? The Herdman family takes over the Christmas pageant. Meaningful chaos ensues. What’s best about this book, to me, is the way it talks about expectations and how, sometimes, the best thing that can happen is for them to be completely overturned.

Bellwether, by (again) Connie Willis: This isn’t fantasy or science fiction, in spite of what you may think when looking at the cover, but it is one of the funniest workplace novels ever to be written, with commentaries about fads, libraries, research, paperwork, an exasperating office assistant, and sheep sprinkled in along the way.  There’s a cold weather element, but really I  put this on my list today because it’s as reliable an antidote to my doldrums as any book I know.



*Links go either to the independent bookstore where I used to work or to a very large, freely accessible online catalog, OCLC WorldCat, but if you have the titles and authors, none of them should be especially elusive.





  1. I’ll have to check them out! I’ve been feeling rather Grinchy myself.

  2. Erica, I LOVE The Blue Castle — I am a big Montgomery fan, & that is one of my absolute favourites. I actually wrote about it on my blog awhile back:


    I had heard, some years ago, that they were trying to make a movie (in Canada) based on the book, although nothing has ever materialized. I envision Paul Gross as Barney. Drool drool. ; )

    • It’s one of my very favorite comfort reads. I would love a movie, but I’d also worry that it wouldn’t live up to the book.

  3. I love River. Such a beautiful song.

    The Dark is Rising! Now there’s a book I haven’t thought about for a while. What with this and Bunnicula it’s been a trip down memory lane! I loved them too although they also terrified me! In a similar vein, John Masefield’s ‘The Box of Delights’ is a nice, kind of spooky Christmas read.

    I have never heard of The Blue Castle but a recommendation from you and from Loribeth makes me feel that I am missing out! I love Anne of Green Gables and I am definitely going to seek this one out. Top of my list is ‘Good Omens’ at the moment though.

    Shamefully, never heard of Connie Willis so that is another author for me to explore.

    I do so LOVE books, what would life be without them?! A far grinch-ier place I suppose 🙂

  4. Oh, I love those lyrics. Thanks for quoting them. I needed to hear that today 🙂

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