"}
Words

A Literary Christmas

Stories for the season

Monday, December 16, 2013

This year, I didn’t try to fight the Christmas spirit. I’ve been playing holiday albums by everyone from Elvis to John Denver, decked the tree much earlier than usual, have been attending community events such as the Holiday Port Festival and the Lighted Boat Parade, and have even sought out reading material focused on the joys of the season.

When I picked up a copy of A Literary Christmas: Great Contemporary Christmas Stories at the Bellingham Public Library last week, I was expecting to find a compendium of feel-good tales that would further enhance the festive feelings that have been pouring forth from my soul of late.

Instead, what I found in the collection—which was published in 1992 by the Atlantic Monthly Press—was a grittier, more realistic look at what the season of comfort and joy can truly bring. But rather than repel me, the short stories drew me further into my Christmas cocoon.

While part of the draw was that the tales chosen were crafted by supremely gifted writers—Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley, Annie Dillard, Ann Beattie, Grace Paley, and many others made the list—the main attraction was, in fact, the themes of discord that brought light to the fact that Christmas isn’t always “the most wonderful time of the year.”

For example, the opening story, Frank O’Connor’s “Christmas Morning,” focused on two battling brothers, one of whom wakes up early on the big day to discover his sibling has a better present than him. He switches them out, and it’s not long before both brothers come to the grim realization that Santa Claus may not be real.

Tobias Wolff’s “Champagne” takes readers back to the dysfunctional childhood he wrote about so eloquently in This Boy’s Life. His gruff stepfather Dwight is searching for a perfect Christmas, but a ruined tree, moldy chestnuts and a daughter who’s making a bad choice that may affect the rest of her life intercede.

Ntozake Shang’s “Christmas for Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo” highlights a widowed mother’s love for her three daughters, but also draws attention to racial inequality—as does Harper Lee’s simply titled “Christmas,” which gleans some of its source material from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Just when you think someone might be having a perfect holiday, Patricia Highsmith’s “A Clock Ticks at Christmas” shows that even when you’re wealthy, you can quickly lose what matters most.

Although there are a lot of things that go wrong within the 27 stories that make up A Literary Christmas, things do go right occasionally. And guess what—the moments of comfort and joy come from human connections, and understanding that the spirit of the season doesn’t have anything to do with what’s under the tree.

Ticket Cascadia
More Words...
Library Love
Crossing the digital divide

For me, frugality is a way of life.

Even when my coffers are full, I look for the best ways to save money—whether it’s by buying items at thrift stores or garage sales, growing my own food, utilizing coupons for nights out on the town or scouring Craigslist’s free section.

When I got a…

more »
The Girls
Cults, charisma and murder

With a publication date at the beginning of summer, Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, has made a big splash on summer reading lists. And, no surprise, the story of a Manson-like cult in 1969 California will appeal to many types of readers.

Those who experienced the late 1960s will…

more »
Endless Summer
In search of the perfect wave

An estimated two million Americans surfed at least once last year, part of a worldwide surfing population explosion that The Economist reports may top 35 million. The international surfing industry is expected to generate $13.2 billion annually by 2017. 

Clearly, interest in surfing is at…

more »
Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bellingham City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Wednesday Market

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Gun Show

8:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Andrew Subin
Tomorrow
Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

First Thursday Art Walk

5:00pm|Downtown Mount Vernon

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

5:00pm|Skagit Riverwalk Park

Memory to Memoir

5:30pm|Village Books

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Zoots Side Bar Andrew Subin
Friday
Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

It takes an island

12:01am

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Party in the park

10:03am

Final Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

5:00pm|Hovander Homestead Park

Oak Harbor Music Festival

5:00pm|Oak Harbor

Beach and Barbecues

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

First Friday Dinner Theater

6:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Anacortes Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Anacortes

Bellingham Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Friday Night Flicks

7:00pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Recent Tragic Events

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wine, Music and a Movie

10:30pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

see our complete calendar »

Andrew Subin Bellingham Farmer’s Market Artifacts Wine Bar Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab Zoots Side Bar Swinomish 2016