Need inspiration as we begin the 2020 decade? Help could be in the holiday books lying around the house.
For those who celebrate Christmas the list starts, of course, with A Christmas Carol. Dickens had recently visited the Field Lane Ragged School for London’s street children, which prompted the underlying theme. The novella was published on December 19, 1843 and the first edition had sold out by Christmas Eve. Novelist William Thackeray wrote that A Christmas Carol was “a national benefit and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness”. A terrific book with a powerful message.
In O. Henry’s 1905 The Gift of the Magi a couple with very little money sell precious items—she her long hair and he his gold watch—to buy gifts for each other. Neither can use their presents—her combs and his watch chain—but their love proves priceless. A sweet story to be sure.
I may be the only balletomane who didn’t know that The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was actually an 1816 book written in German by E.T.A. Hoffmann. This was a post-Industrial Revolution time when income grew quickly and the middle class lived comfortably with electricity, lighting, telephones and the rest. That luxury is right there in the Nutcracker’s opening scene—people in fancy dress wandering about in a lovely home filled with gifts and holiday decorations. Ballet with a history lesson.
We’ve all heard the WWI story about a Christmas truce in which soldiers on both sides played soccer and drank ale in “No Man’s Land” between the trenches. In Silent Night author Stanley Weintraub uses stories of the men who were there, as well as their letters and diaries, to illuminate the fragile truce and make real this extraordinary moment in time.
I can’t leave out “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Theodor “Dr Seuss” Geisel, ranked # 61 among the “Top 100 Picture Books” in 2012. The greatest Christmas villain since Scrooge, the Grinch steals the Who’s Christmas presents, trees, and food only to realize that “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little more” than the stolen items.
Of course, there are terrific Hanukkah stories as well. In “All-of-A-Kind Family Hanukkah” it’s 1912 and five girls (“all of a kind”) on New York’s Lower East Side watch the Hanukkah preparations. Gertie, the youngest, throws a tantrum when she isn’t allowed to help prepare latkes. Sent upstairs, she can hear the sounds and smell the smells. Finally, Papa comes home and gives her best job of all—lighting the first candle on the menorah.
Dear Readers, wishing you a new year replete with books in whatever form you consume them and lovely stories of any kind.