Tag Archives: A Christmas Memory

1,000 Views . . . Break Out the Champagne!

I know, I know. You folks who have been blogging for years must think it’s pretty lame of me to get so giddy about reaching the millennium-mark in terms of blog views . . . but it’s a big deal to me. Especially since I started “The Books That Mattered” just four months ago (October 2013). I was a complete and utter blog virgin before then.


The verdict so far . . . writing this blog has been an utter blast; so much more involving and interesting and invigorating than I expected.

Books I’ve Covered so Far

  • The James Bond Books — Ian Fleming
  • The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath
  • On the Road — Jack Kerouac
  • The Catcher in the Rye — J. D. Salinger
  • Love Story — Erich Segal
  • Goodbye, Columbus — Philip Roth
  • One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — Ken Kesey
  • Soul on Ice — Eldridge Cleaver
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull — Richard Bach
  • The Mole Family’s Christmas — Russell Hoban
  • Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas — Russell Hoban
  • A Christmas Memory — Truman Capote
  • The Fountainhead — Ayn Rand

Biggest (Positive) Surprise: The Bell Jar. I had thought it was a book strictly for confused coming-of-age girls, but boy was I wrong. So glad I finally got to read it.

Biggest (Negative) Surprise: The Fountainhead. As I mentioned in my post, if it weren’t for the Fifty Shades of Grey-type sex scenes, I don’t think I could have slogged through it. The tawdry politics and lousy prose are a perfect match.

Biggest Let-Down: On the Road. I still found some things to like, but the writing just didn’t hold up. It’s weird to see how differently you can react to a book from one reading (in your early twenties) to the next (in your early sixties).

Best Writing: Goodbye, Columbus. A writer of Philip Roth’s stature and longevity doesn’t get there by accident. He was a master right from the beginning. His prose is so clear and crisp and beautiful. It’s so good, I kind of hate his guts.

Most Fun Post to Write: “The Poop on . . . Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” It’s so much fun to write about a really bad book–you can let loose and have some yuks. (I also loved writing about Love Story — an equally terrible book.)

Best Part About Writing My Blog (#1): Connecting with old friends and making some new ones.

Best Part About Writing My Blog (#2): Revisiting some books that I haven’t read in forever, and getting a chance to read for the first time some terrific Baby Boom-era books.

So thanks to those of you who have been reading along. Please feel free to comment and let me know what’s on your mind — love to get feedback, hear suggestions, or just shoot the breeze.

On to the next 1,000 views!



Filed under baby boomers, books, literature

Three Tales to Share This Christmas

It’s a damp, drizzly December out there. Christmas is two days away, though it doesn’t feel like it. It’s an unseasonable 68 degrees here in New Jersey with a tropical heaviness to the air. I must admit, I woke up this morning feeling a bit grinchy.

As I was sitting at my desk this morning, however, I had a sudden Christmas memory that managed to get me back into the Christmas spirit.

It’s actually a few memories from back in the early Eighties. My wife and I had just bought a little brick house (where we still live). For the first time in our marriage we had a working fireplace (yeah!!!) and would be able to set up a beautiful tree in the living room.

Due to a lack of college teaching jobs, I had recently left the Ph.D. program in English at Rutgers University for a job at a big advertising agency in New York City. Some of my best friends from the English Department would eventually move away to greener pastures . . . Wisconsin, back to California, up to New England. Away. But for a few years around this time, we were still all living in the same geographic area, still able to get together for our annual Christmas celebrations.

I have fond memories of getting together with my English Department friends and other assorted kindred spirits. After singing carols we would sit in a big circle and read aloud a Christmas story. Haven’t thought about that in so long. But I can still recall the fire crackling in the background as we read.

I know what you’re thinking . . . adults sitting around reading stories? Where are we, in a Victorian novel? But we actually used to do that. It was incredibly fun and moving and so Christmassy.

So what did we read back in the day? Three stories stick in my mind.

Two are children’s books written by Russell Hoban (and illustrated by his then-wife Lillian Hoban): The Mole Family’s Christmas (1969)  and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1971).

emmet otter

These are two wonderful little stories that are chockfull of Christmas spirit, and are perfect for reading aloud. The Hobans are masters at creating these wonderfully quirky and believable little characters.

I can still recall how funny my friend Jack was at catching the folksy quality of Emmet’s and Mrs. Otter’s voices. (The story was made into a marvelous 1978 television production by Jim Henson–but don’t settle for just watching it on DVD. A good old-fashioned read-around is still the recommended way to experience this Christmas classic.)

mole family's christmas

The Mole Family’s Christmas may not be as well known as Emmet Otter, but it is an equally wonderful tale. Delver Mole is, of course, near-sighted and can’t see the stars that he’s heard so much about. He writes the “fat man in the red suit” for a telescope, and after some close-calls with a scary owl, everything turns out OK:

So that was the Mole family’s first Christmas, and they were very pleased with it. On top of the chimney they made an owlproof observatory out of an upside-down flower pot, and then they were able to look at the stars in perfect comfort. “I think Delver did very well to find out about Christmas as he did,” said Emma.

“Yes,” said Harley, “you never can tell what will happen when a boy like Delver puts his mind to something. Here am I, who never expected to see a single star, looking at all of them. I call that impressive.”

“It really is like singing, the way they glimmer and shine,” said Delver.

Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Story” (1956) is a bit tougher to read aloud, longer, sadder, and not so kid-friendly. But it is well worth the effort.

It’s such a great story. If you don’t know it, run out right now and get a copy. I mean right now. The story has been anthologized in several collections and there are a couple of nice stand-alone editions. (My favorite is the 1989 edition illustrated by Beth Peck.)

I remember sitting around the fire as we read about seven-year-old Buddy and his elderly aunt (two best friends) getting ready for Christmas in depression-era Alabama. Preparing fruitcakes, chopping down a Christmas tree, and making each other kites for Christmas (neither has the money to buy the other what they really would like to.) The autobiographical tale is by turns funny, touching, poignant.

a christmas memory

As we sat by the fire, Susan, my wife, read the final paragraphs. There was not a dry eye in the house as she finished:

And there she remains, puttering around the kitchen. Alone with Queenie. Then alone. . . . For a few Novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me “the best of the batch.” . . . But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880’s; more and more thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather.”

And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

So as a Christmas present to yourself, read these three wonderful little Christmas tales. And as an extra-special treat, read them aloud with friends, family, loved ones. Might be the best present we all receive this Christmas.


Filed under baby boomers, books, literature