I am sure I am not alone when I state that cavalierly foisting unsolicited reading material upon book lovers is like buying underwear for people you hardly know. Bibliophiles are ceaselessly engaged in the mental reconfiguration of a Platonic reading list that will occupy them for the next 35 years: First, I'll get to "Buddenbrooks," then "The Man Without Qualities," then "The Decline of the West," and finally "Finnegans Wake." But I'll never get to "Finnegans Wake" if I keep stopping to read books like "The Frontier World of Doc Holliday."Grumpy! I think I tend to fare better at Christmas than Joe, though, and this year was no exception.
Our wonderful housemate, The Don, whom I rarely write about here because he is very mysterious in a cheerful sort of way, gave me a lovely, lovely gift certificate. Yay!
Rusty gave me a fabulous gift bag full of books. Several were from my wishlist and, of these, all were books I was planning to make it a priority to read early in the new year: Runaway by Alice Munro, The Darling by Russell Banks, and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Woohoo!
And the one book that wasn't on my wishlist would definitely have been on it if I'd thought of it: Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story, the memoir upon which the movie of the same name (which I've seen and loved dozens of times) is based. (Did you know these memoirs were published in serial form by Playboy back in the 1950s? Neither did I!) I think this book may trump the book I was planning to finish the year with.
Rusty, whose inability to endure suspense usually leads him to foist at least one unwrapped gift on me days before Christmas, was true to form this year. Some time around mid-December, he cleverly "hid" a book on our shelves, a la purloined letter, for me to find. Not knowing there was a game afoot, however, I didn't look. After 90 or so unbearable seconds, Rusty busted out with, "What's that on top of that pile of books?" What, indeed! It was The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories and, without having read it, I think I can say it may be one of the finest collections of short stories ever to grace the printed page. Well, if you like Christmas.
Edited by Alberto Manguel, this collection includes stories by Alice Munro, John Cheever, Mavis Gallant, Vladimir Nabakov, Murial Spark, and Truman Capote, whose short story "A Christmas Memory" is what led to this volume reaching my hands.
A little backstory:
Almost two years ago, Rusty and I went to Cuba for a couple of weeks for some much-needed R&R. The fact that we chose Cuba is integral to the story, because Cuba, having pretty much no American tourism, does not cater to English speakers. Which means no English bookstores. Which means you'd bloody well better make sure you've brought enough reading material with you. Rusty had not. And it was this crucial error that led to him actually, out of sheer desperation, reading Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I'd just finished and was raving about. My edition also contained some other short stories, finishing with the simple but hugely affecting story "A Christmas Memory."
Rusty -- who is 100 percent all man, I assure you -- will not mind me telling you that this story made him a bit choked up. Which is good because I probably would otherwise have divorced him on the grounds that he's a coldhearted jerk. The story also led him to speculate that there's a short-story anthology niche waiting to be filled: literary Christmas stories for grown-ups.
Given that Rusty has tagged himself the ideas man in our relationship, my job was to do the legwork and track down the other stories needed to flesh out the collection. Those bastards at Penguin beat me to the punch. What pies don't they have their greedy flippers in?
At any rate, Rusty doesn't hold a grudge, so when he saw this book, knowing my great love both of Christmas and of short stories, he got it just for me. Awww...
And elsewhere in the "Awww... shucks" department, I got the online equivalent of a luscious mandarin in the toe of my stocking: a nomination for a Best of Blogs Award, in the Best Book or Literary Blog category. What a smashing way to end the year.
So thanks, Tamara! My head just grew two sizes. Rusty would like to have a word with you. Thanks also to fellow writer and book-blogger Anita for giving me her insider's scoop about the awards.
Apparently nominations close on January 3rd, 2006 (um, hint?). And I swear this is the last you'll hear me pimping this. Unless I make the finals. Heh.