Amory, Cleveland. The Cat Who Came for Christmas. Little, Brown and Company, 1987.
Reason read: December is the month for Christmas
Every December I look for a few books that are lighthearted and funny. The Cat Who Came for Christmas fit the bill for the most part, being both a memoir about a specific stray cat coming into Cleveland’s life and a didactic nonfiction containing interesting facts about cats. Here are a few examples: Cleveland delves into the theory of a cat having nine lives; he provides names of politicians and rulers who either loved or detested cats; he shares the dirty secrets of animals shelters, testing on animals (ouch), and price gouging of veterinarians. He shares stories of his work with animals rights organizations. It is not just a warm and fuzzy story about a cat named Polar Bear. But let’s be fair. Polar Bear is the star of the show. The full blown, complete sentence dialogues Cleveland would have with his cat are hysterical.
Cleveland is in good company of famous people who enjoyed cats: Mark Twain, Colette, Walter Cronkite, and Robert De Niro to name a few.
Quote to quote, “You do not, after all, have to walk a wife (p 6).
Author fact: Cleveland likes to drop names. He was good friends with Cary Grant and George C. Scott.
Book trivia: the advance praise for The Cat Who Came for Christmas is star-studded. Bea Arthur, Walter Cronkite, Norman Cousins, and even Doris Day all give a glowing review. See what I mean about the name dropping?
Nancy said: Pearl said many people enjoyed The Cat Who Came for Christmas.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cat Crazy” (p 51).
Joyce, William. Santa Calls. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.
Reason read: Christmas is in December. Santa calls at Christmastime. If you believe in that kind of thing.
When you are finished reading Santa Calls you might ask yourself, is that it? Is that all to the story? But, do yourself a favor – read it again. And again and again. It is the story of a little boy named Art who is often cruel to his little sister, Esther. Together, they receive a curious present which sends them, along with their friend, Spaulding Littlefeets, on a terrific journey to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. Before they can investigate Santa’s reason for the invitation, the children are confronted by a terrible queen and her evil minions. It is very reminiscent of the wicked witch and her flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. Once the children thwart the awful queen, (this is a book for children after all), they are back in Abilene, Texas in the blink of an eye. Was it all a dream? Esther doesn’t think so.
Author fact: Joyce dedicated Santa Calls to the Wizard of Oz, among others. Pretty cool.
Book trivia: Santa Calls was illustrated by William Joyce. Each page is a work of art. Enjoy them to the fullest.
Confessional: when I was a child, we would have a community get-together at the one room school. Us kids would put on a play for the adults, enjoy a potluck dinner followed by slightly off key carols. Everyone, children and adults, would eagerly look forward to a rousing (by this point drunken) “Jiggle Bells” because that would be Santa’s cue to stumble on stage with a bulging red sack of toys. Santa would be slightly tipsy and sort of off balanced as he made his way to sit on the edge of the stage; girls and boys lined up to sit on his lap. I was always a little shy of the fisherman hidden under the red suit and very wary of sitting on his lap. In an effort to be overlooked I would stand behind a curtain and stare up at the starry night; my eyes straining to see Rudolph’s shiny red nose. There were times I could have sworn I saw something glow.
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Santa Calls except to summarize the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Christmas Books For the Whole Family To Read” (p 55).
December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:
- The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
- A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.
- A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
- The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
- Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
- Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.
- Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
- The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.
Where the hell did December go? I really can’t believe the month went by so freakin’ fast. It’s as if I slept through most of it. In a nightmare state. Of course, work had a lot to do with missing the month. Staff reviews while trying to hire and trying not to fire while trying to work on my own resume was really surreal. Then there are the three family illnesses that have worried to distraction. Not to mention having two new very unpredictable cats!
Here’s what it was for books:
- Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress ~ in honor of Alabama becoming a state in December. I can’t imagine what kind of movie this would make. One side of the story is so serious while the other is so silly!
- Made in America by Bill Bryson ~ in honor of Bryson’s birth month. This was a little tedious after a little while.
- The Comedians by Graham Greene ~ in honor of December being the best time to visit the Caribbean (fiction). This was also a movie, I think.
- Apology by Plato ~ in honor of the first Chief Justice being appointed in December. A classic I clearly don’t remember reading!
- Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti by Herbert Gold ~ in honor of December being the best time to visit the Caribbean (nonfiction). I am really glad I read this with The Comedians because they went really, really well together.
- Night Before Christmas aka A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore~ in honor of, well, Christmas! I have to wonder just how many variations of this story/poem are out there!
- The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. The Palace Thief has nothing to do with Iowa but Canin is a member of the Iowa Writers Workshop.
- Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth ~ in honor of New Jersey becoming a state and Philip Roth knows New Jersey oh so well.
- In the Gloaming: Stories by Alice Elliott Dark ~ in honor of Dark’s birth month. This was a little dour for the last book of 2010. Oh well.
For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program: I thoroughly thought I would enjoy My Nine Lives by Leon Fleisher and Anne Midgette. Instead I only tolerated it. Oh well.
Moore, Clement Clarke. A Visit From St. Nicholas. Mount Vernon: Peter Pauper Press, 1950.
When I was a child no five words filed my head with more wonder than, “Twas the night before Christmas…” On Christmas Eve my sister and I would crowd around the cb radio and listen to a local fisherman read Moore’s famous poem. When did he start this tradition, I have no idea. When did he stop, I haven’t the faintest. But while I was young and believed with a capital B I hung on his every word.
Who doesn’t know the rest of that first line, “Twas the night before Christmas”? It has got to be the most recited, most beloved poem of Christmas and all year round. I went years without knowing who wrote it but could recite it line for line.
Here’s the basic premise for a poem you all know by heart. It’s the night before Christmas and an overly observant man is just getting ready for bed. He makes comments about how still the house is, how the kids are sleeping, and so forth when suddenly he hears something. His wife must be a heavy sleeper for only the man hears a commotion outside. A portly man driving a sleigh with a herd of deer leading the way flies across the sky. They land on the roof and enter the house via the chimney. Somehow this doesn’t faze the homeowner at all. He takes his time describing the intruder and accepts the gifts he leaves. I suppose the detailed description would come in handy for the police should the homeowner later report the odd event. When the little man has finished unpacking his sack he disappears up the chimney again and drives out of sight exclaiming my favorite line, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!” (p 16).
Author Fact: Moore was a professor at Columbia and taught Oriental and Greek literature.
Book Poem Trivia: Since A Visit From St. Nicholas was first published anonymously there is some controversy surrounding the true author. Interestingly enough, Nancy Pearl doesn’t give any author credit.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Christmas Books for the Whole Family” (p 55). I have a confession to make. Because Nancy Pearl called it “The Night Before Christmas” and not “A Visit From St. Nicholas” I am assuming they are one and the same.
ps~ the version I borrowed from the library had sign language as an accompaniment to the story. Very cool.
When I was in the 6th grade I was in love with my first drummer. Roger from Duran Duran. Short dark hair, impish smile, skinny ties, but best of all, drummer for one of England’s fastest rising bands. When it came time to profess favorites I took too long and Roger, Nick & Simon all were scooped up faster than yelling “shot gun!” or “dibs!” and I was left with either John or Andy. John, with his oh so 80s stylish locks, tight leather pants and sultry eyes was the obvious (and only) choice. Like memorizing the multiplication table, when anyone asks even today, John Taylor the guitarist, is still my automatic favorite. Sorry, Roger. But, that was the end of picking guitars over drums.
1982. Stewart Copeland. He reined for three years.
1985. Phil Collins.
1986. When I was 17 I fell in love with bad boy Tommy Lee from Motley Crue. Couldn’t admit it to a soul. In the basement we called the Vortex I drooled over the ‘Home Sweet Home’ video and dreamed of the day I would see him perform live, maybe ever upside down over my head. I dared to fantasize about getting drumsticks tattooed somewhere dangerous. The only deterrent was the worry of hiring a really bad artist. I all I had to do was picture explaining to lovers, “those aren’t dueling penises!” while fending off the bad jokes; the word “banging” having a whole new meaning. Never mind.
1990. Mickey Hart.
1993. Neal Peart. Ah, Neal. Had to give him up because Geddy’s voice gave me the heebee geebees (still does).
1995. Carter Beauford.
2000. Alison Miller. I worried about the lesbian implications of confessing a female drummer was rocking my world, but I couldn’t help loving the way she rocked out Natalie’s otherwise sweet songs. Even the way she never closes her mouth had a certain appeal. Then I started seeing unsigned bands…
2002. Gregory Nash until I discovered BubbleGum.
2005. J.J. Johnson.
2007. Steve Jordan.
2008. Mickey Hart. Again. Okay, he was never really off the list.
So, here it is January 2009 and I already know my favorite drummer for the year and for life. Kisa! I don’t exactly know when it happened but, suddenly he’s become banger extraordinaire. It started with the Rock Band drum kit but sometime after that it became an obsession. For Christmas I got him a new pedal – some metal contraption that looks like the real deal. No, scratch that. He says it IS the real deal. After that installation, every song is played on ‘hard’ and the “points” have been doubled. Just wait until the cymbals come in! Rock on.
My sister gave me a book on awareness. At this current moment the book is nowhere near me and I’m too lazy to get it. So, I won’t be telling you the title at this time. But, I’ve added it to my January list of books to read and I will be “reviewing” it in my half-azzed manner.
What got me thinking is the idea of mind over matter. December was an awful month because I let it be. My car was in the shop no less than five times. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be such a big deal. Kisa and I carpool all the time, but it sucked something out of me. A sense of independence was lost. I lost sensibility, too – trying to make plans without transportation was just plan stupid.
We “lost” three houses. Since we never really had them, technically, I’m overreacting. I’m making a big deal out of this real estate game. I’m letting my emotions get the better of me whenever the houses get away. I guess I make it emotional because it seems like we have been losing for so long.
We lost two friends. That we did. When N died all I could focus on was 49 was too young to die. Her kids are teenagers – at that perfect age when mom just starts to become human, possibly even a friend. I couldn’t get to the point of relief that she was no longer suffering, no longer fighting a decade long battle. When T died all I could focus on was how stupid it is to be alive. Senseless and stupid. I’m angry because I’m selfish.
Death has had me mean. When someone blurted out “he’s just going to die anyway” I wanted to agree, I wanted to say, “I think you’re right” but I couldn’t . You don’t wish death on someone just because the statistics say it’s time. What is time to someone 22, 49 or 92?
December was an awful month for work, too. I vow to give reviews in November next year. To plan better. To direct better. The whining will stop. The whimpering will stop. I had a chance to talk to my boss one on one. He said the sign of a good leader is recognizing exhaustion; knowing when you are dangerously close to your breaking point and need a break. He ordered me to take the entire vacation off and do something a little less “urgent” with the time. It was the best advice someone could give me. He doesn’t need to know I didn’t refuse work from somewhere else!
So now I’ve meditated on most of what bothered me in December. Most of it was out of my control, but I let it get to me just the same. In the process I learned a valuable lesson. Let go. I didn’t send Christmas cards to people who have never sent me one. I’ve given my last gift to someone who never has the decency to say thank you. I’ve let go of superficial signs of sentiment. It’s time to pay attention to what really matters.
So. Merry belated Christmas and all that happy hoohaw. I had one of those “nice” times. Eating lots of great food, watching one child open gift after gift after gift after gift…and did I mention the gifts? Well, you get the point. It seemed silly after a while. We left four hours later for a little while. I thought I would nap or run or something. Instead kisa made me open gifts. Knives and money – Lamson Goodnow knives and JJill gift cards. I’m not sophisticated enough for Jill, but I love their stuff just the same. I amsophisticated enough for the chef knives, though! Those, I do know how to use! Cannot. Simply, cannot wait to dice my way through some unsuspecting innocent vegetable. Funny, how I was just talking about knife skills at the staff lunch….weird. Anyway, back to the day. After trying to find graves in the snow we went back for more great food and…you guessed it…one child opening more and more gifts. Somehow she kept track of every bitty baby and barking furbie puppy. Four going on fourteen they all said.
Later still. Tried to call mom. Didn’t go all that well. Why am I the one holding the bag of guilt when I wasn’t the only one who went away? Every sentence was torturous and drawn out. Pulling answers from her mouth was worse than the proverbial teeth. Everything felt battle ready and weary. Long periods of silence on either end. Nothing to say. Nothing to make it better. Sorry I asked. Sorry I couldn’t say anything except Sorry I couldn’t be there.
Later still. Tried to find a friend. Found I was too late. Sighed and went to bed.
Too distracted to send cards this year. Each one went out as a reply instead of a greeting. Lame. I still don’t know what is causing this delayed reaction in me. I need to get over this Don’t Care attitude before 2009. Someone else claimed the new year for themselves. Yet, I say you have to share it with me. I just have to say you better.
Typically, baking is not my bag. Hand me a jalpeno and I’m a much happier girl. Pie plates, measuring spoons, and proofing are just words I can’t be bothered with. Call it the Christmas spirit (or just plain crazy), but this year is just a little different. It all started with a resourceful review and a rug remnant. There are some people in my work life who have just gone above and beyond to keep my sanity. I owe them something – nothing short of my soul – for making my life just a little easier. So, I decided to bake cookies. Everyone loves a cookie, right? Never one to take the easy road I decided against plain old chocolate chip and ended up with:
- mint chocolate chunk (2 dozen)
- peanut butter chocolate chunk (2 dozen)
- butterscotch (1 dozen)
- butterscotch with almonds (1 dozen)
- oatmeal with tuaca soaked raisins (2 dozen)
- cinnamon chocolate chunk (2 dozen)…and finally…
- plain old chocolate chip (2 dozen)
Luckily, I had really good company for this cookie quest – otherwise I would have gone insane. She and kisa sampled as I went, making sure my baking was on par with yummy. I could have easily gotten off track with the measuring with all the gabbing we needed to do! Here’s a teaser for an upcoming blog – I started the cookie quest on Saturday night because Sunday was another house hunting day. We were to visit the twin of the house I fell in love with in August! More on that later!
But, for now let me say I’m still not a baker. But, I have to admit – there was something very warm and homey about the smell of cookies baking in the oven; there was something very simple and childlike about being able to lick the big wooden spoon caked with dough; there was something very comforting and personal about creating something from scratch to say thank you.
Happiness is a fresh baked mint chocolate chip chunk cookie.
Slate, Joseph. Little Porcupine’s Christmas. New York: Harper, 1982.
Cute. Cute. Cute! Felicia Bond illustrates this story and, for those of you who don’t know, Felicia Bond is the illustrator for another favorite of mine, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. This isn’t about a mouse. This time it’s a porcupine who can’t be in the school play because of his sharp and pointy quills. It’s a typical story about how cruel “kids” can be towards an outsider, But, but, but, in the end Little Pocupine prevails and proves his worth. The adult in me hates stories like this because the other animals are never corrected when they say “you’re too — to participate. You don’t belong,” all because he is different. I worry (too much) that kids reading the story will learn that it’s okay to push someone outside the popular circle because that someone is different. I’ve been there and it isn’t fun. But, that’s the stoic, always serious adult talking. Take the book at face value and it’s a cute story about someone who is unique finding his niche and belonging after all.
Note: This story is also called How Little Porcupine Played Christmas.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Christmas Books for the Whole Family to Read” (p 56). Pearl calls Little Porcupine “heartwarming.”
Willis, Connie. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. New York: Bantam, 2000.
A collection of short stories centered around Christmas.
Inn ~This is an odd little story about a woman who, while in choir practice for her church pageant, discovers a homeless couple who turn out to be Joseph and Mary. That Joseph and Mary, lost on their way to Bethlehem.
In Coppelius’s Toyshop ~ This is one of my favorites. It’s so reminiscent of Will from About a Boy lost in a crazy, confusing, chaotic toystore. Throughout the whole thing I could imagine rows and rows and floors and floors of toys, games, puzzles, colors, lights, noises, and the sounds of children everywhere.
Pony~ Moral of the story: it is never too late to get the ultimate present of your dreams…even if you no longer want it.
Adaptation ~ An interesting twist on A Christmas Carol. A divorced father wants nothing more than to give his daughter the ultimate Christmas but work and his exwife have other plans.
Cat’s Paw ~ A famous detective has been sent to solve a mystery on Christmas Eve. A weird tale involving monkeys and murder. “We are all capable of murder. It’s in our genes” (p 208).
Newsletter ~ Has the world been taking over by a parasite that causes goodness and peace of earth? How can we take humanity that’s just a little more…well…human? Turns out, we can’t.
Epiphany ~ Another twist on a classic tale. Mel is convinced he has had an epiphany about the Second Coming. He gets a friend and a stranger involved in his travels and suddenly they are the three wise “men.” It’s funny.
A Final Word~
- Miracle ~ Lauren reminds me of me. She’s well-meaning yet corner cutting when it comes to Christmas. Her cards go out on time and she buys gifts for everyone in the office yet something is missing. Enter Spirit of Christmas Present, a environmentally exuberant specter sent to show Lauren the real meaning of Christmas.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 248).
Van Allsburg, Chris. The Polar Express. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Is it any wonder that The Polar Express won a Caldecott award? Is it any wonder that Hollywood made a movie out of it? This is a gorgeous book for adults as well as children. It’s fantastic to read aloud to a child because not only is are the pictures spectacular, but the storyline is wonderful, too. See, I can’t say enough nice things about this book!
It’s simply the story of a boy who takes a trip by train to visit Santa at the North Pole. He is given a special gift that proves his belief in all things Christmas – the elves, the gifts, the reindeer, the North Pole, and of course, Santa Claus himself. This book was such a treat that I now want to go see the movie!
“We climbed mountains so high it seemed as if we would scrape the moon” (p 9) and “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe” (p 29) are my favorite lines.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter on “Christmas Books for the Whole Family to Read” (p 55).
Knight, Hilary. Hilary Knight’s Twelve Days of Christmas. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001.
On the surface this book looks like your average kids’ book. Cute pictures and a storyline you can sing. We all know “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – it’s that silly song that involves milking cows, egg producing hens, and ladies dancing among other things. What makes this book special is what is going on behind the scenes. There’s a whole other story unfolding in the illustrations. On the surface Bedelia the bear is trying to tell you what her true love gave to her during the twelve days of Christmas (Dec 25- Jan 6) and then there is Benjamin, for those twelve days straight, bringing her the goods. In the background there’s Reginald the raccoon. He lives in Bedelia’s basement for some strange reason, and if you are observant, you learn that he pines for the perfect girl. Throughout Benjamin’s trips to Bedelia’s door with various (odd) gifts, you see Reginald struggling with something of his own.
In the end (and I won’t ruin it for you), you will want to go back and look at all the illustrations just a little closer. Everything has a meaning – beyond Benjamin looking to woo Bedelia with twelve lords a~leaping (my favorite). Seriously. Check out the lords. They’ll crack you up.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter “Christmas Books for the Whole Family to Read” (p 55).
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Father Christmas Letters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.
Pure magic. I loved every minute of this book! I have always loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination. From The Hobbit to The Two Towers I have always enjoyed submerging myself in his work. This book is something special. I think Nancy Pearl sums it up best in Book Lust “Tolkien wrote these letters for his children, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1939. Whimsical pictures complement the descriptions of Father Christmas’s life at the North Pole” (p 56). But, what Pearl doesn’t tell you is that Tolkien is posing as Father Christmas, and each letter (one for each year) is a continuation a story (involving a polar bear, elves and ) from the year before. The illustrations that accompany the letters are as captivating as the storyline. I can truly imagine being a child, caught up in waiting for the letter from Father Christmas.
The sobering thing about this book is that it ends the same year that World War II starts. Tolkien even makes mention of it on the last page “Half the world seems in the wrong place.” It seems like everyone needed to put aside childhood in 1939.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Christmas Books For The Whole Family To Read” (p 55).