Ring in the Holidays with These Satisfying Reads

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Bah humbug! What, too soon? Sorry. With the holidays just a good stone’s throw away, I guess that I was just getting into the spirit-of-the-season. Okay, maybe the whole “humbug” thing was a bit much, but the “bah” was sincere. You see, I love the holiday season, (at least the being-with-family and the goodwill-to-all people and the soy-nog stuff), but I hate the way that whole thing has been co-opted by marketers, cynics and bookstore owners! And while I can do little to affect the marketers and the cynics, I can do absolutely nothing to stop those dastardly bookstore folk! Okay, before I start making suggestions, a disclaimer: I have made no attempt to recommend any books that are overtly religious. This is not because I am opposed to faith — organized or disorganized, but because I am woefully unqualified. Between Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Boxing Day and my mom’s birthday, the likelihood of me selecting something that will fit into your faith is, um, unlikely (even ask my mom). Really quickly: if you ARE invited to a religious ceremony and are kinda’ freaking out about what’s cool and what’s verboten, buy (and read!), How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, Fifth Edition by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur Magida ($19.99). A terrific read on when to stand, when to sit, when to genuflect, when to embrace and when to take money out of your wallet! Easing into the Holidays Heaven forbid (or “great nothingness forbid” for our atheist friends) we allow ourselves to enter the holidays unscripted. Can you imagine spontaneous joy erupting from family and friends showing up at your home with more smiles and stories than gifts? Of course without planning, there might be more holiday spirit than spirits, so here are a few book suggestions: Tales for adults: David Sedaris’ collection of essays, Holidays on Ice ($10) is a perfect read for anyone who can set aside propriety, decorum and self respect. The book is heartwarming, devastating, hilarious and kinda’ inappropriate (an acquaintance called it “wicked!”). Do not buy this book for your grandmother thinking that this is a lovely tribute to the winter wonderland. Tales for kids (ages 9–12): The Best Christmas Pageant Ever! ($5.99) by Barbara Robinson is wonderful! Not just because the Herdman family made my family look normal (“… even the girls smoked cigars!”), but because it is written for kids, adults, religious people, secular people and you (see how personal this book review thing can be?). Tales for everyone: A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd. You’ve seen the movie a million times. I betcha’ a nickel that you can quote at least three scenes from the film. The book is even better! Bonus tale: With a tip-of-the-hat to Clement Moore, Dav Pilkey has written, ‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving ($6.99), a turkey-take on gratitude and celebration! Written for 4 to 8 year-olds, but no one will question you for reading this to a 3 year-old or a 47 year-old! Spoiler alert: there is a happy ending! On Gratitude Eric Hoffer, author of The True Believer ($13.99), a book as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1951, beautifully offered, “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” I love the idea of being grateful. As soon as my kids were old enough to appreciate things, at bedtime every night their mom would have them share something that they were grateful for. Every day they had to pay attention. Every day they would find something that would help them to understand what wonderful blessings surrounded them. Having shared that, I have a very difficult time finding books that are not merely rehashing the same greeting card sentiment of merely counting their blessings. Something different and thoughtful? I recommend Margaret Visser’s, The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude. Known as an “anthropologist of everyday life,” Margaret Visser has, in five award-winning books, uncovered and illuminated the intriguing and unexpected meanings of everyday objects and habits. Now she turns her keen eye to another custom so frequently encountered that it often escapes notice: saying “Thank you.” What do we really mean by these two simple words? This fascinating inquiry into all aspects of gratitude ranges from the unusual determination with which parents teach their children to thank others, to the difference between speaking the words and feeling them, to the ways different cultures handle the complex matters of giving, receiving and returning favors and presents. Really good stuff. Finally, why feel gratitude? I’ll offer you two quotes and let you decide: John Milton (super smart poet and 17th century civil servant and author of Paradise Lost, $7.99), “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” Joseph Stalin (quintessential evil man), “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.”
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Tags: book review, holiday reads, Reader's Lounge

Scott Harris

Liberal, Jewish and vegan. Scott has six kitties, a dog, four kids and a wife who saves peoples' lives. He operates EVERYbody Reads bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing.