My favorite bit of holiday reading so far this year has been a new/old book. Connie Willis is one of my favorite writers. I love her novels, and her short stories make me feel inadequate as a writer. A number of years ago, she put out a collection of Christmas-related short stories, called Miracle. I have a copy in hardcover and pull it out to re-read favorites every so often. In addition to the stories, there’s an essay about Christmas and why Miracle on 34th Street is a better Christmas movie than It’s a Wonderful Life, as well as some lists of good holiday movies, TV shows, and books/stories.
Not too long ago (maybe last year’s Christmas season?), they issued an updated version of this collection, called A Lot Like Christmas. It has the things that were in Miracle, but there are a number of new stories and the lists of recommended viewing and reading have been updated.
The new stories are just as fun as those in the original collection. There’s one about androids who dream of Broadway stardom, one about futuristic holiday decorating run amok, and one about what might happen if “White Christmas” is played so often that it does something to alter reality. That’s in addition to the original stories about the Spirit of Christmas Presents (as in gifts) showing up, aliens arriving just in time for Christmas, and Dickens’ Christmas ghosts showing up in a bookstore, among others.
The nice thing about reading a short story collection is that I can fit in a story or two when I don’t have an extended block of reading time, and I can still turn my light out and go to sleep at the appropriate time. I can reach a satisfying conclusion without being tempted to read one more chapter (though there is the temptation to read one more story).
What Connie does so well is convey chaos. A lot of these stories might be considered screwball comedies, like the great old movies. That’s so appropriate for this time of year, when we’re pulled in so many directions. And then in the middle of the chaos, there’s a moment of peace and truth.
I guess what I’m looking for in a holiday read is something that’s like some of these stories — with humor, a touch of magic, and a dash of romance — but maybe longer. Christmas has played a big role in some of her novels, but the Black Death and a flu epidemic may not necessarily be everyone’s idea of festive (though I happen to love The Doomsday Book as a Christmas read).
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered that the hoopla service I get through my library has some of the Hallmark Christmas books, so I shall have to investigate that.