After the First Snowfall in November (the 7th)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar 12/14: Christmas Nonfiction & Fiction

Thanks to Sprite, the Virtual Advent Calendar continues with this entry for Friday, December 14th.

I'd like to share a nonfiction Christmas classic that I have thoroughly enjoyed and still dig into every December. It's The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday by the American historian Stephen Nissenbaum.  It was first published in 1996, and is still, 22 years later, vigorously selling. This is a dense history, and for lots of people reading at this time of year, I'd recommend choosing a chunk of chapters to read each December.

I've learned a tremendous amount of surprising facts about the history of Christmas in the American colonies and in the U.S. I thought I knew all there was to know, but I learned to my dismay how desperate Americans were, especially in cities, to reduce the amount of drunken rioting that occurred over Christmas. Wassailers extorted food and money from the better-off and in some cities, it was a dangerous business walking about in the winter darkness. Many, if not the majority of these revelers were adolescents and older children. It's important to remember that the primary alcoholic beverage in the early 19th century were spirits in one form or another--rum and whiskey, predominantly.

Nissenbaum, who received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Antiquarian Society, and assistance from UMass/Amherst to pursue this research, uncovered this history, which had been largely forgotten. His premise is that American society desperately needed to alter the way Christmas was celebrated, from an economic and social point of view, and that business leaders, clergy, and law enforcement promoted celebrating the holiday via consumer and domestic culture, and the printed word. It's fascinating!! If you are interested in reading this book, I would go for a hardbound, used copy, which is also cost-effective. I have found that the illustrations are better reproduced in the hardcover edition.

Yes, I did indeed say in a previous entry that I would not include The Christmas Carol in my Christmas book discussions. But!! What was I thinking? I hadn't considered that if you are a big fan of the Dickens holiday ghost story, you may not know how wonderful The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited and with an intro by Michael Patrick Hearn and published by W.W. Norton is! Published in 2004, this edition has full-color plates of the original Christmas Carol illustrations, as well as the work of other important C.C. illustrators. History, art, music--the annotations are so fascinating, you'll go off on so many tangents that you'll forget all about actually reading The Christmas Carol. Definitely a volume to curl up with and share with friends, a cup of cocoa, and some feline and canine buddies.

I want to add one or two more. Just don't know that I have time, so I'll start with the book Christmas Spirit: Two Stories by Robert Westall. These stories were published in the U.S. in 1994, posthumously. In the UK they were published as two separate stories for young people, The Christmas Ghost and The Christmas Cat. Neither are the traditional sweetness and light as are most Christmas stories for young people. In fact, when I read them, I thought they were both better suited to an adult audience. They puzzled me and gave me a great deal to think about.

Robert Westall was a highly regarded author of children's literature, and much of what he wrote was for young people 10 and up, or 12-up. He grew up in Northumberland in England, and these two stories are set there. He also was 10-14 years or so during WWII, and a number of his other books have male protagonists living during that difficult time.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar 12/7--Favorite Christmas Books Since 2013

My favorite late November and December reading activity is to devour Christmas-themed books, whether they be mysteries, romance, general fiction, or nonfiction. Today, December 7th, I'm devoting my commentary to telling you about a host of Christmas novels that I have truly loved during the past 5-6 years.  I am also hosting the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour on December 14th.

Before I begin, I was a bit startled to read some of the GoodReads criticisms of these novels. Some readers diss them, saying they're too cozy, too Hallmarkesque, not edgy enough, and I say, "What???"  The following Christmas reads, like the stories that came generations before them, are full of Christmas spirit. They are cozy through and through, and though mishaps abound, they are full of happy endings. That's the genre. If you're looking for realism, you're in the wrong aisle.

For those of you who love Christmas whimsy, read on.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I recently read Anne Perry's 2017 Christmas-themed mystery, A Christmas Return, which I found to be pleasurable. But even better, and the best Anne Perry Christmas mystery I've read is A New York Christmas, published in 2014.

Another book I thoroughly enjoyed in 2014 was Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron, a book in her Jane Austen mystery series. I must say up front that I do not gravitate to contemporary series that feature famous authors as protagonists.  However, I was drawn to this one, because it included an atmospheric element that I find irresistible in fiction--overwhelming blizzards and blinding snowstorms! I love Disaster by Snow.
I do enthusiastically recommend this title in the series because it was extremely Christmassy, with Jane Austen-era Christmas traditions,  and it did not hold back in isolating the wonderful Christmas household from the world for several weeks.

For Americans, Canadians, and for all who do not reside in the UK, I heartily recommend Christmas in London by Anita Hughes, which was published in 2017, I believe. I read it last December and it was so much fun. Why not recommend it for UK readers? I think any UK reader who knows London at all will find it too-over-the-top with the characters' wide-eyed wonder at London tourist attractions. I, on the other hand, admired its luscious and gooey appreciation for London in all its December glory.

And last but not least for today, one of my all-time favorite Christmas novels:
I reread Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice last year, and this time I had the time to luxuriate in it deeply, think inhale deeply. It is a five-star novel that does not disappoint in any respect. Ranging from Hampshire to Scotland, to my mind, it's the best Christmas novel I have ever read, with something to offer to women of all ages--from teens to 90s. I have had readers tell me that they pick it up every Christmas.  

Monday, December 3, 2018

Welcome to the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour

Correction posted December 4, 2016: I incorrectly stated yesterday that Nan is the name of the blog owner of Sprite Writes. Nan is the blog owner of Letters from a Hill Farm (see "Blogs of Substance" sidebar), and she is the blogger from whom I learned about the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour.

At long last, I am alerting all of you to the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour hosted by  Sprite Writes. I believe there are still days available for new bloggers to sign up.
So, what is the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour?
Individual bloggers sign up to host one or more days from December 1st to December 25th to blog about something seasonally related.
 Nan, at Sprite Writes, connects readers each day with a link to the blogger hosting the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour for that day. Very, very cool. I learned all about Sprite Write's tour, thanks to Letters from a Hill Farm (see "Blogs of Substance" Sidebar.)

I am the Friday, December 7th host of the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour. December 7th is the birthday of two family members who influenced my reading the most. My mother Lois and her oldest sister Ruth powerfully influenced my reading, as lots of regular readers of this blog already know. Lois and Ruth shared the same birthday, though they were 12 years apart. My December 7th blog post will not be about them, but it will be dedicated to them.
My Plans for December 7: To highlight my favorite, not commonly known, Christmas reads of all time.
So even though I love Dickens's A Christmas Carol, it will NOT be featured in my December 7th

In other news:
I finished A Christmas Return by Anne Perry late this afternoon (liked it very much), while sipping a cup of tea from the Sikkim area of India, just south of the Darjeeling region. It's been so difficult to obtain quality Darjeeling tea for quite a while now, due to the successive crop failures year after year, all because of widespread drought. For years now, the news about the Darjeeling tea crop has been very sad. Yes, I'm a devotee of Darjeeling tea. What to do? My petty sadness is so trivial, compared to the losses of those in the Darjeeling region of India, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Riches from the Library for December

Time for Advent Calendars--

On Thursday, I made a killing at Crandall Library, just before what I knew was going to be an unpleasant visit to the dentist.
I'd planned to pick up a couple of Christmas picture books on hold for me (thanks to Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea [see sidebar for link]), and an additional couple of thrillers for Ken, but by the time I left an hour later, I was struggling to carry two overflowing, very large bags full of books and 2 audiobooks out to my car. What fun! While the dentist drilled away minutes later, I shut my eyes and thought only about what was stored in my book bags. Dreamy!  Book Gluttony rules in December.

A few notable selections from the sacks--or, stacks.
My Struggle: Volume 6 by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. It's well over a thousand pages, closer to 1100 pages, but many people are saying that this volume is one of the best in the series. I heard a New York Times Book Review critic who raved about it interviewed by Pamela Paul, the NYT Book Review editor for the NYT Book Review podcast. I was so intrigued by his enthusiasm for the book.
And I find that My Struggle: Volume 6  is a book that you can begin on page one and read straight through, or just flip open to any page anywhere and start reading. As you know, I'm a huge fan of memoir, and Knausgaard does it all in fascinating minutiae. Am I going to read the entire book? Probably not, but chunks of it, definitely yes.

Another book I was astonished to find on the New Books shelves at Crandall: Anniversaries: Volume 1, August 1967-April 1968: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl by the East German writer Uwe Johnson (1934-1984), recently translated into English by the American translator Damion Searls. This is a New York Review Books (NYRB) title, the translation edition published in 2018. Volume I was first published in Germany (East or West??) in 1970. It is over 900 pages long.  The book is organized into near-daily journal entries. I started reading it, but realized I need a very quiet mind to deal with the complexities of language. There are depths here, and I would really like to read it.

In Christmas Books:
Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan was wonderful right up to the last page. I wanted more! Five stars *****

And now I'm reading A Christmas Return, Anne Perry's Christmas (mystery) novel for 2017, which received a starred review last year from Publisher's Weekly. An hour ago I sat down and consumed the first 50 pages, which is more than a quarter of the book. I am enjoying it particularly because the main character is a woman who is well over eighty and has the gumption to go out of her way to help an old, though estranged, friend and sleuth her way about with this friend's grandson, to make a grievous wrong, committed 20 years before, right. At that time a young girl was kidnapped and murdered. This one is set in England when Queen Victoria was about 70 years of age--a mere child, according to Mariah, the protagonist. I love the period details.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Reading Goals Til New Year's

My header for this entry sounds so ambitious, as if I'm really going to forge forth and consume books by the armful until December 31st at midnight. 
I do plan to make reading and listening to books a priority in December, but we'll be busy as well.
This year we will thrust aside our laziness and put up a Charlie Brown Tree.

A Charlie Brown would be one of our own balsam firs growing on our 27 acres, somewhere. Balsams growing wild are a bit straggly, hence the CB designation. We've done it before but have not had any tree of any kind for about 4-5  years. I just need Ken to construct a base for it, so the trunk can sit in a bit of water.
We have the decorations. I have missed a Christmas tree.

So reading:
I'm loving Jenny Colgan's Christmas on the Island (the fictional Scottish island of Mure) a little too much. So much so, that I don't want it to end. It is that good. Do consider it for your holiday fun!

I've just started reading a Christmas murder mystery novel by the Canadian author Douglas Whiteway, writing under the pseudonym C.C. Benison. The book is the first in a Christmas series, entitled Twelve Drummers Drumming, published in 2011. I've read 25 pages and the humor and pathos have kept me turning the pages.  Father Tom Christmas (no, no--please just call me Tom!) is vicar at a new posting less than a year after the death of his wife. His daughter Miranda, age 9, has made a wonderful adjustment to the new village in Devon, attached as she is to the sprawling Swan Family of children. Father Christmas--no, no, please! Call Me Tom is engaging in the life of the congregation, but still there are all those nagging doubts about what happened to the previous vicar who vanished under bizarre and mysterious circumstances.  Good characters are in development here, and good writing. My only hesitation is that the book is 347 pages long.
I bought this ebook years ago and I now see that I must read it this holiday season, if the length does not do me in.

I do plan to read multiple additional Christmas-themed novels before Christmas. Help me keep track.

Norwegian Christmas Custom Alert!
Did you know, or have you heard, that many Norwegians are supposed to have a custom of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve, intended to be read all night? I learned of this online somewhere, yet wonder  if it is truly a custom in Norway. I would love to invite friends for Christmas Eve to participate in this custom, but Christmas Eve is far from an ideal time for many who will have extended family visiting at that time. But what about New Year's Eve? Now that sounds like a plan! I'd love to pull this off. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Bookish Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve

Early tomorrow morning the turkey goes in the oven. It's a 14-pounder. The stuffing is almost prepared and ready for the refrigerator and everything else is in order. We will have turkey, stuffing mashed red bliss potatoes, butternut squash, a medley of carrots, blueberries, olives, celery, red peppers, and dried sweetened cranberries, which is not the salad I was hoping to make. Oh, a special French apple cake, warmed, with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

BUT the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has issued this warning: If you have romaine lettuce in your refrigerator, in any form--as a head or a mix--no matter where it's from--California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, or Florida, get rid of it. A serious E.coli outbreak has been traced to romaine, and currently the source is unclear. The strain of E.coli is one that is extremely toxic. The CDC recommends that if your romaine is in your fridge and is not in a plastic container--scrub the vegetable bins. (Sorry--this is not fun to hear about the night before Thanksgiving.) I had a box of Olivia's Organics Spring Mix, we have had it in salads for two dinners, but it's now in the trash. I visited Olivia's Organics website and they advise trashing it, although no illness has been attributed to Olivia's products.

I promised bookish thoughts.
I'm loving Scottish author Jenny Colgan's Christmas on the Island. Such atmosphere on the Island of Mure, a fictitious island off the coast of northernmost Scotland. I believe it's an island on the east coast--I think it was mentioned, but I could be wrong. The characters are delightful, quirky, and each has troubles. I loved that the characters on the island were introduced in the first chapter, via a very big retired sheepdog named Bramble, who, although he sleeps 20 hours a day, makes a tour of the village during the other four. I have read just enough to get a deep toehold in the book, enough to know that the characters are not super-cozy mush and have real problems that trip them up. Five thumbs up!

Today while cooking and washing loads of dishes, I listened to a New York Times Book Review podcast from just over a month ago. I was fascinated to learn that Lisa Brennan-Jobs has written a memoir, Small Fry, which has just this week been announced as one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year.  First of all, Pamela Paul, the NYT Book Review Editor,  is an excellent interviewer--so every author she selects for the podcast presents riveting content. As a reader who loves memoirs (how many did I read this year??), I was fascinated to learn how Brennan-Jobs came  to write a memoir, how she went about it, what was really difficult for her, and how she overcame the challenges.
Lisa Brennan-Jobs is the daughter of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, one of the most enigmatic and (quirky? strange?-- Ken, a former software analyst, PC pioneer and enthusiast, and one who loathes the philosophy and gestalt behind the production of all Apple computers just calls him very weird) of American business geniuses, to say the least.
Brennan-Jobs was most concerned, during her writing, that people would relegate her memoir to the genre of "celebrity memoir." The book, she emphasizes, is not that at all, but is the story of her childhood and coming of age, growing up between two household's--her mother's and her father's. At first, her father refused paternity of her.

So I downloaded the audio of Small Fry, but, help!, I'm still listening to Famous Father Girl by Jamie Bernstein (excellent), and In Pieces by Sally Field, which as also been selected as a New York Times Notable Book of 2018.

A Very Happy Thanksgiving to all readers who celebrate the holiday and happy reading to those who actually have the time to read during this time. I envy you!

Friday, November 9, 2018

First Snowstorm & Stack Up of Early Winter Books

I didn't learn until this morning that we were to be in the midst of a 3-6 inches of snow this evening, our first real snowfall.

I did know that we were going to get really cold again, which I was happy about, because it means I can go all over the woods without the slightest worry about ticks. Ticks come to life again only at 40 degrees F, so scientists have revealed.

So today, before the snow started, I drove 20 miles to buy all sorts of bird food. Black sunflower seed, thistle seed, and beef fat, a treat for the woodpeckers and blue jays. We can't feed too early in the season because raccoons tear apart our feeders. Those sharp claws and teeth are so destructive, the little varmints! Not only that, but the birdseed is also a lure for bears before  hibernation, at a time when they're eating everything in sight. (In deep cold, raccoons don't biologically hibernate, but their metabolism slows down and they let go of their craziness and leave the feeders alone. In deep winter, they just don't hang out.) But if we warm up again too much (to 50 degrees), the feeders will have to come down.

So as soon as we established the bird feeding stations and Ken called the birds in with his famous chickadee calls (he's very good!), I was off to attend to my knitting and audiobook, Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein  by Jamie Bernstein, the oldest child and oldest daughter of Leonard. Now that I'm more than halfway, I can say that this memoir is riveting and has been eye-opening for me, perhaps especially because I am close to Jamie in age.  (Jamie is 9 months my senior.) In the first chapter or two, I thought her reading pace was a little too fast and too wild for me to closely attend, but after the first couple of chapters I either adjusted or she modulated her pace, because after that time, I have found her reading to be nuanced and extremely well done. Such a sensitive memoir of  an unusual, yet fascinating family and life. The memoir is really a memoir of the entire Bernstein Family.

Oh, yikes! The lights have gone out this very minute! So glad to have a candle by my side.
We've just lost power again for the second time in less than a week. Yes, indeed, we are very thankful for our automatic generator, but losing power so often is annoying. I mean, we've only had 3-4 inches of snow so far. So what's the big deal? On our mountain road, we look at each other and shrug our shoulders.

For new Christmas-related books, I have purchased  Christmas on the Island by English author Jenny Colgan. I thoroughly enjoyed her Christmas novel last year, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery (set in Cornwall). This latest Colgan Christmas title sounds very interesting as well. I believe the island she has in mind is just off the coast of Scotland.

After mournfully returning Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, her latest, I purchased one for the Nook, and can now read it at my leisure. I read almost a third of the novel before I had to return it to the library. I may start over at the beginning. 
Elin Hilderbrand is fascinating. Did you know that she's a graduate of the acclaimed Iowa Writer's Workshop, the  coveted master's program at the University of Iowa? I was surprised, to say the least, mostly because of the published authors I know who attended that program.
Not to downplay Hilderbrand, mind you,  because after all she is a master of pacing a story, and has command of her territory. But most of the graduates tend to be more "literary" writers.

To be truthful, I don't know where to go with my reading right now. I'm still deep in the middle of The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith, the entertaining treat that it is, all 654 pages of it.

Monday, November 5, 2018

November Reading: Looking Forward

I for one am eagerly awaiting Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming (to be released on November 13th). I am planning to purchase the hardcover and also download the audio version.  I'm so eager to hear what she has to say about whatever she chooses to reveal about herself. I find her a fascinating person. I think it must have been difficult to knuckle down to writing this book so soon after leaving the White House, but perhaps not.

Do you ever tune in to the New York Times Book Review Podcast. The NYTBR editor, Pamela Paul, directs the production and every week it has lots of content that's  fascinating. Even when she interviews the author of a book I know for sure I have no interest in reading, I'm extremely interested in the interview! You don't have to be a subscriber to listen. It's carried on iTunes and Google...? I think. Check it out. Wonderful to listen to while washing dishes, cleaning, knitting, you name it.

And of course you must know I've already started lining up the Christmas mysteries and romance book list. Every year, right on schedule. I have several lined up for November and December.
I've now got to purchase an ebook of Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, because I muffed finishing the copy I had out of the library for 14 days. This is the first book in a trilogy, and for me, was equal to the pleasure to be found in her Nantucket Quinn Family four-book series. Onward!

I'm still reading The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith, all 654 pages of it. I'm now halfway (whew!), but it is still a compelling page-turner. So many storylines and characters all intersecting make it a fun read. I do recommend it.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Writing Adventure for November and December 2018

Way back in November 2006, Ken and I had been living in the Adirondacks for 11 months, and I decided to launch a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month) group in our local area. I worked as a writer when we were living in the Boston area, but since moving I had done a minimum of writing. (Too much outdoors to explore and I was working as a NYS licensed hiking guide, of all things.) I advertised widely for the NaNoWriMo event and a crew assembled.  Because we are so thinly populated in our town, our group members, once we were all gathered together, hailed from a number of surrounding towns. Gosh, I think at least 4 towns in addition to our huge town, which is humungous in area compared to suburban towns in urban areas, with a population of only 2,000.

We were an enthusiastic, adventure-crazed group, with members ranging from ages 25-72. I could wax on about our writing forays and celebrations, held in libraries, pubs, restaurants, and bookstores, but maybe I'll reveal all at a later time.

The point is, I'm experiencing a drive to plunge into novel-writing at this moment in time.
So on with it, of course.
I'm supported and encouraged by Michelle Stockard Miller, who is hosting a 2-month novel-writing event, entitled "Sit Down and Write #10."
If you are at all curious, do follow the link.

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo, or something like it? Group support for writing is so helpful, from my experience with it. Pure synergy.

I think I will begin tomorrow morning--or tonight.