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Wednesday, 05 December 2007 00:00

Reading for the holidays

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Books are the ideal gift for the Yuletide season. Think of the many advantages in giving a book to a friend or loved one for Christmas. Books provide hours of pleasure. They don’t add inches to the waistline. Books travel well — the giver needn’t fear breakage — and they pack easily into a bag or the car. Finally, the least adroit among us can gift-wrap a book and construct a package that looks decent. And if we’re unsure what book to give the booklover in our life, we can always purchase and bestow on them a gift card, which takes even less space and affords your bibliophile the added pleasure of leisurely browsing a bookshop.

One book that should appeal to a variety of readers is Christmas With Southern Living: 2007 (ISBN 978-0-8487-3152-6, $29.95). This Christmas treasure house contains more than 100 recipes ranging from Twice-Baked Smoky Sweet Potatoes to Christmas Gorp. In addition, the editors give tips on decorating your tree and house, on throwing great Christmas parties, and on organizing the season to be jolly rather than depressing or exhausting. The illustrations in Christmas With Southern Living glimmer on the pages — I never knew there were so many shades of red — to make this an attractive gift for the cook and party planner in your life.

For the toddler set, Thomas Kinkade, whose art these days is, like the speech of most politicians, ubiquitous and false, has nonetheless created a lovely board book, Away In The Manger (978-0-06-0787356, $6.99). His drawings complement the lyrics of this beloved song, taking us from the manger to a Victorian village. Since the book may be sung as well as read, it offers a beautiful opportunity to teach small children this classic carol.

Tom Newsome won his fame as an illustrator for his paintings of Santa Claus. In his paintings for Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas (1-40371-604-8, $10.99), he gives us wonderful pictures of Saint Nick, plump, red-cheeked, and full of life. Parts of each of Newsome’s paintings shine with a hard, almost plastic glimmer — the doll and the horn in Santa’s sack, for example — a technique which is sure to catch the eye of readers of all ages, but will appeal most strongly to the pre-school set. This reasonably priced book will undoubtedly find a special place on the bookshelf and become a part of annual holiday tradition.

If you’ve ever wondered about the origin and meaning of the candy cane, The Legend of the Candy Cane: The Inspirational Story of Our Favorite Christmas Candy (10: 0-310-21247-2, $15.99) offers a few speculative answers. Written by Lori Walburg, an editor at Zondervan Press, and illustrated by the talented James Benardin, this children’s book explains the connection between the candy cane and the Nativity. A stranger moves to a prairie town, rents a run-down store, and begins fixing it up. He remains a mystery to the townspeople until a little girl, Lucy, offers to help him. As they open crates and boxes together, she discovers that he is opening a candy store. After he explains to her the meaning of the candy cane, the two of them spread the news and the story of “our favorite Christmas candy” by delivering candy canes throughout the town. Younger elementary school children should enjoy this book, and parents will find it a delight to read to their kindergartners.

In The Handmaid and the Carpenter (1-4000-65380, $17.95), best-selling author Elizabeth Berg offers us the story of Mary and Joseph as seen through their own eyes. Her short novel shows us how, faced by the bizarre circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, Mary and Joseph must have struggled to trust each other. Her story does not end with Christmas, but continues until the couple flees with their infant son to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre of the children. Always a pleasure to read, Berg’s prose in The Handmaid and the Carpenter is concise and classical in style. Here she writes of Mary on her arrival in Bethlehem:

“A stable? I am to give birth in a stable?” Where would the hot water come from? Where the clean white cloths? Where the midwife’s stone, so that she could sit properly between Mary’s legs, and where the midwife’s assistants to hold Mary in such a way that she might better push? From where would come the aromatic oils to massage into her temples, the giant fennel to speed the labor, the sawdust to soak up the blood?

In Midnight Clear (10: 1414316593, $9.99), Jerry and Dan Jenkins bring together a collection of lost characters to tell their Christmas story: a youth pastor, a widow and her son, a woman who has broken with her family, a man who has finally hit bottom in his life, and the owner of the convenience store, Mr. K’s Quick Stop. Here in this store fate and circumstance draw the characters together on Christmas Eve. The simple plot and style of this book, which was also made into a movie, does not detract from its message of hope and of changed perceptions in the way the characters view both themselves and others.

In addition to these and dozens of other new Christmas books stocked in local bookstores, readers may also elect to return to the classics when selecting gifts — A Christmas Carol, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, The Gift of the Magi, and many more titles which, though created in years past, are still valued by all who love good stories of the season.

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