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  • Nicole Hill 5:30 pm on 2015/12/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , christmas, christmas classics, , ,   

    The Book Nerd’s Guide to Picking the Right Christmas Carol 

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    Welcome to the Book Nerd’s Guide to Life! Every other week, we convene in this safe place to discuss the unique challenges of life for people whose noses are always wedged in books. For past guides, click here.

    I don’t need to tell you how to select the perfect bookish gifts for your loved ones this year—not in this column anyway. Y’all got this. And if you don’t, B&N’s got you well covered with our Holiday Gift Guide. But there’s lots about the holiday season that book nerds experience just a little bit differently than others. Our gingerbread houses turn into gingerbread libraries. Those shiny balls on the Christmas tree? Those are snitches. And we get snippy if grandma interrupts us in the middle of a chapter to play canasta.

    But wait, there’s more. Personally, one of my favorite parts of this most wonderful time of the year is seeing how many adaptations of A Christmas Carol I can cram into my eyeballs in a single month. Why? Because A Christmas Carol is a work of pure genius. Charles Dickens managed to write the quintessential Christmas novel by making it spooky, silly, thought-provoking, and heartwarming—all while adding heaping doses of social commentary. It’s not often I reread the classics, but I pull this one out almost every year.

    Thus, the viewing frenzy. Of course, not all adaptations are made equal. Some hew closer to the book than others. Some are light-hearted, while others are nightmare fuel. All of them have the advantage of being based, in whatever small way, on the greatest Christmastime novel this side of Tiny Tim’s empty chair. Here’s how to find the right one for you.

    A Christmas Carol (1951)
    Pro: This particular version is almost universally agreed upon as The Standard, and rightly so. Here before us is a Scrooge who gets at both the cantankerous elements of a dastardly businessman and the underlying humanity of a ne’er-do-well returned from the brink.
    Con: The film does, however, take some narrative liberties, adding in backstories where none existed before. Maybe knowing the fate of Scrooge’s mother works for you, and maybe it doesn’t. Though admittedly, nothing here is more far-fetched than what is to come…

    Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
    Pro: It’s Scrooge McDuck in, literally, the role he was born to play. That he does his own bookkeeping seems even more in character than the original Ebenezer Scrooge.

    Con: Outside of Scrooge, there’s some serious miscasting going on. No one’s buying Goofy as Marley because 1) if Scrooge had had Goofy as a partner for years, he wouldn’t have survived to old age, and 2) Goofy couldn’t swindle the poor if he tried. Seems to me the big lug would have made a less-scolding Ghost of Christmas Past than Jiminy Cricket.

    Scrooged (1988)
    Pro: Well, Bill Murray, for one. While it’s not a one-for-one adaptation, Murray manages to be hilariously awful as a Scrooge stand-in. Perhaps that is what a life of receiving five pounds of veal from Santa brings to a personality.

    Con: It’s a crying shame that the movie within the movie, Scrooge, starring Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim, did not come to fruition in the real world.

    The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
    Pro: Where do I even begin? For a movie in which even the vegetables join in on the musical decimations of Scrooge’s character, the story is remarkably similar to Dickens’s original—probably because Gonzo is on hand to narrate the proceedings as Dickens himself. And that’s not even mentioning Michael Caine, turning in a stellar dramatic performance as the main miser, despite being surrounded by a sea of felt.

    Con: A distinct underuse of Sam Eagle, and a distinct surplus of underprivileged mice families.

    Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)
    Pro: Robert Zemeckis’s animated effort is tremendously faithful to the original story and plays up the frightening elements to greater effect than any other adaptation. Scrooge is legitimately pants-soiling scared of Marley, not just warily inconvenienced. (I, myself, found the whispering flame-bodied Ghost of Christmas Past utterly traumatic.)

    Con: The reviews of the animation tend to fall into one of two camps: it will either take your breath away or make you feel like you’re navigating a Dickensian video game. But what’s not in doubt: you’ll be able to see clearly every pore on the old skinflint’s face.



    And a special mention goes to Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol, which, while only eight minutes long, proves that Mel Blanc can create an even more frightening specter than Jacob Marley. Being haunted by a live, wily Bugs is probably more hazardous to one’s health than any of the ghosts of Christmas. On the downside, it’s difficult to suspend disbelief with Yosemite Sam as a crotchety Victorian London banker, not only because of the dialect differences, but also because I find it a dubious prospect that Yosemite Sam could ever be successful enough at a venture to amass a fortune.

  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2015/12/11 Permalink
    Tags: christmas, , old school, ,   

    10 Great Literary Quotes to Add to This Year’s Christmas Card 

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    Once again it’s December, and that means, in the immortal words of American poet Tom Petty, it’s Christmas all over again. No matter how digitally sleek and cloud-based the world becomes, at Christmas we all devolve to a more primitive state where things we can touch and feel have value; no one gets excited about getting a Christmas ecard, after all, but a real, actual old-school Christmas card? Maybe it’s due to distant memories of finding $5 bills from our grandparents inside, but everyone gets excited about those.

    Ah, but what to write in your old-school cards? You can’t be one of those lazy folks who scrawls MERRY XMAS and your indecipherable signature. You need an appropriate quote, selected not just for the season but also for the recipient. As always, books have your back—here are a few suggestions for the perfect Christmas card quote.

    For anyone who dreads that trip home at the holidays: “A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” (Exiles, by Garrison Keillor)
    It’s a strange twist that most of our Christmas celebrations include a lot of stuff we’d rather not be doing—and Keillor, as usual, just gets that, offering the perfect comforting quote.

    For anyone who can’t be where they want to be at Christmas: “Call a truce, then, to our labors—let us feast with friends and neighbors, and be merry as the custom of our caste; for if faint and forced the laughter, and if sadness follow after, we are richer by one mocking Christmas past.” (Christmas in India, by Rudyard Kipling)
    Kipling’s poem about celebrating the holidays while far away from your home is sharp, beautiful, and will reduce to tears anyone who can’t get home this year.

    For the stuffy and overly formal: “I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.” (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
    This quote can be used two ways: Ironically on your hip and happening friends or unironically on someone who takes the holiday—and themselves—far too seriously.

    For your goth and emo pals: “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” (A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens)
    Not everyone likes the cheerful ending of A Christmas Carol; some folks prefer the beginning and middle where Scrooge is an epic meanie and is terrified by ghosts.

    For the traditionalist: “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss)
    Dr. Seuss has provided generations of people with innocent, childish quotes for all occasions, and this one is the perfect fun quote for your friends and family who consider Christmas to be Serious Business.

    The obligatory Potterverse quote: “One can never have enough socks. Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling)
    At this point the Harry Potter fandom is probably bigger than just about any other ethnic, political, or religious group in the world. That means you have at least one friend or relation who has memorized the rules of Quidditch. This quote will delight them.

    For the Bah Humbugger on your list: “People, generally, suck.” (The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, by Christopher Moore)
    Direct and to the point, this is the Down With People quote your dark, edgy friend will appreciate.

    For those suffering from holiday depression: “I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas.” (The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath)
    Contrary to popular belief, the folks who find Christmas intolerably cheery and depressing don’t need cheering up, they need to be understood. This quote “gets” them.

    For your friend with pagan sympathies: “Midnight, and the clock strikes. It is Christmas Day, the werewolves birthday, the door of the solstice still wide enough open to let them all slink through.” (The Company of Wolves, by Angela Carter)
    Ideal for someone who loves celebrations but prefers to think Christmas is all about werewolves being born.

    Finally, perfect sincerity: “I heard the bells on Christmas Day. Their old familiar carols play. And wild and sweet the words repeat. Of peace on earth goodwill to men.” (Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
    If you’re not looking to make a statement, soothe someone, or comment ironically on some aspect of the Christmas season, this quote from Longfellow is sincere, beautiful, and perfect.

    Now, go forth and start signing holiday cards so you can spread holiday cheer—or holiday sarcasm, depending on your life goals.

  • Dave K. 5:21 pm on 2015/10/08 Permalink
    Tags: , christmas, , , , , ,   

    A Christmas Album from Yo-Yo Ma, and More B&N Exclusives on Vinyl 

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    This week’s three new and upcoming vinyl releases are all Barnes & Noble exclusives, and perfect for the approaching colder weather and shorter days. Two of these albums are specifically meant for winter holidays, but all three of them are great soundtracks for snuggling in front of a fire (or a radiator unit, if you live in an older apartment building).

    Songs of Joy & Peace, by Yo-Yo Ma
    This massive double LP is a Christmas album, in which Yo-Yo Ma collaborates with an impressive list of guest artists (including James Taylor, Allison Krauss, and Dave Brubeck) for 22 tracks of holiday cheer. Many of the songs here are traditional winter holiday songs like “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “The Wassail Song,” and “Joy to the World,” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few pop surprises sprinkled in to keep things lively. This album features two songs written by Beatles members—George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” which he wrote with Yoko Ono—and Diane Krall cameos on a lovely rendition of “You Couldn’t Be Cuter.”

    Elemental, by Loreena McKennitt 
    McKennitt’s first album, released in 1985, is notable for two reasons. The first is that it’s really, really good. The second is that it’s really, really good in a way that first albums usually aren’t. A lot of very talented singers take a few albums to find their own unique voice, but McKennitt basically arrived with hers right from the start. Her clear, sharp soprano voice takes center stage here, backed by sparse arrangements that blend Celtic melodies and instrumentation with New Age ambiance. Standout tracks include “Kellswater,” “Stolen Child,” which is based on a poem by William Butler Yeats, and “Lullaby,” which references a poem by William Blake, and was originally written for a Stratford Festival of Canada production of Blake.

    To Drive The Cold Winter Home, by Loreena McKennitt
    McKennitt’s second studio album, released in 1987, isn’t a holiday album so much as a winter music album, drawing on her memories of the church songs and carols she heard as a child. As one might expect, this album also features simple arrangements, and was recorded in a series of three great halls (two Canadian, one Irish) to capture a bigger, more communal sound. This approach really works, bestowing warm echoes and natural reverb on most of the songs here. Speaking of, her vocals on “In Praise of Christmas” are bright enough to win over the most belligerent humbug, and “Let All That Are To Mirth Inclined” is, despite the name, beautifully haunting, with bells as the only accompaniment to McKennitt’s ethereal voice.

  • Dell Villa 6:26 pm on 2014/12/19 Permalink
    Tags: 'twas the night before christmas, , christmas, ,   

    10 Books for Kids Who Can’t Sleep on Christmas Eve 

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    ‘Tis the night before Christmas. Lights are twinkling in the dark night, the stockings are hung, and the sugar cookies and carrots are neatly arranged on a plate near the crackling fire. The children are all nestled snugly in their beds, and you’re settling in for your annual Scrooged screening. But wait! What’s that you say? The children are up? They can’t sleep and wish to hold an all-night vigil awaiting the big guy’s midnight visit? You, my sleepy elf, need books. Luckily, we can help! Below, find a list of some of our favorite holiday stories from 2014. They’re the perfect way to calm your excited little rein-dears and send them off to a sleep deeper than the legendary peppermint hot chocolate coma. Enjoy, and may your merry little Christmas be calm, bright, and filled with all the delights of the season.

    The Animals’ Santa, by Jan Brett
    With a heartwarming narrative and trademark dual-story illustrations that bring the beauty of the forest and the anticipation of the season to life, Jan Brett has created another holiday masterpiece. When Big Snowshoe describes the Animals’ Santa to Little Snow, Little Snow is full of questions. Who is the Animals’ Santa? How does he get all the presents made in time? After asking all his forest friends, who are as eager for Christmas Day to arrive as he is, Little Snow, unfortunately, has no more answers. He’s growing skeptical. But Big Snowshoe has a plan to put Little Snow at ease, and the ending presents a clever, heartwarming twist that will delight parents and children alike.

    Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas, by Rod Green
    The perfect book for any kid (or adult) who has ever wondered exactly what goes on at the North Pole throughout the year, Santa Claus is an enchanting tell-all. Visit the workshop and Elf Village to see the industrious elves, step inside the mail room to see the millions of letters waiting to be sorted, and, of course, learn how Santa Claus manages to get to billions of houses in one night. This is a story you’ll treasure for many Christmases to come.

    The Last Christmas Tree, by Stephen Krensky
    One diminutive, nondescript fir sits in a lot, nestled among the grander balsams and frasers. As Christmas Eve approaches, the robust trees are picked one by one, and soon the scraggly tree is all alone. He never gives up hope that he will be selected, however, and finally, a jolly man in a red hat picks the plucky tree up, takes him home, and decorates him with twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments. This touching story is a wonderful way to end your Christmas Eve celebration, and will fill you with hope for the coming morn’.

    And Then Comes Christmas, by Tom Brenner
    With lovely, lyrical language, and illustrations that tenderly evoke the coming of winter, this story is a perfectly paced countdown to Christmas. In sequential order, And Then Comes Christmas highlights children’s favorite activities of the season, from hanging boughs of fir, tissue-paper snowflakes, and lights, to making handcrafted ornaments, baked goodies, and listening to favorite Christmas stories at bedtime—and, in doing so, makes the waiting fun! Once you’ve read this wonderful story, you’ll want to make this a part of your Christmas Eve tradition every year.

    The Christmas Truck, by J.B. Blankenship
    Jolly and comforting, and told in familiar rhyming prose, The Christmas Truck celebrates one of the greatest feelings of the holiday season: the joy of giving. For Papa, Dad, and their son, who’s also the story’s narrator, Christmas comes in many forms: the twinkling lights, the oyster stew on Christmas Eve, and the town square Christmas tree. But when disaster strikes on Christmas Eve, just as their family and friends have gathered for their special meal, the cheer quickly fades to gloom. Fortunately, Grandma has an idea that will save the holiday, and the family sets off on a late-night gift-giving adventure that reminds them all what Christmas is really about.

    Star Bright: A Christmas Story, by Alison McGhee
    Everyone in Heaven is thrilled that a baby’s about to be born, and they all plan to bring gifts to celebrate. But the littlest angel, with her red hair and aviator goggles, stands apart from her more elegantly dressed and well-mannered peers. What can she possibly offer to this glorious baby? She finally alights on an innovative idea, and it might just be the best offering, for it’s those gifts of absolute wonder that truly embody the magic and sparkle of the season.

    Snowman’s Story, by Will Hillenbrand
    A charming tale with no words, Snowman’s Story is a wintry delight for all ages. It’s a snowy, windy day when a hat flies through the air, finally settling on the fresh, powdery head of a snowman. Unbeknownst to the snowman, a mischievous rabbit is hiding inside the hat, and he listens while Snowman reads a story to his friends. The moment the tale is finished, the naughty rabbit runs off with the book, and a hilarious romp (that your children will adore narrating!) ensues. Be sure to reach for this story when the wind starts howling on Christmas Eve.

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (75th anniversary), by Robert L. May
    Like hot chocolate without marshmallows, a Christmas Eve without Rudolph is a lot less sweet. Rudolph turns 75 this year, but he’s still as spry as ever, and prepared to use his nasal aberration to his advantage. Indeed, he’s ready to lead Santa’s sleigh, much to the chagrin of his fellow skeptical reindeer. Pick up the anniversary edition for your Christmas Eve celebration and curl up with your kids for a reading of this heartwarming classic.

    Blizzard, by John Rocco
    In Blizzard, author and illustrator Rocco offers readers a vivid recollection of his boyhood experience in the infamous New England Blizzard of 1978. Relive Rocco’s journey into the powder in the beginning, and behold the magic and stillness of the snowy world in the spare text and powerful illustrations. When food supplies start to dwindle after a few days, however, the wonder wanes and panic is on the horizon. Rocco, with improvised snowshoes and a lot of grit, becomes our hero. Get cozy and add this feel-good tale to your Christmas Eve lineup—readers in all climates will find something to love here!

    Skippyjon Jones: Snow What, by Judy Schachner
    Skippyjon Jones loves playing in the snow with his sisters Jezebel, Ju-Ju Bee, and Jilly Boo, but when Mama calls them in for hot catnip cocoa and a story, Skippyjon is outnumbered and Snow White—his sisters’ “favorite fuzzy tale”—wins out. Disappointed with the “shmuzzy,” girly tale, he stomps off to his room, jumps on his bed, and begins to transform into his garrulous alter ego, Skippito Friskito. He and his band of mischievous Chihuahuas embark on a hilarious adventure, and Skippito might just be the prince who has to bring poor frozen princess Snow What back to life with a slobbery kiss. Snow What is filled with raucous, heart-melting fun; it’s a perfect snowy Christmas Eve fantasy.

    What book will you read to your kids on Christmas Eve?

  • Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick 5:48 pm on 2014/12/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , christmas, , , , , , , , , merry christmas!, ,   

    Have a Merry Christmas with these Books and Stories Set on Christmas Day 

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    GrinchAs soon as the holidays roll around, everyone starts talking about their favorite Christmas movies and songs. For the most part, I’m all about it. I mean, I love me some Jingle All the Way and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as much as the next girl. But, as a book lover, I never understand why people don’t get equally excited about their favorite Christmas books. They might not get the attention of their TV and radio competitors, but there are a lot of fantastic Christmas stories for readers of all ages and interests. Like feeling all warm and fuzzy inside? I have a Christmas story for you. Like talking animals? I can recommend one of those, too. Like zombies, theft, and murder? I can give you everything you want in a book all wrapped up in a nice big bow. Just have a little faith in me, turn off the electronics for a couple hours this holiday season, and give some of these books a read. Only a real Scrooge wouldn’t get caught up in these stories’ Christmas magic.

    How the Grinch Stole Christmasby Dr. Seuss
    Anyone who doesn’t love How the Grinch Stole Christmas is, well, a Grinch. My heart grows three sizes every time the Whos gather around the Christmas tree to celebrate the real reason for the holiday. Plus, how cute is Max with his little reindeer horns?

    A Christmas Carolby Charles Dickens
    Probably THE Christmas classic, this book is equal parts sad, scary, and triumph-of-the-human-spirity. Follow Ebenezer Scrooge as he takes a supernatural journey through his own past, present, and future to discover the real spirit of Christmas and save himself from a dark end. I personally liked the Muppets’ version best, but Dickens is pretty good, too.

    The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobeby C.S. Lewis
    Imagine being trapped in a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas! Luckily, the Pevensie children are here to save the day, with the help of some talking animals and a pretty awesome lion. Maybe not technically a Christmas story, but Santa Claus is in it, so that’s good enough for me.

    Hercule Poirot’s Christmasby Agatha Christie
    Nothing says Christmas like a good old-fashioned parlor room murder. Detective Hercule Poirot must figure out who killed Simeon Lee, a multimillionaire who invites his family over for Christmas and then winds up dead. I guess someone must have been on the naughty list that year…

    The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terrorby Christopher Moore
    Christmas is great, but Christmas with zombies is better. When an angel tries to bring a dead man dressed as Santa back to life, all hell breaks loose as flesh eaters begin attacking the town. I just love the smell of brains roasting on an open fire, don’t you?

    The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry
    I’m pretty sure anyone who has ever attended school read this in their English class around the holidays. A young couple attempts to buy the perfect gift for each other, but they have to make a sacrifice to get it. The ending is sure to make you go “Awww!” and feel all gooey inside.

    The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    When a jewel is found inside the throat of a Christmas goose, Sherlock Holmes must figure out how exactly this bird laid such a valuable egg. Expect a jewel heist, fowl hijinks, and some brilliant deductions by our favorite detective.

    Letter from Father Christmasby J.R.R. Tolkien
    Did your parents ever leave you notes from Santa when you were a kid? Well, Tolkien used to entertain his children every year with letters from Mr. Claus, telling them all about the shenanigans going on in the North Pole. These letters were compiled into one heartwarming and magical Christmas collection. No hobbits, though, sorry.

    Visions of Sugarplumsby Janet Evanovich
    Stephanie Plum can’t even get a day off for Christmas. Between a toymaker who skipped bail, her crazy family, and the strange but sexy guy who showed up in her kitchen, Stephanie’s going to need a Christmas miracle to get through the holidays.

    Matchless: A Christmas Story,” by Gregory Maguire
    Gregory Maguire takes the sad tale of “The Little Match Girl” and gives us a slightly more upbeat version. While her fate doesn’t change, we’re introduced to a young boy named Frederik who unknowingly crosses her paths. The same strange magic that the Little Match Girl discovers helps save him, too, albeit in a very different way.

    What’s your favorite tale set on Christmas?

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