Let me give you a leg up on Christmas.
When I received the book, my thoughts went back to childhood and an annual radio program at Christmas time. It was Lionel Barrymore reading "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens.
It was a wonderful show and prompted me to start a Christmas tradition in which I read to my classes, just before Christmas break. I'm no Lionel Barrymore, to be sure, but my students always liked the hour I took for reading Christmas stories. And the one they liked the best was "A Child's Christmas in Wales," by Dylan Thomas. I liked it too and my wife and I now own a Caedmon recording with the Welsh classic read by the author himself.
Back to the book I received. It's Oxford University Press's beautiful new editiion of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol & Other Christmas Books" ($25), edited by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, an Oxford Don. Other stories by Dickens include "The Chimes," "The Cricket on the Hearth," "The Battle of Life," and "The Haunted Man." Douglas-Fairhurst has provided footnotes, a Dickens' timeline and facsimiles of several pages of typed notes that Dickens used when he made public appearances to read his famous story.
Moving closer to home, we find "Christmas in Minnesota," edited by Marilyn Ziebarth and Brian Horrigan (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $24.95). Here's a book published in 2005, one which I received too late to suggest as a Christmas gift.
So I'll do it now. Go out and buy this book and read it your kids and grandkids a snippet at a time, while you're digesting your Christmas goose. Here's a book full of excerpts from Minnesota writers who recall their own Christmases or create Christmases their fictional characters can tell.
In this book you'll find stories by prominent Minnesota writers of our age, like Faith Sullivan, Lolrna Landvik, Garrison Keillor, Jonis Agee, Bill Holm, Bart Sutter, Susan Allen Toth, Syl Jones, Carol Bly, Robert Bly, Michael Fedo and Jon Hassler.
You'll also find writers included from Minnesota's past: Sinclair Lewis, Maud Hart Lovelace, Vilhelm Moberg, Harrison Salisbury, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Politics gets into the act with a childhood memory recorded by former Gov. Wendell Anderson, as well as a workmanlike description of Minnesota Christmas by an anonymous writer toiling for the Works Progress Administration back in the Great Depression.
One of my favorite chapters was contributed to by a famous East Coast literary critic, Samuel Hynes, whose record of a childhood Christmas in south Minneapolis during the 1930s strikes deep into my heart. He's a little kid with a dollar to buy a present for his stepmother. He naively picks up a jokey framed print at Dayton's, a print that uses the word "Damn." His kindly stepmother opens the present, thanks Samuel, and immediately hangs it in her bedroom. A few days later Hynes goes up to admire the picture and it is gone, replaced by a more genteel picture given by Sam's sister.
"That, I saw, was what you did with a present you didn't like; it was how natural kindness dealt with mistakes."
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.