Tag: amreading


Smarter Writing? Read smart.*

There are only 24 hours in a day. Subtract the things that must be done, and there’s not much time left. It matters how you spend those precious moments not otherwise earmarked. As a human being, I want to enjoy them. As a writer, I want to learn from them. Good books hit both marks.

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How does reading fiction change you?

Reading changes me. From the moment I start a new book until the moment I finish the last word, I feel like I’ve been on a trip. What I take away after the book is finished depends partly on what I brought with me before I started and partly what I learned along the way. Let me say that another way, when I delve deeply into a world I already know, I’m more likely to focus on nuances, when I’m looking into a world I’ve never seen before, I suspect I’m like a kid in a toy store who stares at the brightest and shiniest thing. And then there’s the entire spectrum in between being an expert and a novice. Still, when I close the book, I see people, places, and even my own self with new eyes.

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Reading on a Jet Plane

Alexia Gordon I just had time to unpack from Crime Bake before I hit the road again, this time traveling for my day job. Between waiting to board the plane, waiting for the plane to take off (I think I spent more time taxiing on the runway than I spent airborne), and the actual flight (which I spent crammed into an “upgraded” seat so cramped if I’d puffed out my cheeks I’d have hit my seatmates) I had plenty of time to get some reading and writing done.
Pen and paper are my go-to travel writing tools—much easier than a laptop to whip out at a moment’s notice, no danger of equipment failure (I suppose my pen could run out of ink but I can fit a dozen pens into less space than a power cord), no need to search out a power outlet, and no need to stow for take-off and landing. My travel reading varies. It’s almost always paperback, lighter weight than hardback, and no need to power it on or plug it in or put it away when the flight attendant passes down the aisle checking seatbelts and seatback uprightness. Size matters—it has to fit in my personal item. This trip, I chose a mass-market (about 4” x 7”) paperback book because it fit into one of my tote bag’s slip pockets.
I prefer to bring a book with me from home but sometimes I take the chance of finding a good read in the airport bookstore. I found one of my favorite novels, Han Solo at Stars End, this way. These days, the airport booksellers offer as many hardcover bestsellers as the neighborhood bookstore. Once upon a time (within my lifetime—my age is showing), back in the day before airports did double duty as shopping malls, the choice was more limited. “Airport novels” were a thing. Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom, defines an airport novel as, “a literary genre not so much defined by its plot…as by the social function it serves.” Hidden among questionable assertions about what makes a novel an airport novel (the Wikipedia article on the topic contains several assertions that sound more like pejorative opinion than objective statements and has been flagged as containing original research and needing more citations) is a workable definition: a mass market paperback of a length that will last for an entire journey, is fast-paced and entertaining, and that won’t require the reader to consult any reference material. Also referred to as beach reads, TV Tropes describes these books as “the junk food of the literature world”. I think the description is unfair—just because a novel doesn’t aim to win a Pulitzer doesn’t make it “junk food”. I will grant that airport novels tend to be “light” reading. After all, when you’re dealing with crowds, delays, surly staff, cramped conditions that would have animal rights activists protesting if animals were subjected to them, overpriced food and everything else that has turned modern travel into an ordeal to be endured instead of an adventure to be enjoyed, do you really want your reading material to remind you the world is rotten or require the same level of concentration it takes to navigate airport security?
Novels designed to meet the needs of travelers pre-dates air travel. The French coined the term romans de gare and the Dutch called them stationsroman when train travel was the primary mode of mass transit. What’s your favorite travel read? Do you think airport novels are the literary equivalent of junk food? Do you ever buy novels from airport booksellers? Or is your travel reading all electronic? Or are magazines and crossword puzzles more your idea of travel entertainment? Leave a comment on the blog or head over to  Missdemeanors ‘ Facebook page to join the discussion. 

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What's the Best Book You've Read Recently (in your genre)

Part of my job writing psychological and domestic thrillers is reading them. I read most of the top books in my genre every year, both because I love the genre and because reading them is necessary to understanding the market that I am in. I don’t want to write a story that will feel derivative, nor do I want to pen something so completely out there that my publisher might have difficulty getting it on bookshelves.   Most writers do the same. So my question this week to the MissDemeanors was: what book have you read recently in your specific section of the mystery/thriller community that you have really enjoyed. I know that since we all read a lot in our genres, I can trust their recommendations.  First up, my picks. A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window was great. Deep characterization, an unexpected but believable ending, and fantastic descriptions. It deserves the comparisons to Hitchcock. I really enjoyed Kate Moretti’s The Blackbird Season, recently, and Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear. Moretti’s book is a twisted tale about love and friendship. Her vivid characters explore what bonds people and the stressors that can break them apart. The ending was interesting and flowed from the narrative. Also, her setting is fantastic. I could feel the oppressive atmosphere of living in a town where the main employer is gone and people feel trapped.  Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear had me at the edge of my seat. I suspected every male character in the book, but I never felt that the author was playing with my emotions. He was making me see through the eyes of a main character that is simultaneously relatable and completely, necessarily, paranoid. I loved it.  D.A. Bartley: In the last week, I finished both A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window and Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once. Both were fabulous reads and worthy of all the accolades they’ve received. Your question asked about a book in my genre. I think Coben is closer to what I write than Finn is, so for no other reason than that, I’ll tell you what really impressed me about Fool me Once. First of all, Coben does a masterful job of writing women. I find some male writers write the women they want to sleep with and not real women. Coben writes women I can relate to. Beyond that, I feel like that for a genre-straddling mystery/suspense novel, Coben plays fair. As a classic mystery lover, that matters to me. I can enjoy suspense, but I feel a little resentful when explanations come out of nowhere after the fact. I’m impressed with the writer would can surprise me, but when I’m surprised, I realize I should have suspected. That, for me, is the highest form of the art of mystery. Coben doesn’t disappoint. Paula Munier: I just finished reading all of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mysteries, mostly in order. I love Ruth and Nelson, the dual protagonists, and how the author handles their relationship over time. Robin Stuart: Lately, I’ve been reading early works by best-selling authors in my genre. Joseph Finder’s Paranoia stands out as one that impressed me because the protagonist is a tech guy and I didn’t roll my eyes once. I jumped ahead to the acknowledgments early on to see who Finder thanked because it was so accurate – I’m not used to that. I actually reread it as soon as I finished the book to study the language and terminology. It isn’t often readers with my background are satisfied, as well as readers who never give a second thought to how their gadgets work. It’s quite an accomplishment 🙂 Susan Breen: I just read Jacqueline Winspear’s book, Among the Mad, which is not exactly my genre as it is historical, but she does have an amateur sleuth with a community of friends. I loved it because Winspear does such a beautiful job of bringing Maisie Dobbs to life, scarred and troubled as she is. She makes a so-called ordinary woman heroic. She writes about her characters with respect. She also always surprises me with the ending. (I think this is the sixth book by her I’ve read.) Tracee de Hahn: Martha Grimes’ newest Richard Jury mystery, The Knowledge, comes to mind. I am a longtime devotee of Martha Grimes and eagerly awaited this one. From the start, she lives up to expectations. She creates a cast of characters and a world that is charming and interesting. It is an altered reality, with London or various places in England recognizable and also shaped to fit her vision. It is England as we might wish it to be. For me the charm is escapism – people have real problems but they are not precisely real people. They are the essence of people. Grimes constantly impresses me with her ability to have the reader play along with her quirky cast. For example, in The Knowledge I bought into an eleven-year-old girl conning her way onto an international flight and following a bad guy to Nairobi. I’m the same person who when reading some thrillers thinks – really, they wouldn’t find a way to contact SOME branch of law enforcement!! My mind wanders as I think of ways to secretly contact my neighbor, distant relatives, or the head of Homeland Security without the bad guys catching on. At some point I have to deliberately say, okay, let’s believe the author and keep reading. That’s one of the joys of reading Grimes. Through her attention to detail, she creates a slightly altered universe where all things on the page seem possible. We are, in some ways, through the looking glass. C. Michele Dorsey:  I loved Before We Were Yours because it was a mystery without a murder and blended history with mystery through the voice of a contemporary hero. I was impressed that the hero never whined, something I am really tiring of in books. The author (Lisa Wingate) was masterful in blending backstory with the protagonist’s own story. Not my genre but an impressive book combining two.  Alexia Gordon: This question has been hard for me to answer because, honestly, much of what I’ve read lately has disappointed me. (I echo Michele’s comment about whiny characters.) I’ve been trying to expand my reading from classic/traditional mystery into other sub-genres of crime fiction but I keep running into protagonists who annoy me (take a pill, already, sister.), bore me (do something. Do anything.), or remind me why I’m not a fan of pastiches (nowhere close to the original author’s voice; should have created your own characters.) The most recent book I’ve read, in my sub-genre, that I’ve enjoyed is Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, a collection of Golden Age short stories in the British Library Crime Classics series. Golden Age mysteries focus more on the detective’s skills, the puzzle to be solved, and the delivering of justice than on the detective’s inner demons and dysfunctional personal relationships. I’m much more interested in seeing how the protagonist is going to stop the antagonist from killing a village (or town or city or suburb)-worth of people than in reading endless descriptions of the protagonist’s personal traumas. If I find myself saying, you know they have meds for that. And therapy.” more than twice while I’m reading, the book goes on my never-getting-that-chunk-of-my-life-back list. I will call out one novel (one more recent than DuMaurier’s Rebecca–which I like because of Mrs. Danvers and because DuMaurier wrote suspense that was actually suspenseful) in the domestic suspense sub-genre that gives me hope that I may find something appealing if I just keep trying: Cate’s Lies She Told. (And I’m not just saying that because it’s her question.) I read the ARC, so I don’t know if it makes the “recently” read cut off but it’s the only domestic suspense novel written in the past decade that hasn’t made me wonder if the author only knows stupid, whiny people IRL. Cate’s protagonist has guts and does stuff. She’s proactive, not reactive, and that’s a quality I value. I’m open to suggestions for thrillers and other crime fiction sub-genres which I haven’t explored, so I’m going to enjoy reading this post and responses.

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Oh, the Places You'll Go

Warning: These photos of the places that inspire my fellow Miss Demeanors will cause longing and dreaming (and, we hope, a little fear about the darkness lurking beneath all that beauty). The only remedy is to open up a book. Tracee: First off, I start with Switzerland! Everything about it is special. Kidding aside, when I develop my story I think about places in Switzerland that are special – meaning there is an element of unique to that place. A castle on the shore of Lac Leman? An elite boarding school set in a chalet? The world’s leading watch show? The task is to share these with readers without too much description. What is the essence of the place? Perhaps the people who are there (their behavior, clothing, actions); the smell (fresh air, smell of cows, chocolate); the architecture (new concrete, historic stone). I find myself diving in and then trimming the description, and trimming. People need enough to understand the atmosphere but not build the building. Paula: I fell in love with Vermont many years ago, and so I set A Borrowing of Bones there simply because Iwanted to visit this wonderful place in my mind as often as I could. The research trips where I get to go there in body as well as mind and spirit are a bonus. I put so much pro-Vermont content in the book–food and drink and wildlife and more–that my editor finally said to me, “Does everything in Vermont have to be the best?” Photo Credit: William Alexander  Michele: When I try to describe the lush natural beauty of St. John in the US Virgin Islands to people, I tell them if you picked up the state of Vermont in the summer and plopped it into the Caribbean, you’d have St. John. Culturally rich with history, music, art, and literature, the island is blessed with people who know how to live in contradiction. Inundated with tourists, yet juxtaposed in the kind of isolation unique to an island, the people of St. John are its essence. People who choose to live surrounded by water are by definition different. And after Irma and Maria blew through St. John with 286 mph winds, it is the people who are nurturing the island back after near devastation. The photo I am sharing is “my writing spot” under a tree at Hawksnest Beach. The tree no longer stands, but the water is still sparkling turquoise and warm. And I am #stillwriting. Cate: I tend to like contrasts in my settings: a claustrophobic cruise ship cabin surrounded by endless ocean, a crowded beach house beside a vast sea. I use water as a metaphor for escape in a lot of my work and the characters’ inability to enter it as a way of highlighting their trapped situations. There are a lot of moats in my stories. I also like the duality of water, we need it to live and too much of it can kill us. Susan: My Maggie Dove mysteries are set in a small village in the Hudson Valley, partly because I live in a small village in the Hudson Valley, but mainly because I think village life lends itself so perfectly to mystery writing. It’s difficult to be anonymous in a village. People know what you’re up to. Why is your Subaru parked in front of Mr. Andrew’s house? Are you paying a visit? Having an affair? Or killing him? People trust each other, but they’re also a little suspicious, especially of newcomers who’ve only lived here 30 years. I’m attaching a picture of our train station, which looks mysterious to me!   Alexia: The Gethsemane Brown mysteries are set in a small village that only exists in my head and on the page. I don’t have an answer for “Why Ireland?” other than, “Because Ireland.” (Because it’s green and beautiful and historic and modern and mythical and mysterious and friendly and familiar and exotic all at the same time.) “Why a village?” is easier. Because crime is expected in inner cities and, to a lesser extent, economically depressed rural areas. But villages and small towns and suburbs are viewed as safe, Norman Rockwellian, havens. Nothing bad is ever supposed to happen there. People flee to these bubbles to escape crime. But beneath their sedate, non-threatening veneers, ugliness and dysfunction and intolerance and evil lurk, waiting to strike and rock everyone’s seemingly happy, safe little world. I (perversely) love the idea of giving people who think they have nothing to worry about something to worry about. I also like the idea of showing the suspicion and mistrust and intolerance that hide beneath the polite veneer of small towns/villages. A result of growing up reading Miss Marple mysteries I guess. I try to communicate the danger underlying the calm surface by painting my village as a beautiful, charming, picture-postcard kind of place, then dropping a murder or five in the midst of it. Robin: What isn’t special about San Francisco? 
I love boats. They’re featured in the book out on submission right now and in a short story I’ve just submitted for my local SinC chapter’s anthology. Boats can be tranquil (the gentle roll of golden waves at sunset) or ominous (the setting sun cast shadows like spilled ink across the murky waters). They can be claustrophobic, like Cate said, or they can express freedom. Personally, I just think they’re a fun way to see the City from a unique perspective. It never gets old to me. I have a friend with a historic yacht and every time I go out I see or experience something new. This photo is from one of our trips just before the “dancing lights” came on at the Bay Bridge.

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Where do you read?

I’ll read anywhere, though I particularly enjoyed reading during my last vacation. I went to St. Lucia and finished Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which I truly enjoyed. The hype is worth it.  So is the hype about St. Lucia. Here I am reading my own book in this picture because The Widower’s Wife is coming out in paperback and, you know, marketing.Most of the time, I was actually reading Big Little Lies, though.  Inspired by my vacation reading, my challenge for The MissDemeanors this week was to show themselves reading in a favorite place. See their photos below! Tracee de Hahn: I love to read in cafes and particularly in cafes in cities, and even better in a cafe in Paris near a bookstore where I have bought a new book. I’ve spent many many hours and days reading at one of the cafes at St Michel, just across from this Gilbert Jeune bookstore. As a testament to this, I have many many books in French which I apparently couldn’t live without. Most histories. Surely one day I will read them all! (Cate: Tracee, C’est magnifique! J’espere qu’un jour je pourrai aller visiter les librairies Francaises.)  C. Michele Dorsey: I have loved reading at the beach since I was old enough to read, although I will read anywhere. Here I am at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts enraptured by Brian Thiem’s first book, “Red Line” using a No Virgin Island bookmark. (Cate: Red Line is such a great read, as is Michele’s acclaimed, Publishers Weekly STARRED reviewed, Sabrina Salter mystery series.)    Susan Breen loves reading in the woods. (Cate: Who wouldn’t love reading in these woods? Is one of those trees where Maggie Dove found Marcus Bender? ;-))     D.A. Bartley: Reading Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners in front of Blue Polyvitro Crystals by Dale Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden. (Cate: Great SETTING!) Gardens are favorite places of the MissDemeanors. The picture below is of our lovely agent and acclaimed author Paula Munier reading in Cherasco Italy. (Che Bello!)  Robin Stuart was recently reading in Sooke, British Columbia (the importance of will be revealed in an upcoming blog post).  When traveling, she reads outside–cafes, poolside or, as in this case, beachside. When she’d home, she most often reads in bed where the yard work can’t distract her.  (CATE: I want to know what was happening in that intriguing setting)  And below is a favorite reading nook of Lefty Award winning author Alexia Gordon. All you need to know is that it has good food and beverages. What else does a writer need?Tell us, where do you read? 

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Your Challenge, Should You Choose to Accept It…

How many of you have already given up on your New Year’s resolutions? I have. I won’t even tell you what they were. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to keep a resolution past January.I’m trying something different this year—challenges. Not the one-off kind that go viral on the Internet like eating cinnamon, mimicking a mannequin, or pouring ice water over your head. I signed up for challenges that involve a year-long commitment. Challenges are more specific task oriented than resolutions and I’m a task-oriented person. If you accept the challenge, you agree to do something—read, cook, sew, draw—every day or week or month for a year. You keep track of your progress on your calendar or with a checklist or with social media posts. I signed up for a daily challenge, 1 Year of Stitches.  You embroider one or more stitches and post a picture to Instagram or Twitter every day for a year. I’ve kept up pretty well, so far. I missed a couple of days but I doubled up the day after and I’m still on track. One stitch doesn’t take much time. I also signed up for two reading challenges. I pledged to read thirteen books this year for the Goodreads challenge. I set the bar low—one book a month plus one—but I don’t read as fast as I used to and challenges are more fun if you have a real hope of completing them. And if I read more than thirteen I get bonus bragging rights. I decided to push myself by signing up for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Book Riot goes beyond challenging you to read a certain number of books by year’s end. They select categories and you read a book that fits into each. You win a thirty percent discount at the Book Riot store if you succeed. All of the categories are creative, some are tricky—read a book set within one hundred miles of your location, read a book about books, read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. One book can satisfy multiple categories, though. A book published between 1900 and 1950 about a war set more than 5000 miles from your location would fulfill three. If I complete the Book Riot challenge, I also complete the Goodreads challenge so I can achieve two goals at once. I probably (definitely) could have found enough books in my TBR pile for both reading challenges. But, to up the excitement and to discover some books I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself, I subscribed to two book-a-month programs. One, run by Bas Bleu Booksellers, offered me a choice of mysteries, general fiction, or biographies and memoirs. I chose mysteries. The other, run by Heywood Hill bookstore, in London, offered nearly a dozen options. I went with the 12-month paperback subscription. I have no idea what genres my books will be in, only that they were selected by my personal bookseller (seriously, she even sent me her card) based on what she thought I’d like after I had a reading consultation (by email since we’re on different continents). I received my first book, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a couple of days ago, adorably wrapped in brown paper and ribbon.  My goal for participating in reading challenges and book subscriptions this year is to stretch my reading horizons and, by doing so, become a better writer.Have you accepted any challenges for 2017? How do you plan to expand your creative horizons this year? 

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Plan Your Escape

Escapist fiction is defined by Wikipedia as “fiction which provides a psychological escape from thoughts of everyday life by immersing the reader in exotic situations or activities.” The term is often wielded like a derogatory club against works deemed unworthy by fanatical devotees of “literary fiction,” works that, according to Wikipedia, have “merit…involve social commentary or political criticism or focus on the human condition…and is often more focused on themes than on plot…” Literary fiction boasts of “analyzing reality” while escapist fiction, also known as popular or genre fiction, aims to escape reality. I love escapist fiction without apology. I’m not embarrassed to be seen reading a book that will never be nominated for a Pulitzer or a Nobel or a Man Booker prize. I’ve nothing against prize-winning works of great lit-tra-chure, except the prodigious heft of some of the hardback editions. I even read, and enjoy, literary novels. Several claim spots in my (out of control) TBR pile. But when I do read literary novels, I choose them based on the story they tell, not because of some important message the critics ensure me is waiting to be discovered in the 982 pages. I don’t need, nor do I especially want, my fiction to mirror or analyze society. That’s what non-fiction is for. I read the news to find out what’s going in the world. (Granted, it’s become difficult to distinguish between news and fiction these days. Thanks, Interweb.) If I want more depth or detail than a newspaper article can provide I turn to the non-fiction section of the bookstore. Non-fiction has come a long way since the days when it all tended to read like dust-dry textbooks. It’s become “creative” and often reads like a novel. I read fiction for entertainment. There, I said it. I feel no shame. Entertainment is not bad. Humans have always sought entertainment. True, we’ve created some sick forms of entertainment over the centuries but we’ve come up with some good stuff, too. Like fiction. I’m not hiding my head in the sand when I seek entertainment in fiction. I’m not trying to pretend what’s happening in the world isn’t happening. I know what’s going on. You can’t turn on a TV or open a social media feed or, depending on where you live/who you work for/what you look like/where you worship/who you love, step outside your door without getting a wallop of reality right upside your head. Sometimes I get so much reality my head hurts. I want to scream. I often cuss. Worse, I start to think things that make me worry I’m turning into a person I wouldn’t like very much. I need to get away from reality to save my sanity. I need to be entertained. I need to lose myself. I need to escape on the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo or down a rabbit hole with Alice. I need to bring murderers to justice with Marple and Poirot. I need to poke a finger in bureaucracy’s eye while saving the universe with Jame Retief. Of course, genre fiction can have “literary merit”. Many literary novelists have jumped the pop fiction fence and created “cross-genre” or “genre blurring” works that leave bookstores scratching their heads about where to shelve them and prize committees fielding complaints about prizes being awarded to books that are “too popular.” A popular book can make a profound statement about our society and the human condition. Science fiction has a tradition of skewering societal norms and trends. Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Laumer’s Retief series are just a few sci-fi novels that do this in entertaining (and in Laumer’s case, hysterical) ways. It’s possible to be capital-m-Meaningful and entertaining at the same time. For example, a fictional detective can solve a fictional crime while saying something about the society in which a particular victim succumbs to that particular crime. Plot doesn’t have to be sacrificed at the altar of significance. So, genre fiction, more power to you. Keep teaching us while you entertain. But, mostly, entertain. Tell me a good story. As Sana Hussain said in her essay, “Literary or Not: The Reality of Escapist Fiction,” let me “doff the burden of [my] problems and inhabit a world…that makes up for the arbitrariness and unpredictability of the real world by offering rationality and resolution.” Bring order to chaos. Strike a blow for truth and justice. Let the good guy win. Remind me life isn’t always as twisted and ugly and painful as it seems. Entertain me. My overwhelmed brain and bruised soul thank you. Do you think the escapist vs literary debate is artificial? Is escapist a bad word? Why do you read escapist fiction? 

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All I Want for Christmas–Is Something to Read

 I’m not really a grinch. My occasional forays into humbug-land notwithstanding, I love Christmas. The season creates in me both a sense of nostalgia and hope for the future. I look back on the past with a conveniently fuzzy memory and long for the way things “used to be” while looking forward to the coming year with hope for the way things might  be. I also admit to indulging in my fair share of schmaltz and sentimentality. I’m streaming Christmas carols on Spotify as I type this. I break out the Lenox Christmas china and the Christmas-themed guest towels and ooh and aah over Facebook posts featuring puppies, kittens, and other small animals sporting bows and Santa hats. I also watch Christmas movies. At least, I used to. I’ve been disappointed recent holiday cinematic offerings. Too many “find a fiance by Christmas” flicks and too few “save the orphanage/feed the hungry, homeless man/save the neighborhood from a greedy developer/bring joy to my elderly, neglected neighbor” flicks. Of course, I can re-watch the classics. I own DVD copies of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But I wanted something I hadn’t seen before that didn’t involve Christmas kisses, dates, or weddings. Netflix let me down. Not being one to give up hope—it’s Christmas, after all—I decided to search for some classic (translation: written before the 21st century) Christmas stories to read. Here’s a sample of what I found.  “The Little Match Girl.” Hans Christian Andersen’s story turns up on a lot of lists. (Yes, there are lists. I’m not the only one fallen victim to the nostalgia fairy.) I’ve read this one before and it’s a fine story but—spoiler alert—tragic tales of impoverished pre-teens who freeze to death alone at night out of doors are not quite what I had in mind for the festival season.  “The Gift of the Magi.” O. Henry’s tale of love and sacrifice fits the bill of Christmas classic but I’ve read it (I had very good high school English classes) so the twist at the end isn’t so much of a twist anymore. “A Christmas Carol.” Read Dickens’ classic, too. I actually prefer to listen to Patrick Stewart narrate it, which I did the other day.  “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” I’ve read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, too, but it was so long ago I forgot “who done it.” This one goes on the reading list.  “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” One of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Lots of fairy tales, especially Andersen’s, show up on Christmas reading lists: “The Fir Tree,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” the aforementioned “Little Match Girl.” I love fairy tales, I grew up with them, even studied them in college. That’s when I realized how dark they are, especially the original, not-watered down versions. Better suited to Halloween reading lists.  “At Christmas Time” by Anton Chekov and “Papa Panov’s Special Christmas” by Leo Tolstoy. I knew Chekov and Tolstoy wrote capital-I important, college reading list works. I didn’t know they wrote Christmas stories. On the list.  “A Kidnapped Santa Claus.” Possibly dark. Santa’ kidnapped by demons. But I’m reading it because L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz books, wrote it. And because it sounds like it could be the plot of a Macauly Culkin movie.  “The Holy Night.” Swedish author Selma Lagerlof was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Cold-hearted man meets mysterious beings and learns the true meaning of Christmas. Yeah, I know, sounds kind of like “A Christmas Carol.” But I like “A Christmas Carol.” But “A Christmas Carol” is a holiday classic for a reason—we all want to believe faith and some holiday magic can turn mean spirits into open hearts.  Online Star Registry’s blog (https://osr.org/blog/tips-gifts/20-famous-christmas-stories/) and American Literature’s website (https://americanliterature.com/christmas) contain links to the stories I mentioned as well as several others. What are some new-to-you (or not-so-new but worth reading again) Christmas classics you want to try? 

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