Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Christmas Treacle

Nothing like a quick Sunday evening trip to Barnes and Noble to wind me up.

Before I hear from everyone who is ready to accuse me of jealousy and envy, let me stop you right there. I LOVE to read good writing and have nothing but admiration for authors who challenge me or entertain me. How any writer breaks out of the pack of thousands and thousands of titles and finds a following is beyond me (obviously.)

Mostly, I deeply admire and yes, maybe envy, writers who can make me laugh. It’s not that I’m difficult to please. It’s mostly that “writing funny” is pretty difficult and few people do it well.

This post isn’t about any of that. It’s about Christmas. Or more specifically, about Christmas books.

For some reason, this latest trip to the bookstore made it obvious that one of the components of publishing success that has somehow eluded me is using the word “Christmas” in your title, preferably linked with something admirable, lovely, warm, promising or comforting. lists indicates it offers 90,899 books that contain “Christmas” in the title. I offer the following partial list to review:

A Cup of Christmas Tea

The Christmas Box

The Christmas Sweater

The Christmas Shoes
(This is of particular note in our house for many reasons. We mock this one relentlessly and without remorse every single year.)

The Christmas Secret

The Christmas Hope

A Christmas Promise

The Christmas Promise

The Christmas Pearl

The Christmas Clock

The Christmas Dog

The Magical Christmas Cat

The Christmas List

The Christmas Cookie Club

A Plain & Simple Christmas

The Christmas Bus

The Christmas Train

Christmas Jars

Christmas Jars Reunion

Subtitles also matter here:
The Christmas Spirit: Memories of Family, Friends and Faith

The Christmas Box Miracle: My Spiritual Journey of Destiny, Healing and Hope

The Christmas Sweater: A Picture Book

Had enough yet? Me, too.

Let me clarify one other point here. I adore Christmas. I do. Ask my kids or my husband.

I start listening to Christmas music without apology in November.

I’m the one who arranges our theater evening every year to attend Civic Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol. Over the years, two of my boys have appeared in the show. I watch the movie on television every year, the George C. Scott version. (Don’t even speak to me about any others, including the Alistair Sim version. Not open to debate as far as I’m concerned.) I read the Dickens story.

I find a performance of The Messiah each year.

I bake. I send cards. I decorate. In fact, Christmas is the one and only time of year my house gets any kind of decorative treatment.

I get sentimental about Christmas. There. I said it. But I don’t “get” the ideas behind these kinds of Christmas books. I haven’t read even one of them but I guarantee they all tell a story of love and sacrifice and compassion and humanity and fellowship. A story of a despairing someone meeting a wise someone – and the source of that wisdom can be older (see The Christmas Box) or younger (see The Christmas Shoes), makes no difference – and then learning the “true meaning” just when they need it. The story of how almost anything you can name is a metaphor for Christmas.

Well, I guess not almost anything. Admittedly, I paged through only ten pages of the Amazon list so I barely cracked the 90,000 +, but I’ll bet I won’t find these:

Christmas Turtle

Wrong. That book exists. And guess what? It’s “a heartwarming story that explores the special love a grandmother has for her grandchildren.”

Maybe choosing an object to symbolize the season isn't a good idea. What about using those moments of life that aren’t so darned happy? I’ll bet I won’t find any of them in Christmas books. Wrong again. Pages of titles described less than golden moments around the tree: Oscar’s Lonely Christmas, The Lonely Snowman, Byron the Lonely Christmas Tree, All Alone at Christmas, Oliver All Alone, A Cold Christmas, and Kitten in the Cold. (Several of these had adorable yellow lab puppies on the cover who looked sad.) Dear God! Who buys these? Are you crying yet?

Or how about this? A Stranger for Christmas. Guess what? It’s a “very special story about love, family, and miracles…the true meaning of Christmas… a story to remind us of the values we cherish, the people we love, and the lessons of the holiday season.”

Ugh. I’m about to get Christmas Nauseous. Or Christmas Cranky. I wonder if anyone would buy Christmas Curmudgeon, the story of a woman of a certain age who discovered ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ after she was inundated with cloying, vacuous Christmas books one night in the bookstore. She discovered ‘the lessons of the holiday season’ by resolving to eat more cookies, drink more eggnog and surround herself with people who celebrated the season by never reading books like these.

My day feels more merry and bright already.


Anonymous said...

It's the time of year when people feel a little bit differently than the rest of the year. They like sappy stuff. Not everyone has to like it. Merry Cynical Christmas!

renee said...

Well, thank you for visiting the blog and for the seasonal wishes here's the thing: I'm not at all cynical about Christmas and I had hoped that was clear by how I celebrate the season, unabashedly with sentiment every year.

I love sappy. I tear up every year at the end of The Grinch. Every single year.

I tear up when Josh Groban holds a note at the end of Oh Holy Night.

I am moved to tears at The Halleluah Chorus.

I am without apology sappy.

BUT - I am also cynical about the number of people who seem to capitalize on the very sentimentality many of us hold dear. They write dreck, and find publishers willing to foist such dreck on the book buying public, publishers who know full well that hat some vast segment of same will buy it precisely because they hold Christmas so dear.

That kind of "If we sold 'em that last year, they should buy more of the same this year" greed is not what Christmas should mean to anyone.

Pamela Varkony said...


I admire your ability to stay enthusiastic and sappy about Christmas. My inner cynic took over years ago. I don't even put up a tree anymore. Not surprised there are 90,000 titles with Christmas in them. Also can't believe there are "Christmas Shops" that do a booming business all year long. The commercialism has taken all the magic out of the holiday. Bah Humbug.

renee said...

Pam!! We need a theater outing this year. Or at the very least, an evening of wine and (Christmas) song.

Anonymous said...

I read the post about the Christmas books. How about an article about all the things that are put out for sale ONLY at Christmas time, because people will buy ANYTHING when they are desperate - crazy small appliances like donut makers and icee makers, and plastic doodads, like pink Christmas trees and knockoff perfume and overpriced manicure sets. There is a site for families who want to celebrate a "commercial-free holiday" -
It's like the Christmas books - if we don't buy the crap, they won't sell it. But I don't hold out much hope....

renee said...

Anon 4:05 - careful what you wish for! I may have your requested post all but wrapped up as I type this.

Suffice it to say: never have so many purchased so many mini-putting greens/travel kits/mug warmers for so many as we seem to do every December.

More to come....

david_hatton said...

Loved the blog, it is beautifully written. I'm a regular reader. i hope you and your family have a wonderful christmas. plus you reminded me of barnes and noble... i loved the store when i lived in america. now im back in america and im trying to get that store over here

You may be interested in some of my blogs and articles on my blog:

renee said...

Thank you for your kind words about my work, David - you made my day.

Will hop over to your blog this evening; look forward to reading it!

Thank you again - enjoy the holidays!

nOvamAe said...

u sure is a good writer-