Book Chat


This month’s book reviews:

What do you think would happen if a liberal D.C.-based journalist decided to chronicle Christmas as celebrated by a group of Texans? If you think this sounds like it would result in some hilarious observations,  you’ve got the basic idea of Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present.

Hank Stuever gets his liberal views in, subtly and not-so (one angst-filled monologue wonders about the choices of Americans:  Why Crocs? … Why Carrie Underwood? Why George Bush? (Why Hillary Clinton?). (Gotta love the oh-darn-if-I-mention-Bush-I-must-put-in-a-dem-as-well). I say:  Why Barack Obama? (and I’m not softening it with parentheses, either!)

But I digress. Stuever tells us he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth, and lets us know he’s in good company:  Many scholars have concluded … that the Christmas story is intentionally fictive, written by the earliest, first-century evangelists to beef up Jesus’s street cred as a believable Jewish Messiah.

O-kay then. I can tell up-front that the author and I are coming at this from different belief systems. Nonetheless, it’s enjoyable in a gossipy sort of way to read his tales of following those wacky over-the-top Texans to their ridiculous mega-churches, to camp out early on Black Friday, and to their business decorating homes for Christmas.

I know this happens a lot for me, but the author’s liberal bias really became tiresome. He subtly chastises his subjects over and over for being anti-immigrant, “tax-averse, conservative, … evangelical.”  Yet when he listens to a Christian radio station that grants “Christmas wishes” for needy folks, he is angry that no one is asking questions about whether the “needy” truly are so. Why is it good when he asks questions, yet bad when those evil/stupid conservatives do?

You know I had to love a passage where he discusses telling kids that Santa isn’t real. He says that he could actually respect kids who thought it through and realized that Santa was fake, because they would grow up to think critically and perhaps – get ready for it – not believe that “other countries harbor weapons of mass destruction when they don’t.” Yep – apparently even Christmas excess is W’s fault.

One thought that kept running through my head as I read this book was that I couldn’t believe these people would allow an author to follow them through 3 Christmas seasons, just so he could write a book basically making fun of them. He even uses most of their real names. I’m still stumped at this.

The book ends with Stuever taking a swipe at Sarah Palin (but oddly enough not mentioning Obama, whose recent election has heralded inherited an economic meltdown of catastrophic proportions) fleeing Texas, of course appropriately via the George W Bush Turnpike, back to his East Coast boyfriend.

I found it ironic that in all the author’s searching for Christmas, he missed the big picture. Yeah, sure, he knows “the reason for the season” mentally, but it hasn’t become real for him. Still, I sense in him a bit of the Eeyore/melancholy personality that I have as well, and that tended to draw me in (when I wasn’t ready to strangle him for his apparently unrecognized liberal bias).

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Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times is written by Suzan Colon, a writer who lost her job in the recent recession and is struggling (well, kind of) to make ends meet. During her newly-found free time, she studied up on her family history and discovered a bunch of recipes her grandmother had typed up.

This inspired her to cook more, and in doing this she feels a lot better about her finances, health, and in the connection she is making with the past. I liked the family history aspect of it (her relatives had faced some hard times). The recipes aren’t ones I’d make for the most part – they’re very meat-heavy and let’s face it: a lot of 50-year-old recipes just aren’t ones we’d make today.

If I’d been Colon, I would have cut way back on the references to the current recession and the pain of the cutbacks she’s making (she and her husband had to move from NYC to New Jersey; she had to sell her $250 sneakers on Ebay, her mom had to convince her to spend $600 on a new coat “that was worth $1000!”). While these privations may seem tough to her, it was just interesting to me to see how the “other half” must have been living out there.

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So, I had to get far, far, away – like about 3 millenia – to get away from the madness.

And I found respite in Abigail: A Novel (The Wives of King David). You know, there aren’t a whole lot of female Bible heroes out there. If you wanted to name your kids Biblical names, you’d be fine on boys, but the girls start becoming scarce real fast, unless you have a penchant for Jezebel or Dorcas.

But Abigail is a hero I can cheer on. She’s married to Nabal (whose name appropriately means “fool”), a guy who basically defines the term jerk. But she uses her wit and faith to work things out in the end.

The book is well-written and makes you want to turn to the Bible for “the real story” – how can you beat that?

9 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. Tinsel sounds absolutely fascinating! I don’t think I’d agree with his worldview anymore than you apparently did, but it would be a book worth reading for argument sake. Thanks for highlighting it – I hadn’t heard of it before.

  2. I love reading your reviews! They’re so expressive. I think I’d share some of your reactions!

  3. Cherries in Winter is an eye catching title for me. Also interested in her situation as she moved to another state. However I don’t own $250 sneakers. I am having to give up a lot of my things. I guess it is hard no matter what economic bracket one is in.

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