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What Are You Reading

Tiki Tom

My Mail is Forwarded Here
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I bought my copy as a Christmas present for my daughter, who loves cooking and all things Julia. When it arrived, I couldn’t help but read it too. Agatha Christie it is not… but it held my attention through to the end.
 
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New York City
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The Christmas Train by David Baldacci


There are only a few Christmas stories that achieve iconic status like A Christmas Carol, the rest are happy to just wrap a heartwarming tale inside Noel ambience. Today, most of these stories are less about the birth of Christ and more about a general feeling of goodwill.

On that scale, David Baldacci's The Christmas Train is modestly successful. Kudos to Baldacci, though, for using one of the only two approved modes of transit at Christmas time in his novel as he recognized that reindeer pulling a sled is impractical for large groups.

Baldacci, thus, assembles his characters on a cross-country Amtrak, the hollowed out successor to the once mighty network of interstate trains that moved Americans around before the post-war build out of the interstate highway system and passenger airlines.

Tom Langdon is a former war correspondent, now in his early forties, who writes nice little articles about lawn care and cooking. He's single, burned out, loney and a bit lost in his life.

East Coast based Langdon is taking Amtrak from Washington to Los Angeles to meet up with his sorta girlfriend, who lives in LA, for a ski vacation at Christmas. It's really just a construct for Baldacci to have Langdon spend several days at Christmas on a train.

Amtrak, on these cross-country trips, is presented as a little world of its own with a dedicated staff committed to keeping its worn-out equipment going so that the passengers, a devoted group of rail riders, can have a pleasant trip.

There's an overarching story about Langon meeting on the train, by chance, "the one that got away -" his former love who is now a successful Hollywood screenwriter - but the novel is more a series of vignettes about an assortment of people who find meaning on the train.

There is Regina and her mom, both Amtrak employees for decades who view their work almost as a calling. When mom takes control of a boys choir on the train, it's a perfect surrogate mother moment showing how much kids need a kind but firm hand.

We also meet a retired Catholic priest who, now without a ministry or family, finds a little warmth and closeness on the train. A few other lonely souls - a middle-aged fortune teller, a former circus star estranged from her adult daughter - also find community on the rails.

There are two college kids, whose parents don't approve of their relationship, planning to get married on the train. There's also a movie producer taking the train to get a script idea. He loves the wedding story so much, he pays to turn it into an elaborate steel wheels affair.

Amidst all these little touching stories, the train itself becomes involved in drama as it gets stranded high up in the mountains owing to a blizzard and avalanche. The climax, no spoilers coming, has everyone pulling together to survive as fuel and food run out.

The train and the crisis have brought everyone together at Christmas, with Tom and his former love pushed by circumstances into evaluating their past and potential future. None of it's surprising, but no one reads a book titled The Christmas Train to be surprised.

Baldacci tries hard to create the feeling of Christmas. He uses a train in a snowstorm populated with many generous and kind people and several others struggling with life to try to make some Christmas magic happen. He also throws a big fun twist in at the end.

The result is only okay, in part because the stories and construction are too obvious. Also, without any true religious faith behind most of the Christmas vignettes, this is Christmas without Christ, leaving the bonhomie to float unmoored from any deeper meaning.

If you've already read all the well-known Christmas books and are looking for a quick mindless read, The Christmas Train is an okay way to pass the time in a crowded terminal waiting for a plane or, better still, a train at Christmas.


N.B. If you want to read a better Christmas story set on a train, pick up Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. He wonderfully captures the Christmas spirit in this beautifully illustrated children's book.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

One Too Many
Messages
1,723
Location
St John's Wood, London UK
^ Long rail yard pull from Highsmith's gripper Strangers On A Train. I seem to believe Hitchcock directed its film
though might be mistaken. Something Dickens in mind, obviously Carol, yet wee too yule for my Sim or Scott
seasonal quandry. And need to ruminate more on said Scrooge struggle, a film feast intellectual delight for meself, glutton repast tis.
 

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
Messages
876
View attachment 565166
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci


There are only a few Christmas stories that achieve iconic status like A Christmas Carol, the rest are happy to just wrap a heartwarming tale inside Noel ambience. Today, most of these stories are less about the birth of Christ and more about a general feeling of goodwill.

On that scale, David Baldacci's The Christmas Train is modestly successful. Kudos to Baldacci, though, for using one of the only two approved modes of transit at Christmas time in his novel as he recognized that reindeer pulling a sled is impractical for large groups.

Baldacci, thus, assembles his characters on a cross-country Amtrak, the hollowed out successor to the once mighty network of interstate trains that moved Americans around before the post-war build out of the interstate highway system and passenger airlines.

Tom Langdon is a former war correspondent, now in his early forties, who writes nice little articles about lawn care and cooking. He's single, burned out, loney and a bit lost in his life.

East Coast based Langdon is taking Amtrak from Washington to Los Angeles to meet up with his sorta girlfriend, who lives in LA, for a ski vacation at Christmas. It's really just a construct for Baldacci to have Langdon spend several days at Christmas on a train.

Amtrak, on these cross-country trips, is presented as a little world of its own with a dedicated staff committed to keeping its worn-out equipment going so that the passengers, a devoted group of rail riders, can have a pleasant trip.

There's an overarching story about Langon meeting on the train, by chance, "the one that got away -" his former love who is now a successful Hollywood screenwriter - but the novel is more a series of vignettes about an assortment of people who find meaning on the train.

There is Regina and her mom, both Amtrak employees for decades who view their work almost as a calling. When mom takes control of a boys choir on the train, it's a perfect surrogate mother moment showing how much kids need a kind but firm hand.

We also meet a retired Catholic priest who, now without a ministry or family, finds a little warmth and closeness on the train. A few other lonely souls - a middle-aged fortune teller, a former circus star estranged from her adult daughter - also find community on the rails.

There are two college kids, whose parents don't approve of their relationship, planning to get married on the train. There's also a movie producer taking the train to get a script idea. He loves the wedding story so much, he pays to turn it into an elaborate steel wheels affair.

Amidst all these little touching stories, the train itself becomes involved in drama as it gets stranded high up in the mountains owing to a blizzard and avalanche. The climax, no spoilers coming, has everyone pulling together to survive as fuel and food run out.

The train and the crisis have brought everyone together at Christmas, with Tom and his former love pushed by circumstances into evaluating their past and potential future. None of it's surprising, but no one reads a book titled The Christmas Train to be surprised.

Baldacci tries hard to create the feeling of Christmas. He uses a train in a snowstorm populated with many generous and kind people and several others struggling with life to try to make some Christmas magic happen. He also throws a big fun twist in at the end.

The result is only okay, in part because the stories and construction are too obvious. Also, without any true religious faith behind most of the Christmas vignettes, this is Christmas without Christ, leaving the bonhomie to float unmoored from any deeper meaning.

If you've already read all the well-known Christmas books and are looking for a quick mindless read, The Christmas Train is an okay way to pass the time in a crowded terminal waiting for a plane or, better still, a train at Christmas.


N.B. If you want to read a better Christmas story set on a train, pick up Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. He wonderfully captures the Christmas spirit in this beautifully illustrated children's book.
Hmmmm... sounds like a Hallmark Channel Christmas Rom-Com.
 

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
Messages
876
The Shellhammer Christmas Read-a-thon got underway with (you guessed it) Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter, by Edward Streeter, being read aloud to the Missus. Visiting once a year is the perfect timing: we can practically quote parts of the story.
On my own it's the annual enjoyment of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The man knew how to tell a story.
 
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17,009
Location
New York City
Hmmmm... sounds like a Hallmark Channel Christmas Rom-Com.

You're not wrong; it's maybe one step above that. I've never read him before, but I thought (perhaps for no reason) he wrote at a more complex level.


The Shellhammer Christmas Read-a-thon got underway with (you guessed it) Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter, by Edward Streeter, being read aloud to the Missus. Visiting once a year is the perfect timing: we can practically quote parts of the story.
On my own it's the annual enjoyment of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The man knew how to tell a story.

I thought of you when I was looking at our Christmas book shelves and saw our copy of "Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter." I'm due for reread. I'm currently reading several Christmas short stories from "Christmas Stories - The Everyman's Library" which is, so far, outstanding. I'll post a summary when I finish it.
 
Messages
17,009
Location
New York City
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Christmas Stories, The Everyman's Library, published in 2007


Christmas Stories compiles short stories from the past two centuries and from around the world. From a Dickens Christmas gobblin story, to Russian tales about cobblers, to a twentieth century author writing about the sexual predilections of seasonal turkey "gutters," it is an insightful trip through faith, culture and the human experience at Christmas.

Below are brief comments on most of the stories, but there are a few stories in the anthology not mentioned.


Where Love Is, God Is by Leo Tolstoy

The best short stories have a neat twist at the end that has you thinking, "Oh! I didn't see that coming," but here, you see the twist as it's happening. It doesn't matter, though, as the power in this brief story is simply seeing if faith in Christ can be reborn in an old, sad and lonely shoe cobbler. Tolstoy, in only a few pages, brings that man’s struggle to life.


Vanka by Anton Chekhov

Nobody does deep, abiding, heartbreaking sadness like a Russian writer. On Christmas Eve, a nine-year-old boy, who'd been sent by his grandfather to apprentice with a master cobbler, writes a pleading letter to his grandfather to take him out of the abusive home where he's beaten, ill fed and overworked. Will the boy's desperate missive be answered?


The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A better title might have been "Holmes does Christmas," as this fun tale has the renowned detective chasing down the origins of a Christmas goose to find the crook who stole the titular famous jewels. It's all Holmes logic, reasoning, investigation, showmanship and ribbing of Watson, with some Christmas forgiveness mixed in.


The Burglar's Christmas by Willa Cather

Riffing on The Prodigal Son, two broke young men are desperate for food and shelter on a blustery Chicago Christmas Eve. One, who says he's failed at everything in life, turns to burglary. What follows is a beyond-believable tale of coincidence, unconditional love and forgiveness. To enjoy, you'll need to be in the mood for some Christmas magic.


A Chaparral Christmas Gift by O. Henry

Combining the "Old West" gunfighter, Biblical-level jealousy over a woman and Christmas spirit, O. Henry delivers a very short tale of kindness from an unlikely source. Is it redemption-level kindness? No, but it does show a moment of decency can come from the most unlikely source.


Reginald's Christmas Revel by Saki

Sometimes you need a break from all the warmth, faith and goodwill of the traditional Christmas story to read about somebody grumbling because they're stuck with boring relatives for the holiday. There's no message, just some mirthful sarcasm and a little pranksterism in this short, biting tale from Saki (the pen name for Hector Hugh Munro).


Christmas by Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, nobody does heartbreaking sadness like a Russian writer. Through small details, Nabokov poignantly limns a father's grief at Christmas over the loss of his son. There's no escape for the father as, looking in his son's room, he discovers things he didn't know about the boy. A small light of hope elegantly closes this tale.


Dancing Dan's Christmas by Damon Runyon

It's quite a leap from Russian misery to Damon Runyon's hard-boiled denizens of Jazz Age New York City, but so be the plight of the compilation reader. Here, Runyon spins a tale of speakeasies, Tom and Jerry's, pilfered diamonds, mobsters, Irish grandmothers and a little Christmas whimsy to warm the heart of even a tough New York City mug.


Bella Fleace Throws a Party by Evelyn Waugh

This short tale is another Waugh-esque sharp elbow to the waning ruling class of England's interwar years. A reclusive elderly aristocratic woman makes a whimsical attempt to re-engage with the society she has long shunned by throwing an opulent Christmas ball. It results in an ironic and poignant coda to both the tale and her life.


Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor by John Cheever

Whose motive is ever completely pure of heart in gift giving or receiving? Gifts flow from penthouses to poor houses in this offbeat tale of Christmas giving, taking, grifting and charity. Cheever has you pondering if it is the action or the thought that counts in this cynical, but oddly, almost hopeful Noel tale.


The Carol Sing by John Updke

Christmas carol-singing practice in a small town in post-war America is brought to life with Updike's intimate observations of the people and place. This holiday, the meaning of life is poignantly forced on the town by the unexplained post-Thanksgiving suicide of a one of the carolors, which has left a hole in the small community.


The Fugue by Muriel Spark

A twenty-four-year-old English woman who had been living in Australia decides to move back to England after her roommate gets married and her boyfriend and she split up. On her Christmas day flight home, she has, or dreams she has, an intimate encounter with a handsome pilot that might or might not change her life back in England.


The Loudest Voice by Grace Paley

It's the 1940s and a grammar-school-aged Jewish girl is chosen to narrate her class's Christmas play. Her mother is worried, but her dad isn't. He sees it as just a way to learn about another culture and, notes, it's hardly like the pograms they escaped. It's an open-minded view that is more accepting of America's founding culture than many are today.


The Turkey Season by Alice Munro

A middle-aged woman reflects on when, at fourteen, she was a "gutter" at "The Turkey Barn" at Christmas. Blending themes of sexuality, it's a big part of the workers' chatter, and manual labor versus office work, in a community where the former is respected and the latter suspect, Munro creates an ad hoc but deeply nuanced Christmas community.


Creche by Richard Ford

Being a modern Christmas tale, Christ is nowhere to be found, the family is broken, a mother is in rehab, a husband almost sexually assaults his sister-in-law, we learn a lot about how people and places smell (an awful tic of modern fiction writing) and the little Christmas spirit there is, seems hopelessly outdated and ineffectual. Read at your own risk.
 
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FOXTROT LAMONT

One Too Many
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Location
St John's Wood, London UK
^ Damon Runyon's snap took Aqueduct or Belmont, elegant in suit and tie with fedora, track report smartly held
with just effortless nonchalance overall mastery of all that is holy in dapper handicapperis black track crow deviltry.
The lad had the look down paddock and purse sure enough.
 

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
Messages
876
With delight, finished Santa Calls by William Joyce, and Peter Spier's Christmas!. Joyce's adventure tale takes youngsters out of the Abilene of 1908 and to the North Pole where Santa Claus presides over Toyland. The artwork is enormously detailed, providing us with anthropomorphic animals garbed in wild colors, flying sleds, gigantic buildings that take you back to Oz, an evil Queen and her minions of dark elves, and so on. Spoiler, sort of: one of the kid's Christmas wish is granted in a big way. If ever a book cried out for a top-drawer film adaptation, this is it.

Published in 1983, Peter Spier's Christmas! takes us along with an apparently New England-ish family through Christmas shopping, decorating, visiting the elderly and shut-in, snowball fights, attending the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church, opening gifts on Christmas morning, feasting at Christmas dinner, and much more. Though a story from the early 80s, the whole vibe (to me) could be even earlier. I look forward eagerly each year to these two books. Merry Christmas, every body-
 
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FOXTROT LAMONT

One Too Many
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1,723
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St John's Wood, London UK
I finally own a complete Shakespeare, all his plays and sonnets, two long narrative poems with some
bits and bobs verse together joined by a ba***rd or two of uncertain paternity but probable DNA.
Acquired this bootleg volume off the internet thru Amazon, publisher unknown but printed in Monee, Illinois.

A real counterfeit Bill. :cool:
 

Edward

Bartender
Messages
24,903
Location
London, UK
Although the first novel in the series was published way back in 2004, I've just started reading Stan Nicholls' Orcs series. Set in a fantasy universe that will be familiar to anyone who has ever spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or Tolkien, this series put a new spin on it by being told from the point of view of the orcs. Orcs have, from Tolkien onwards, long been portrayed as an exclusively evil race, and othered. Nicholls instead tells the story from the Orcs' point of view, giving them a warrior culture not unlike (at least some) Viking pillagers, a much more relatable and complex nature, and a sense of morality. Very early in the novel, the orcs spare the life of a human baby they find having killed all the adult humans, and arrange to leave the child where it will be sure to be found by humans, ensuring its survival. Dark jokes are made about human prejudices which assume the orcs would kill and/or eat the infant instead. There is conflict between the Orcs who have been around longer and follow an old, polytheistic religion, and humans, recently arrived in these lands, and spreading their monotheism with the sword. It's an interesting spin, not least in being a relatively early example of a critique of a certain set of inherent cultural norms that have been core to the fantasy genre for some time, and are now being reassessed in the mainstream of the genre, with those who would raise the issue often meeting with significant anger and outrage. I'm enjoying the book very much, and looking forward to getting a chance to sit down with it properly when I'm on leave over Christmas.

Thereafter, Rebellion Publications recently had a significant sale on, so I have a large stack of early Judge Dredd material to work my way through, all full of lovely dystopian satire on law and order.
 

theeprimitivesound

One of the Regulars
Messages
101
One of the greatest independent record labels, Estrus records, this has all the info, images and stories you need, really great book.
 

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The Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott


The introduction to The Quiet Little Woman (no spoilers) explains that, in Alcott's time, five young sisters, inspired by Ms. Alcott’s books, started a small magazine out of their home in Massachusetts. With the help of a printer, they achieved a modest circulation.

In support and for free, Ms. Alcott penned the three stories in this Christmas collection for the girl's magazine. Eventually, overwhelmed, the girls sold off their subscription list, but one believes Ms. Alcott's involvement was the highlight of the experience for the sisters.

The three tales are simple, quick reads about acts of kindness at Christmas. The titular one The Quiet Little Woman introduces us to Patty, an orphan girl with a slight handicap who longs to be adopted even though the orphanage has been kind to her.

She isn't adopted, but as an early teen, Patty is taken in as a servant by a family - this being the fate of many of the older orphan girls. Patty is a kind and quiet servant who works diligently and thoughtfully for the family.

The family is not mean, but sees Patty only as a servant, which hurts this forlorn girl longing for real affection. Will the family's maiden aunt, who notices something in Patty that the rest of the family misses, be able to change Patty's lonely Christmas and life?

The second story, Tilly's Christmas, is obvious, but it makes you feel good. Tilly's family, just Tilly and her mom, is too poor to have any Christmas gifts. Mom and daughter, though, find the Christmas spirit in caring for a wounded bird, until something special happens.

In the quirkiest of the three stories, Rosa, a horse, confirms the "legend" that, in memory of the animals in the manager at the birth of Christ, animals are endowed with speech for one hour at midnight on Christmas day.

Once you make that leap, you meet Rosa, a bit vain but kind horse who started life racing until a nefarious racetrack injury led to her being sold several times in succession. She became a saddle horse, a war horse, a carriage horse and is, now, a pet.

Told by Rosa, it's life from a horse's perspective. Rosa experiences life's ups and downs as humans do. It's charming, whimsical and even a little sad - Rosa didn't get the credit she deserved for her military courage - but it's also the offbeat gem of the three stories.

You do not read The Quiet Little Woman to be challenged; you read it to experience a little Christmas joy in pleasant stories that take you back over a century in time. Plus, its origin story as a gift from Alcott to a few dedicated fans has a little bit of its own Christmas magic.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

One Too Many
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Savoring my way through 'The Once and Future King' by T. H. White, will have to speedread through a good deal of 'Orthodoxy' by G. K. Chesterton, as I promised a friend I would buddy read it over Christmas break.
For Pete's sake Pete slow down and savour Orthodoxy, a classic of verse, verve, veracity, but above all valour.
Chesterton never better, and the thundering celestial chariot coarses Church provenance to seal testament
with absolute mastery of the English language.

You seem young and American, so I tender yuletide wishes all best to you and yours with three literary
suggestions: 1. The Closing of The American Mind; Alan Bloom; 2. The Western Canon, Harold Bloom; 3. Jacques Barzun's From Dawn To Decadence. I just need to add a fourth, Man's Search For Meaning written by Holocaust survivour Viktor Frankl. These four musketeers are ideal classic texts for a young man and offer wisdom to carry you through life, good times and bad.
 
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RBH

Bartender
Awaiting this to arrive just after Christmas. It looks to be a great and informative read.

East Texas Troubles: The Allred Rangers’ Cleanup of San Augustine​


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""
When the gun smoke cleared, four men were found dead at the hardware store in a rural East Texas town. But this December 1934 shootout was no anomaly. San Augustine County had seen at least three others in the previous three years, and these murders in broad daylight were only the latest development in the decade-long rule of the criminal McClanahan-Burleson gang. Armed with handguns, Jim Crow regulations, and corrupt special Ranger commissions from infamous governors “Ma” and “Pa” Ferguson, the gang racketeered and bootlegged its way into power in San Augustine County, where it took up robbing and extorting local black sharecroppers as its main activity.

After the hardware store shootings, white community leaders, formerly silenced by fear of the gang’s retribution, finally sought state intervention. In 1935, fresh-faced, newly elected governor James V. Allred made good on his promise to reform state law enforcement agencies by sending a team of qualified Texas Rangers to San Augustine County to investigate reports of organized crime. In East Texas Troubles, historian Jody Edward Ginn tells of their year-and-a-half-long cleanup of the county, the inaugural effort in Governor Allred’s transformation of the Texas Rangers into a professional law enforcement agency.

Besides foreshadowing the wholesale reform of state law enforcement, the Allred Rangers’ investigative work in San Augustine marked a rare close collaboration between white law enforcement officers and black residents. Drawing on firsthand accounts and the sworn testimony of black and white residents in the resulting trials, Ginn examines the consequences of such cooperation in a region historically entrenched in racial segregation.

In this story of a rural Texas community’s resurrection, Ginn reveals a multifaceted history of the reform of the Texas Rangers and of an unexpected alliance between the legendary frontier lawmen and black residents of the Jim Crow South."
"
 

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