I've been feeling under the weather for a few days now, even to the point of spending most of a period of 24 hours in bed. With all the sickness in our house over the past few weeks I am not surprised to have come down with a cold/flu/intense fatigue. Oh well, it's an excuse to read and watch movies and ask for things from my family like glasses of water, kleenexes, and QUIET.
The other day I found myself killing time in the grocery store waiting for Vern to come back from the other side of the city where my son's orchestra practise was. This particular grocery store has a book section, so I can always find something to occupy my time with while I wait with my full cart. The bargain book bin is right by the dairy cases and, being a very cool (and by that I mean 'cold') area in the store, is not the most ideal place to stand and read. I found a book that looked interesting and started reading a bit of it. I think I must have stood there for 20 minutes reading before I realized how chilled I actually was. The book that had my attention so riveted was one I'd never seen before by an author I know well: Tomie DePaola. The book, Christmas Remembered, is his first book for readers of all ages (he has written and/or illustrated around 200 children's books). From the first words I was swept up by the simplicity, the humour, and the solidity of his writing. I also liked the illustrations, which reflected the writing perfectly. Needless to say, I bought the book for $7.99 and when I found I needed to get my chilled self into a hot bath later that night I took the book with me and it continued to be my companion for the next couple of days. Oh, I know, it's a bit early for Christmas reading (particulary since I broke my own rule not to exibit any external Christmasness until after Remembrance Day), but it was the perfect book to read when sick. The stories are short, no more than a couple of pages, and they are filled with cozy scenes of domestic and spiritual tranquility - comfort reading.
It didn't take long to finish Christmas Remembered and so I moved on to another collection of Christmas stories: Favourite Christmas Stories from Fireside Al. Fireside Al (Alan Maitland) was a well-loved CBC Radio personality who read many of the stories in the collection on the air. (The program As it Happens still broadcasts his reading of the wonderful story 'The Shepherd' every Christmas Eve; listening to it has become a tradition in our house.) I figured I might as well continue on with the Christmas stories because I have several collections of them and I don't generally feel like reading them after the first week in January. Maybe this year I'll read them all! Last night I read a really interesting story called 'Christmas Phantoms' attributed to the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. It wasn't cozy reading, but very interesting nonetheless. Besides, I was starting to feel a bit better. Anyway, the story is about a writer who has just completed his annual Christmas story and is going to bed on a stormy night. In his dreams he is visited by several phantoms - characters from previous stories, all of whom he had made to freeze to death on Christmas Eve, 'Little Matchgirl' style. His intention was to stir up compassion for the poor in the hearts of men, but the phantoms basically hold a large, mocking, protest rally in his bedroom. A voice says to the writer: "Do you really think that you can move the heart of a human being by telling him about a frozen child? The sea of misery breaks against the dam of heartlessness, it rages and surges against it, and you want to appease it by throwing a few peas into it!" The writer then wakes up, reads over the story he wrote the night before and promptly tears the manuscript into pieces. I don't know Gorky's writing other than this story; it left me wondering if the writer he speaks of is himself.
I'm looking forward to making my way through these collections of Christmas stories. I'm getting introduced to new and interesting writers (or old and interesting ones). I may not be well into my Christmas shopping, but I'm certainly getting a jump on my Seasonal reading! I just need to make sure that when I do discover new stories and new authors I'm in a warm place. It's not too early for hot toddies, is it?