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7 Books for Readers Who Love Haruki Murakami

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The first time you read Murakami, it can be a disorienting experience. One minute, a character is just sitting there, drinking tea or doing some other mundane activity that routinely happens in the real world. The next minute, that same character is vaulted onto another plane: a shimmering, psychic underworld in which daylight fades into dreamscape and nothing is as it seems. At first, there is a voice in the reader’s head crying out, “Wait, what? No. Is this real? Is the main character a lunatic? Am I a lunatic?!” So, in order to really enjoy Haruki Murakami’s work, you have to give that voice of reason a pat on its head and tell it to go lie down for awhile, as you won’t be needing it until you’ve closed the book. If you can go with the flow and fasten your seatbelt, you’ll be in for a mind-opening journey. Fair warning, though: Murakami is addictive. If you’ve already fallen down the well in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and taken a ride on the ferris wheel in Sputnik Sweetheart, you can get your mysticism fix from the otherworldly reads below.

The Metamorphosisby Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis was the literary world’s first true foray into magical realism. This short story, written in 1912, chronicles the curious situation of Gregor Samsa. Having gone to bed the previous evening as a human man, Samsa is, shall we say, a bit flummoxed to wake up the next morning as a real live giant cockroach. What follows is a critique of human beings’ fear and mistrust of both change and difference. Parallels have been drawn between Kafka and Murakami, and for good reason (Murakami gives a wink to his fellow author with 2002’s Kafka on the Shore), and reading Kafka gives us a new historical context for the stylistic devices Murakami favors. If you were forced to read this short story in high school, don’t let that turn you off! Give it another try on your own terms.

The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman
A distinctly American novel, The Red Garden is a collection of short stories about the Berkshire town of Blackwell, Massachusetts. At the center of the tales is a garden with red soil, in which only red things can grow. As the stories progress and layer over one another, we get an intimate introduction to Blackwell and all its hidden charms and sinister corners. Hoffman is a master storyteller, and she shares with Murakami a kind of easy, graceful craftsmanship. Like Murakami’s, her style is all the more profound for its restraint.

The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
Some books change the world forever, and The Satanic Verses is one of them. Horned demon men falling from the sky, a battle between good and evil, and a heavy dose of playful irreverence are just some of the features of this monumental work. After its publication, author Salman Rushdie was forced to live in fear of attack from those who found his work blasphemous. Like Murakami, he defies the status quo in his writing by playing with the laws of reality and thumbing his nose at cultural convention.

Eva Luna, by Isabel Allende
Eva Luna is many stories in one, beginning with that of Eva’s mother, Consuelo. We’re introduced to her hard life as an orphaned child in rural South America. Later, Eva herself is orphaned, and learns to survive by her wits and her mystical gift of storytelling. Allende’s work is reminiscent of Murakami’s in that it is beautiful, but also tinged with sadness. There is a forlorn and lonely place in the heart of each character into which the reader is helplessly drawn. In all of its gorgeous melancholia, the world created by Allende shares another striking detail with Murakami’d: it’s hard to lose hope in a place where anything can happen.

Imajica, by Clive Barker
Radical is probably the best word to describe Barker’s Imajica. In the novel, all of creation exists in five worlds. For an eternity, the fifth world of Earth has been separated from the other four dimensions for reasons unknown. The novel centers around the quest to reunite the severed Earth from the other four worlds at great peril to all of humanity. This novel is so vast in scope, it’s impossible to classify: it’s part horror, part fantasy, part erotica, and part social commentary. In a style familiar to readers of Murakami, Barker flows effortlessly between cold, hard reality and mirage-like magic. This is a long read, but worth it for those who want to test the bounds of their imagination.

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
There’s already something magical about London, but the London we know is nothing compared to the dual metropolis of Gaiman’s creation. In Neverwhere we learn there is a London Above and a London Below, the latter being the home of the poor souls who “fell through the cracks in the world.” Murakami lovers will recognize the theme of turning a city over to visit its secret and spellbound underbelly. Gaiman is a fantasy writer through and through, but his genius shines as much for the realism of his characters as for his whimsicality.

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Speaking of the wonder of the British Isles, we can’t really have a serious conversation about novels that celebrate magic in that region without talking about Outlander. Just as Murakami often does, Gabaldon nonchalantly plucks her main character from one reality into another. Claire is a nurse traveling to Scotland on a long-awaited honeymoon with her husband just after the Second World War. Everything is copacetic until the newlyweds decide to tour some ancient ruins, at which point Claire is thrown 200 years back into Scotland’s past. Recently turned into a TV series, this time-traveling adventure is an exhilarating romp through one of history’s most entrancing locales.

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Here Are the Books Hitting the Big Screen in 2015

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If it weren’t for books, movie theaters would be a whole lot less interesting. From The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, to Gone Girl, to Unbroken, the most talked-about movies of 2014 were based on books, and 2015 promises more of the same. Make sure you’re part of the conversation by checking out the books below before they hit the silver screen.

Paddington, by Michael Bond
Everyone’s favorite Marmalade-loving bear—such a beloved children’s book character he’s been memorialized in bronze at his namesake train station—is hitting the big screen in a live-action adaptation that pits Paddington and his newly adopted human family against Nicole Kidman’s Cruella de Vil–esque villain. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville plays to type as the family’s patriarch, and Ben Whishaw voices the trouble magnet Paddington.
Release date: January 16

American Sniper, by Chris Kyle
Former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle has been called the most lethal sniper in American history, with 160 confirmed kills. His memoir of his time spent on active duty through four tours in Iraq made for harrowing, revelatory reading, and the film adaptation, from director Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle, promises to be one of the year’s most riveting films.
Release date: January 16

The Mortdecai Trilogy, by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Bonfiglioli’s Mortdecai novels—comic capers featuring the antics of a roguish aristocratic art dealer and his long-suffering manservant—seem so perfectly pitched for film adaptation that it’s hard to believe it took 40 years for it to happen. Johnny Depp stars as the title character alongside Paul Bettany and Gwyneth Paltrow in this loose adaptation of the trilogy, which the filmmakers hope will become a franchise.
Release date: January 23

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch, by Joseph Delaney
Seventh Son, the retitled, long-in-the-can adaptation of the first book in Delaney’s YA series about a young farm boy who, as the seventh son of a seventh son, has the ability to see ghosts, ghouls, and other beasties, looks to be a fun, youth-oriented adventure film in the vein of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Just sub in Jeff “The Dude” Bridges for Nicholas “Ridiculous” Cage in the mentor role and the monster hunt is on.
Release date: February 6

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Kink goes mainstream in this hotly (hotly) anticipated page-to-screen romance. When mousy journalist Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets brooding plutocrat Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), it’s the start of a beautiful friendship, complete with a whip.
Release date: February 13

Serena, by Ron Rash
Ron Rash’s Shakespearean tale pits two newlyweds against the wilds of North Carolina in 1929, where they plan to build a timber empire. But things fall apart when wife Serena discovers she can’t bear children, and sets out to destroy her husband’s illegitimate child. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper team up for the third time in the film, costarring Toby Jones, Rhys Ifans, and the lawless wilderness.
Release date: February 26

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick
Academy Award–winning director Ron Howard brings his sure hand at the rudder to this adaptation of Philbrick’s harrowing true-life account of the 1820 sinking of the whaleship Essex by an enraged sperm whale, the incident that inspired Herman Melville to pen a little novel called Moby-Dick. The cast includes Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, and Ben Whishaw.
Release date: March 13

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
Things go from bad to worse for Tris and Four in the second volume of Veronica Roth’s dystopian Divergent trilogy, and the film version looks to be upping the stakes as well. If theteaser trailer is any indication, expect action sequences that are even bigger and better than those in the film’s predecessor.
Release date: March 20

The Prone Gunman, by Jean-Patrick Machette
Sean Penn and Idris Elba star in the adaptation of Machette’s thriller, which is being released in theaters as the less punny The Gunman. Penn plays an international spy who wants out of the game—but his employers have other ideas.
Release date: March 20

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex
In Adam Rex’s middle-grade instaclassic, renamed Home for its big-screen release, Earth has been overrun by conquering alien race the Boov, arrogant overlords who don’t think twice of, say, emptying Florida of its humans (they want the oranges to themselves). Separated from her mother and on the run, an earthling girl (voiced by Rihanna) pairs up with an exiled Boov named Oh (Jim Parsons) to save their shared planet from destruction.
Release date: March 27

The Longest Ride, by Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks is coming back to a theater near you, this time with a tale that entwines two love stories, one in its twilight and one just starting to spark, and throws in a car accident, a ghost, and a handsome cowboy. There will be tears.
Release date: April 10

Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith
Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, and Noomi Rapace star in this thriller based on the nail-biting debut of British novelist Tom Rob Smith, with a screenplay by Richard Price. Set in the brutal final days of Stalin’s reign, it’s full of intrigue, treachery, and good old-fashioned murder.
Release date: April 17

Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
Classic-lit queen Carey Mulligan’s played Kitty Bennet, Ada Clare, and Daisy Buchanan, and now she’s taking on Thomas Hardy’s impetuous heiress Bathsheba Everdene, in the book’s first adaptation since Julie Christie took the role in 1967. Bathsheba juggles an inheritance and a trio of suitors (Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenaerts) on her way to finding true love.
Release date: May 1

Paper Towns, by John Green
We guarantee this John Green adaptation will have 100% fewer tears and 100% more road trip than 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars. In his second outing as a Green character, Nat Wolff (Fault’s Isaac) strikes out in search of his AWOL dream girl, Margo (Cara Delevingne).
Release date: June 5

Jurassic Park/The Lost World, by Michael Crichton
Sure, after three movies there’s probably little of Crichton’s original novels left to explore onscreen, but from the looks of the trailer, Jurassic World is going to offer enough oh-the-hubris-of-man scientific experimentation and oh-the-tastiness-of-man dinosaur action to satisfy any fans of the books. Also, any reason is a good reason to reread Jurassic Park.
Release date: June 12

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
Pan promises to be a wildly fresh take on J.M. Barrie’s Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, serving as a prequel to source book Peter Pan, in which a not-yet-supernatural Pan (Levi Miller) teams up with a young, still two-handed Jas. Hook (Garrett Hedlund). Hugh Jackman is nearly unrecognizable as Blackbeard, a nasty sea dog who could eat Christopher Walken’s Captain Hook for breakfast.
Release date: July 24

Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine
In a brilliant stroke of screenwriting, Goosebumps the movie pulls legendary kids’ and teen horror author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) into the fray, in a story that reimagines (OR DOES IT) Stine as a prisoner of his scary creations, who he manages to keep locked up in their books. When the monsters are released, it’s up to two plucky kids to save the day.
Release date: August 7

Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal, by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Depp play the real-life Bulger brothers, one a politician, one a violent crime boss. Oh, you need more information? This adaptation of Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s nonfiction account of a “devil’s deal” between FBI agent John Connolly, Jr. (Joel Edgerton), and Depp’s infamous mobster “Whitey” Bulger will appeal to fans of the back-room intrigue of 2013’s American Hustle, with the added appeal of watching Cumberbatch take on a Boston accent.
Release date: September 18

The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner
In the follow-up to 2014’s postapocalyptic thriller The Maze Runner, the Maze’s young prisoners have breached its walls. Though life beyond the Maze doesn’t offer the release they were hoping for, we can’t wait to watch them navigate their strange new dystopian world.
Release date: September 18

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling’s enduring stories about Mowgli, a young orphan raised by a host of jungle animals and befriended by a lovable bear named Baloo, have been brought to the screen countless times (most famously by Walt Disney). This new version, from Iron Man director Jon Favreau, pairs a flesh-and-blood child actor with CGI creatures voiced by a host of Hollywood stars, including Bill Murray, Scarlet Johansson, and Christopher Walken.
Release date: October 9

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
It all comes down to this: Katniss Everdeen’s role as the reluctant symbol of the rebellion against a ruthless regime will be over, one way or another, as the credits roll on the fourth film in The Hunger Games series, adapting the second half of the third book, Mockingjay. Featuring the final performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, it’s sure to be an emotional end to one of the biggest blockbuster book adaptations ever.
Release date: November 20

The Martian, by Andy Weir
Weir’s debut novel is possibly the biggest self-publishing success story of all time, going from an ebook-only release, to a best-selling hardcover, to theaters in less than two years. Anyone who gripped the armrests watching Sandra Bullock struggling to survive the cold indifference of space in Gravity will get a similar thrill watching Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet, forced to endure the tortures inflicted upon him by director Ridley Scott.
Release date: November 25

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
Award-winning Irish author Tóibín nabbed his dream hometown cast—including Oscar-nominees Saoirse Ronan and Jim Broadbent—and no less than Nick Hornby to pen the screenplay for the adaptation of his 2009 novel about a small town Irish girl in the years after World War II dreaming of a better life in Brooklyn. The film will play the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Release date: TBA

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
After bouncing between various directors for years (and losing one-time lead Natalie Portman), this horror twist on the Regency classic is finally coming to the screen with Downton Abbey‘s Lily James as Lizzie, Maleficent‘s Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy, and former Doctor Matt Smith as Mr. Collins. Director Burr Steers reportedly rewrote Oscar-winner David O. Russell’s (!) script to include more Austen and less zombies. Color us book nerds excited.
Release date: TBA

Fallen, by Lauren Kate
Lauren Kate’s 2009 teen novel Fallen spawned a legion of sequels, and now it’s becoming a movie starring Addison Timlin and Jeremy Irvine. Timlin is Lucinda, packed off to reform school for her part in a classmate’s mysterious death, and Irvine is Daniel, an angel masquerading as a fellow reform schooler, who has loved Lucinda’s soul through centuries. Expect epic love and forces dark and light.
Release date: TBA

The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith
Nobody does sexual obsession like Patricia Highsmith. In the forthcoming adaptation of her cult classic novel The Price of Salt (to be released with its alternate title, Carol), Rooney Mara’s dissatisfied shopgirl has a chance meeting with Cate Blanchett’s elegant housewife, and love, dreams of escape, and blackmail follow. We can’t wait to see what Todd Haynes, known for his incredible direction of women, does with this one.
Release date: TBA

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
In this adaptation of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s second novel, Charlize Theron plays the adult survivor of a horrific childhood trauma: the murder of her family, apparently by a Satanic cult. Twenty-five years after the crime, she begins to reinvestigate what really happened, with the help of a group of amateurs. This movie is set to be just as twisted and even more violent than 2014’s Gone Girl adaptation.
Release date: TBA

A Walk In the Woods, by Bill Bryson 
Bryson’s freewheeling, funny memoir of his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz finally comes to the screen after nearly a decade in development. Robert Redford stars as the author, with Nick Nolte as Katz (a role originally envisioned for Paul Newman). The supporting cast includes Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, and Kristen Schaal.
Release date: TBA

True Story, by Michael Finkel
And now, James Franco and Jonah Hill team up to do something completely different: In a film based on the memoir of journalist Michael Finkel, subtitled “Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa,” Hill plays Finkel and Franco plays Christian Longo, a killer on the run after the murder of his family landed him on the FBI’s most wanted list. When Longo is captured in Mexico, Finkel learns that the stranger has been living under his identity. The incomprehensible choice leads to a dangerous symbiotic relationship after Longo decides that Finkel is the only journalist he’ll talk to.
Release date: TBA

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard take on Shakespeare’s deadliest pair of ambitious marrieds, in a straight-ahead adaptation directed by Justin Kurzel and costarring David Thewlis and Jack Reynor.
Release date: TBA

Cell, by Stephen King
Stephen King’s 2006 novel might feature the most terrifying horror premise of the modern era: on a day like any other, a strange signal is transmitted to every cell phone in the world, turning anyone using one at the time into a mindless, bloodthirsty zombie (and keep in mind, the book was written before the iPhone came out, so the same situation today would be much worse). The film reteams John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, the stars of King short story adaptation1408, as two “lucky” survivors of the digital plague who band together to discover the source of “the pulse” and stop it before it stops everything else.
Release date: TBA

Truth & Duty, by Mary Mapes
Mapes’ insider account of the 60 Minutes reporting scandal that tarnished Dan Rather’s reputation at CBS News comes to the screen as Truth, featuring Cate Blanchett as news producer Mapes and Redford as Rather himself. Think of it as the flip side of All the President’s Men.
Release date: TBA

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman
Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz play a war-scarred lighthouse keeper and his wife, whose tranquil life on an isolated Australian shore is poisoned by her inability to carry a child to term. When a boat carrying a dead man and a miraculously living infant beaches itself on their shore, they make a terrible, seemingly inevitable choice, with far-reaching consequences. Derek Cianfrance, expert in creating dark relationship melodramas, directs.
Release date: TBA

Z for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien
This post-apocalyptic survival story, about a teenage girl living in a sheltered mountain valley who seems to be the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust, turns 40 this year, but is still as chilling as the day it was written. It was assigned reading in middle school, and the scenes of the girl desperately scanning the radio waves for signs of other survivors haunt us to this day. The protagonist has been aged up for the film, but we’re still confident that it will make for an excellent thriller.
Release date: TBA

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The 5 Greatest Christmas Moments in Literature

While Christmas in literature is nearly synonymous with A Christmas Carol and Little Women—and, to be fair, I’m an avid rereader of each mot holiday seasons—to neglect the equally powerful holiday scenes sprinkled elsewhere throughout literature is to miss myriad wryly observed, bittersweet, and often piercing visions of this emotionally turbulent season. Below, I’ve included five of my favorite holiday moments from classic and contemporary writers. From Sedaris’s sadistic SantaLand and Capote’s “brave, handsome brute” of a Christmas tree, to Fitzgerald’s “chatty frozen breath” in a St. Paul train terminal on a dark December eve, there’s something here for readers of many genres.

From Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
Lately I am feeling trollish and have changed my elf name from Crumpet to Blisters. Blisters—I think it’s cute.

Today a child told Santa Ken that he wanted his dead father back and a complete set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everyone wants those Turtles.

Last year a woman decided she wanted a picture of her cat sitting on Santa’s lap, so she smuggled it into Macy’s in a duffel bag. The cat sat on Santa’s lap for five seconds before it shot out the door, and it took six elves forty-five minutes before they found it in the kitchen of the employee cafeteria.

From A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote
Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.” The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry.

From Wishin’ and Hopin’, A Christmas Story, by Wally Lamb
Madame handed Bridget’s baby doll to Zhenya. That was when the big fight started. Because Rosalie, who was still wearing her Wise Man costume, went kinda cuckoo and started screaming at Madame. “It’s not fair! I work harder than anyone in this whole class and you never appreciate it! And why her of all people? She’s an atheist, and a Communist, and she’s only been in our class since November! And you’re just a stupid substitute so I don’t care what you say! I’m Mary!” And with that, Turdski made a grab for Baby Jesus.

But Zhenya, who’d told me she was “Russian Ortudox” not “no beleef in Gud,” was not about to relinquish the Christ Child to her chief critic. She held fast to the doll’s feet as Rosalie pulled it by its head. The rest of us, Madame included, stood there stunned. Something had to give, I figured, and then something did.

As the doll’s head ripped away from its torso, Rosalie fell backward and let go. In horror, I watched the head bounce bumpity bump bump bump down the backstage stairs. Now, like Lonny a few minutes earlier, it was me who was wincing and doubling over. Joseph Cotton, Jesus: I would probably never, ever get to sleep again. And when I finally was able to look up at something other than the floor, I found myself looking into the wild eyes of Madame Frechette.

“Monsieur Dondi!” she said. “Remove your hat, chemise, and pantalons.”

I began to shake. “My what?”

“Your shirt! Your pants! Depechez-vous! There is very little time!”

“I can’t,” I said. “I’m the little drummer boy!”

She shook her head furiously. “No more! Now you have a much more important part. You are our Baby Jesus! Hurry!”

From “Christmas on the Roof of the World,” an essay for the Toronto Star, by Ernest Hemingway
Chink had spent every Christmas since 1914 in the army. He was our best friend. For the first time in years it seemed like Christmas to all of us.

We ate breakfast in the old, untasting, gulping, early morning Christmas way, unpacking the stockings, down to the candy mouse in the toe, each made a pile of our things for future gloating.

From breakfast we rushed into our clothes and tore down the icy road in the glory of the blue-white glistening alpine morning.

Later in the essay, he describes the aching beauty of Paris at Christmas:

Paris with the snow falling. Paris with the big charcoal braziers outside the cafés, glowing red. At the café tables, men huddled, their coat collars turned up, while they finger glasses of grog Americain and the newsboys shout the evening papers.

The buses rumble like green juggernauts through the snow that sifts down in the dusk. White house walls rise through the dusky snow. Snow is never more beautiful than in the city. It is wonderful in Paris to stand on a bridge across the Seine looking up through the softly curtaining snow past the grey bulk of the Louvre, up the river spanned by many bridges and bordered by the grey houses of old Paris to where Notre Dame squats in the dusk.

It is very beautiful in Paris and very lonely at Christmas time.

From The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-that’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: “Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?” and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

What are some of your most cherished stories to pull off the shelf this time of year?

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The 8 Grinchiest Characters in Literature

collageThe holidays usually bring out the best in people, but every so often you witness the worst. That woman who had a tantrum in the checkout line? The parents fighting over the last toy on the shelf? In most cases, it’s nothing a steaming cup of cocoa can’t fix. But once in a while, you just might encounter a misanthrope of epic proportions. Someone who kills the holiday buzz, ruins the magic, and curdles the eggnog—a real-life Grinch. Literature has shown us that Grinches have always been around, but we still shouldn’t let them ruin your holiday cheer. (That’s exactly what they want for Christmas.) Here are some Grinches to watch out for.

The Grinch (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss)
The one, the only, the original holiday villain himself: the Grinch. His name has become synonymous with all the grouches who make the holidays less merry. It takes an evil soul to put so much time and effort into destroying the happiness of an entire community of people. (Or Whos.)

Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens)
We might call misers and meanies “Scrooges,” but this cold-hearted character actually grows into a generous, kind old man by the end of Dickens’ novel. Bumping into four ghosts in the course of one night seems to have a positive effect on old Ebenezer. By the end of the book, his catchphrase, “Bah, humbug!” is as much a part of Christmas tradition as Santa’s “Ho ho ho!”

Patrick Bateman (American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis)
This list just got a little bit grim with the inclusion of the ultimate hater, Patrick Bateman. At once schmoozy, pompous, and uncouth, Bateman is the worst Christmas party guest ever. He forces his girlfriend to ditch her own party before the hired “elves” sing carols, drags her to club called Chernobyl to indulge in some “expensive Christmas frost,” and gets into a drug-addled altercation in the restroom stall. Oh, right, and he’s also a sadistic serial killer.

The Dursleys (The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling)
This pair is guilty of doubling up on Grinchyness to make the holidays horrible throughout Harry Potter’s childhood. In Harry’s pre-Hogwarts years, he receives a box of dog biscuits at Christmas. In later years, he receives a toothpick, a fifty-pence piece, and a single tissue from his aunt and uncle. Leave it to the Dursleys to turn the generous tradition of gift-giving into a passive-aggressive way of saying, we hate you.

Aunt Alexandra and Francis Hancock (To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)
Nothing ruins Christmas like racist relatives, something Scout Finch knows all too well. Scout’s strict, snobbish Aunt Alexandra finds fault with Scout’s tomboyishness at every opportunity, and her spoiled tattletale of a grandson, Francis Hancock, is even worse. When visiting the family for Christmas at Finch’s Landing, Francis insults Atticus with a bigoted slur. Scout fights back, but their Uncle Jack catches them. Francis lies his way out of it, and it’s Scout that gets an undeserved spanking. If you think kids can’t be miserable little Grinches, Francis Hancock will make you think again.

Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger)
We all know angsty teenagers can be the biggest killjoys, and that’s never been more true than with Holden Caulfield. Kicked out of his boarding school just before Christmas break, Holden heads to New York City and spends the holiday season wallowing in disillusion. He means well, and okay, he’s not a bad guy, but he could really suck the joy out of your holiday festivities.

The White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis)
This ice queen curses Narnia so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. That’s about the Grinchiest thing one can do as the tyrannical ruler of a magical land. This villainess also lures in children with Turkish delights and makes them betray their siblings, which goes against two of the most important aspects of the holidays: family and love. Thanks for the Turkish delights, though!

The Murderer (Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie)
What kind of person murders someone at Christmas time, in a house full of his family members? We won’t spoil it by telling you who the culprit is, but when you find out you’ll agree he or she is an awfully gruesome Grinch for sure. Everyone’s in an uproar because they’re stuck in a house with a murderer, and it really puts a damper on the seasonal festivities. Don’t people know the holidays are a terrible time for homicide?

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Have a Merry Christmas with these Books and Stories Set on Christmas Day

GrinchAs soon as the holidays roll around, everyone starts talking about their favorite Christmas movies and songs. For the most part, I’m all about it. I mean, I love me some Jingle All the Wayand “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as much as the next girl. But, as a book lover, I never understand why people don’t get equally excited about their favorite Christmas books. They might not get the attention of their TV and radio competitors, but there are a lot of fantastic Christmas stories for readers of all ages and interests. Like feeling all warm and fuzzy inside? I have a Christmas story for you. Like talking animals? I can recommend one of those, too. Like zombies, theft, and murder? I can give you everything you want in a book all wrapped up in a nice big bow. Just have a little faith in me, turn off the electronics for a couple hours this holiday season, and give some of these books a read. Only a real Scrooge wouldn’t get caught up in these stories’ Christmas magic.

How the Grinch Stole Christmasby Dr. Seuss
Anyone who doesn’t love How the Grinch Stole Christmas is, well, a Grinch. My heart grows three sizes every time the Whos gather around the Christmas tree to celebrate the real reason for the holiday. Plus, how cute is Max with his little reindeer horns?

A Christmas Carolby Charles Dickens
Probably THE Christmas classic, this book is equal parts sad, scary, and triumph-of-the-human-spirity. Follow Ebenezer Scrooge as he takes a supernatural journey through his own past, present, and future to discover the real spirit of Christmas and save himself from a dark end. I personally liked the Muppets’ version best, but Dickens is pretty good, too.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobeby C.S. Lewis
Imagine being trapped in a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas! Luckily, the Pevensie children are here to save the day, with the help of some talking animals and a pretty awesome lion. Maybe not technically a Christmas story, but Santa Claus is in it, so that’s good enough for me.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmasby Agatha Christie
Nothing says Christmas like a good old-fashioned parlor room murder. Detective Hercule Poirot must figure out who killed Simeon Lee, a multimillionaire who invites his family over for Christmas and then winds up dead. I guess someone must have been on the naughty list that year…

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terrorby Christopher Moore
Christmas is great, but Christmas with zombies is better. When an angel tries to bring a dead man dressed as Santa back to life, all hell breaks loose as flesh eaters begin attacking the town. I just love the smell of brains roasting on an open fire, don’t you?

The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry
I’m pretty sure anyone who has ever attended school read this in their English class around the holidays. A young couple attempts to buy the perfect gift for each other, but they have to make a sacrifice to get it. The ending is sure to make you go “Awww!” and feel all gooey inside.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
When a jewel is found inside the throat of a Christmas goose, Sherlock Holmes must figure out how exactly this bird laid such a valuable egg. Expect a jewel heist, fowl hijinks, and some brilliant deductions by our favorite detective.

Letter from Father Christmasby J.R.R. Tolkien
Did your parents ever leave you notes from Santa when you were a kid? Well, Tolkien used to entertain his children every year with letters from Mr. Claus, telling them all about the shenanigans going on in the North Pole. These letters were compiled into one heartwarming and magical Christmas collection. No hobbits, though, sorry.

Visions of Sugarplumsby Janet Evanovich
Stephanie Plum can’t even get a day off for Christmas. Between a toymaker who skipped bail, her crazy family, and the strange but sexy guy who showed up in her kitchen, Stephanie’s going to need a Christmas miracle to get through the holidays.

Matchless: A Christmas Story,” by Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire takes the sad tale of “The Little Match Girl” and gives us a slightly more upbeat version. While her fate doesn’t change, we’re introduced to a young boy named Frederik who unknowingly crosses her paths. The same strange magic that the Little Match Girl discovers helps save him, too, albeit in a very different way.

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10 Mind-Altering Business Books from 2014

As founder of ad agency StrawberryFrog, I read a lot of business books to try to keep up with the newest thinking and fresh ideas. Trouble is, many business books just confirm what you knew already. Rare is the title that truly shifts your thinking and opens your mind to new possibilities. The following 10 books (with a few honorable mentions at the end) do just that. Some you’ve no doubt heard of already; a few are under-appreciated gems. All are worth reading, even in a time when we all have too much to read.

CREATIVITY INC: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
The inside details of creating a “sustainable creative culture”–as Ed Catmull did at Pixar–are fascinating to anyone running a business. The book helpfully provides a list of the “Starting Points for Managing a Creative Culture,” and is full of revealing Pixar anecdotes and great quotes from Steve Jobs. But the transformative lesson is this: To thrive in a creative business, you must tap into the collective brainpower of all your people. Catmull writes, “If there are people in the organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose.”

A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas
by Warren Berger
As the owner of a company, I sometimes have the feeling that it’s my role to have all the answers. Warren Berger’s book turns that thinking upside down by showing that in an era of exponential change (now), questions are more valuable than answers. Berger urges us to address challenges by framing a series of actionable, “beautiful” questions–and the book provides practical tools for becoming a better questioner. From a business standpoint, I particularly like Berger’s radical suggestions that companies should brainstorm in questions–and also replace the company mission statement with a “mission question.”

THE HARD THING ABOUT HARD THINGS: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
by Ben Horowitz
This book became an instant bestseller because people were eager to get insight into the mind of a high-tech pioneer (Netscape, Loudcloud) and current co-owner of the famous VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. Steeped in the first-person, real-world experience of a high-flying CEO who weathered some horrible times, this memoir has more than a few mind-bending ideas, such as this one: Rather than shying away from voicing your worst-case scenario (“What if we go bankrupt?) rephrase it in such a way as to identify opportunities and make action plans (“What would I do right now if we went bankrupt?”). A plan can keep hope alive.

ROOKIE SMARTS: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work
by Liz Wiseman
“With age comes wisdom” goes the adage, but leadership consultant Liz Wiseman’s contention is that maturity also makes us less open to change. In a business world where upstart companies like Uber and Airbnb continue to grab market share from more established players, how does one compete? By cultivating “rookie smarts.” Wiseman shows us how to foster a mindset that is naïve, curious, hungry, and yes, even a bit clueless–but always open to learning and adapting. Thinking young will keep your business game fresh and competitive.

ESSENTIALISM: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
This book touches on both business and life issues and has a great message for anyone feeling overloaded by all the distractions of today’s complex, always-on world. McKeown urges us to do more with less, as part of a movement called “essentialism,” which he sums up as the 4 E’s: “Essence, Explore, Eliminate, and Execute.” (Warren Buffet is one example of someone living by these words.) Here’s one of many “aha” moments in the book: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” Which is why, McKeown notes, we should continually ask ourselves: “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”

HOW THE WORLD SEES YOU: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination
by Sally Hogshead
So many business books tell us how to change and improve our methods or products to attract more customers. Sally Hogshead’s book flips that on its head and says instead of trying to change and conform to others’ expectations or needs, figure out what makes you and your brand unique (or in Hogshead’s parlance “fascinating”) and capitalize on it. Her book discusses nearly 50 archetypes and tells you how to highlight your differences and strengths to connect and influence others.

THE SOFT EDGE: Where Companies Find Lasting Success
by Rich Karlgaard
Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard has been a longtime observer of the business world, and sensed a small but growing movement in “soft edge” cultures. After interviewing a number of companies, Karlgaard identifies the five attributes of soft edge as trust, smarts, teams, taste, and story. The exploration of what trust means between companies and employees and companies and customers (and how corrosive lack of trust can be) is especially strong. Great strategy and execution are still key factors in business success, but Karlgaard’s mind-expanding message for me is that today “the soft edge” is really the only competitive advantage you can have in the new economy.

A BIGGER PRIZE: How We Can Do Better than the Competition
by Margaret Heffernan
Everybody loves to win a “best of” prize, but have we ever thought about the cost of this modern-day obsession with competition and winning? British entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan lists some of the downsides: burnout, cheating, lying, fraud, doping scandals, law-breaking, and winners taking all, leaving the majority in the dust. Heffernan offers an alternative to this joyless race to the bottom by sharing ample examples of business leaders and companies who’ve found creative, cooperative paths to success–resulting in a healthier kind of winning.

FEWER, BIGGER, BOLDER: From Mindless Expansion to Focused Growth
by Sanjay Khosla and Mohanbir Sawhney
In this book, Khosla, a former top Kraft executive, and Sawhney, a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, challenge some of the most fundamental assumptions about growth in business. Too often, company leaders believe they must continually add, expand, acquire–but the authors show that success actually comes from painstakingly narrowing your options and “picking your bets.” The book lays out a 7-step program designed to help an organization sharpen its focus at every stage of business. It’s a much-needed call for clarity and simplicity.

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POWERS OF TWO: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
by Joshua Wolf Shenk
Rather than subscribing to the “lone genius” theory (which many a CEO would like to believe) Joshua Wolf Shenk makes a persuasive case for the power and necessity great partnerships, with his illustrative anecdotes ranging widely–among the great duos profiled are the Wright Brothers, Watson and Crick, Lennon and McCartney, Jobs and Wozniak, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. When you think of creative pairs, you think of great partners helping and complementing each other. The eye-opening takeaway for me was that pairs of rivals, like Ann Landers and her sister Dear Abby, often give a push of competition that adds to each other’s work. So next time you see your nemesis in the hallway, give him or her a genuine “Thank you!”

Honorable mentions: A few other mind-altering business reads from 2014 that I couldn’t fit on this top-10 list include Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future; Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon’s Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change; and Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao’s Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less.

Scott Goodson is the founder of StrawberryFrog, and author of the best selling mind-altering 2012 business book Uprising: How to Build a Brand–and Change the World–by Sparking Cultural Movements.

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How The Diary Became A Public Way Of Getting Personal

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Stashed in the darkest corner of my bookcase is my childhood diary. Between its pastel-floral covers, behind the flimsy, almost wholly symbolic lock is a blunt emotional barometer. Entries peak in adolescence, where reflections are characterized by litanies of perceived injustices. Tragedies include not being allowed to go unsupervised to parties and being denied (temporarily, it turned out) eight-hole Doc Martens.

It’s a predictably embarrassing document, and I’m simultaneously appalled by and nostalgic for the self it evokes. As far as diaries go, it fulfills some obvious stereotypes. It’s narcissistic, hyper-emotional, and fiercely private. In this respect, it is unlike a new wave of diary publications that use diary to articulate personal stories, tocirculate testimony, or to manifest a creative self-consciousness. My diary is not really intended to reach a readership other than my (faintly humiliated) future self. It is a private document. Increasingly, many contemporary diaries are not.

It’s impossible to gauge just how many of us keep diaries. Some diarists, particularly those in the public eye or with a desire to conceal, end up destroying them. In popular representations, diaries are almost always connected to the potential for humiliation or exposure. This is because the diary is usually identified as a private pursuit — a stereotype replayed mostly in transgression. The diary of secrets, scandal, or confession is a cinematic trope and a staple of tabloid news. The diary as private is also linked to its status as a marginal literary mode; diaries are usually considered embarrassingly raw and not designed (or able) to bear the weight of readership. Exceptions apply, of course; war diaries are considered a special case, as are the diaries of famous writers.

In contemporary popular culture, these are the kinds of stereotypes that remain strong. Yet the diary is increasingly visible as a diverse, creative form and as a public and published mode. A good example here might be Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings, which chronicles the UK performance artist’s relentless but ultimately hopeful struggle with mental illness and show how diary can be used as a flexible, creative, and therapeutic mode. The watercolor sketches that Baker creates each day during her period of illness create a compound effect for the reader, and who also participates in the tense daily struggle for wellness. Baker’s diary is a cathartic activity, a literal act of self-preservation, but it is also a literary act of the kind that autobiography in particular is associated with; it is designed to move, to inform, and to testify to a readership about an experience that would otherwise remain invisible and private.

Another location where diary writing is visible as a public act of self-representation is online. A lot of blogging, for example, resonates with the popularity of an intimate, personal, or “diaristic” point of view in public commentary. Not all (or even most) blogs are diaries. However, those bloggers who have actively engaged with the prospect of what they do as online diary have also often done so strategically. Belle de Jour’s massively successful blog, Diary of a London Callgirl catapulted its pseudonymous author to fame and inspired an entire sex blog sub-genre. Diary-blogs can deliberately activate (and complicate) well-established conventions around the production of secret, scandalous, or very personal material.

Equally, resistance to seeing social media like Facebook as a diary (despite some clear structural conventions that would support this interpretation) remind us that diary narrative still arouses the suggestion of taboo and transgression and that there are anxieties around the articulation of private experience in public. The diary online attracts or repulses, depending on your point of view.

As a contemporary genre, the diary actively joins with the myriad hybrid modes of autobiography that now make up the literary public sphere. In doing so, it both negotiates with and deploys assumptions of diary discourse as more natural or less mediated than other autobiographical modes. An assumption that diary writing is natural and incidental, what Virginia Woolf once described as “like scratching or having a bath”, bears scrutiny in a contemporary culture obsessed with accessing and consuming “private” lives played out in public for our pleasure.

What is it that we want when we read about the lives of others? Diaries are just one of the many forms in which autobiographical narrative now circulates to mass audiences hungry for the “real” story. However, while autobiography and memoir have gained ground as legitimate and canonical literary modes, the diary retains an association with inappropriate, overly personal, or pejoratively “private” discourse. What R. Jay Magill calls an ideology of intimacy underwrites the explosion in intimate self-disclosure by contemporary figures and from Hannah Horvath to Big Brother diarieshave a special association to secrets, scandals, and confession. Contemporary authors who publish diaries harness the genre’s rhetorical authority in the representation of private experience and they respond to a cultural milieu in which the real and the authentic have become fetish objects. Dear Diary, look at me now!

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The Girlfriend’s Guide to Book Giving This Season

Finding the perfect gift raises our endorphins and fires our happiest neurotransmitters. And thank goodness because holiday list-making and excessive traveling call for as many (hopefully natural!) uppers as possible. Better than turtle doves or maids-a-milking, these 12 books will satisfy everyone on your list from the reader who digs a great beach read to the one who is (lovably) meticulous.

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1. For the (Literary) Erotic: Wanting It by Diana Whitney, Harbor Mountain Press. Oxford scholar Diana Whitney’s gorgeous collection on the power of desire isthe pillow talk poetry book. Wanting It hit the Indie bestseller list this fall and continues to scratch that erotic itch for readers who love honest, beautiful language with an edgy, literary twist.

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2. For the Beach Loller: Night Blindness by Susan Strecker, Thomas Dunne Books. Hands down 2014’s best beach read, this Indie Next Pick debut novels chronicle the life an artist model traveling home for a summer in New England to save her dying father. There she faces a high school sweetheart she still loves, questions about her marriage she didn’t know she had and a terrifying family secret she thought she left far behind.

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3, For the Corporate Climber: Sleep Your Way to the Top (and Other Myths about Success in Business) by Jane Miller, FG Press. Jane Miller became the highest ranking woman in every company she’s worked for including Pepsi Co, Heinz and Rudi’s (hip) bakery. Now she’s packed all her knowledge into one sassy, practical guide for the corporate girl that includes how to deal with your boss in his underpants (in a hot tub, drunk at 2 a.m.).

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4. For the (cozy) Noir: Finding Jessica by Parker Riggs, Mainly Murder Press, a spicy ex-CIA agent, a small New England town, two high-profile murders, a mobster and an art heist. This little book packs the coziest crime punch of the season! Riggs was a Washington insider before turning to mystery-writing and the prose pops with a vivid veracity.

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5. For the DIY Decorator: Create the Style You Crave on a Budget You Can Affordby Desha Peacock, Skyhorse Press. An award-winning television host and a girl that can make garage sale couches look like an Anthropologie special order, this spirited stylist brings you examples of the nations’ most beautiful homes created on a budget. Perfect if you love eclectic style with a touch of boho.

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6. For the Artist: 33 Authors in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton, W.W. Norton. One of the most critically-acclaimed books of 2014, Thornton interviews 33 artists around the world who are making a living out of their creative work. This proves that art is actually a possible career track.

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7. For the Snacker: The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson, Stewart, Tabori and Chang. Following the farm to table trend, popular blogger and tree hugger, Erin Gleeson shows how to make delectable recipes with as few as four ingredients. The photographs are mouthwatering and the book is so pretty, it doubles as art décor.

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8. For the (Lovable) Obsessive Compulsive: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro, St. Martin’s Press. Julia Fierro’s fantastic debut novel has at its center one of the most lovable characters of contemporary lit: A 30-something young mom, trying to hide her OCD from a group of friends on a long summer weekend on Long Island. This book has the weird effect of helping you fall in love with those odd neuroses you’re always trying to hide from your friends.

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9. For the Book Lover The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. One of the most beloved books of 2014, an island, an indie bookstore, a grumpy man and a mysterious package that threatens to create beauty from stasis. A contemporary Scrooge story with a literary twist, book lovers with fall in mad love with A.J. Fikry and all the quirky characters that people his life.

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10. For the Spiritually Money Hungry. Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money and Miracles by Marianne Williamson, HarperOne. Money, money, money, we all want money (but spiritually of course). Here’s the book that shows us how to make bank while also chilling out with the divinity. Perfect for spirit lovers who’d like to set their feet on the ground and move forward financially.

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‘Tis the Season for Reading: My Favorite Holiday Books

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There’s perhaps nothing cozier and more likely to get you into theholiday spirit than to curl up beside the Christmas tree, nestle under a blanket with a mug of something warm to drink and dive into the pages of a beloved book. Sure, this is a busy and chaotic time and we very well may not have the opportunity to slow down for such a luxury. If we do manage to snatch the time, odds are we may want that warm drink to be something a bit stiffer than hot cocoa. But, if you can steal that brief moment for yourself over these next few days, it might provide a much-needed antidote to the hustle and headaches of this otherwise frenetic season. I plan to make time to do just that, and so I’ve come up with my list of “Favorite Holiday Reads.”

1. A Visit From St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore

You would be hard-pressed to find more well-known or beloved opening lines in all of literature than Moore’s iconic beginning: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Sound familiar? Yes, I’m sure it does. You might even be able to go on for several more verses from memory. Moore’s language is so lyrical and fanciful that we can practically see the sugarplums dancing in those little heads. Perhaps you can also envision the big-bellied laughter of Santa, guffaws that Moore likens to “a bowl full of jelly.” What is for certain is that these lines about the “right jolly old elf” and his stealthy nocturnal visit are sure to fill your belly with the warm and fuzzies.

2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

They may be missing Father and shivering through the harshest winter of the Civil War, but Marmee and her four March girls kindle the warm glow of the Christmas spirit for themselves and for those of us who join them on Alcott’s classic literary journey. Any family holiday celebration would benefit greatly from the wisdom of Marmee, the kindness of Meg, the fiery will of Jo, the generosity of Beth and the spunk of little Amy. And words like the following help us to remember to keep it all in perspective: “You know the reason mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for every one; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can’t do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly.”

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss serves up morals and yuletide mischief like only he can in this quirky and iconic tale of a misanthropic ne’er-do-well who experiences a sudden change of heart. This story has inspired scores of spinoff movies, songs, plays and pop culture references — so vivid are Seuss’s words and illustrations. I still recall the childhood terror I felt as I looked onto the page and saw the spindly-fingered Grinch making off with all of the Christmas goodies. And something else we can’t forget is how the warmth and generosity of the residents of Who-ville (Cindy Lou Who!) conquer even the cold-hearted Grinch.

4. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling

Even with the threat of He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named resurfacing, or the menace of Fluffy the three-headed dog lurking down the corridor, it doesn’t get much cozier than Hogwarts Castle at Christmas time. Warm up some butterbeer and slip into one of Mrs. Weasley’s lumpy homemade sweaters, because Rowling gives new meaning to the phrase “the magic of Christmas.”

5. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg

A classic, and an all-time favorite of mine. My family reads this book every year on Christmas Eve. Van Allsburg’s tale of the midnight journey to the North Pole speaks to the child in all of us, taking us back to those feelings of wonder and awe that visit only the young at heart. Every year, when my family gets to the final page of the book, it happens like clockwork: my dad begins crying and struggles to read the last lines. My mom, or whoever is sitting closest, takes over. And though each one of us can’t help but giggle at the predictability of this family ritual, I suspect that each one of us is also asking ourselves: do I still hear the bell ringing? Can I still conjure that spirit of wonder, that non-cynical willingness to believe in good and generosity and magic?

6. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

Though Narnia is stuck under the deep-freeze of perpetual winter, no one there can remember the last time they’ve celebrated Christmas or had a visit from Santa Claus.Always winter but never Christmas? The horror! That is, until Peter, Susan and Lucy show up, signifying that the terrifying power of the White Witch might, at last, be waning. Santa, in C.S. Lewis’s beloved first Chronicles of Narniatale, represents the return of the good guys and the rekindling of the indelible embers of hope. But it’s not all just fun and games on Christmas day in Narnia; Santa happens to give the children really strategic gifts that go on to feature very prominently later in the epic tale. That Santa Claus knows what he’s doing!

7. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Last but most definitely not least, this Charles Dickens novella has been a beloved Noel favorite since its first publication in the mid-nineteenth century. Since that time it has never gone out of print. If you find yourself wanting to say “Bah humbug!” this holiday season, just remember the lessons of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, as literature’s most notorious miser visits with the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future. The message is one of generosity and gratitude, and you’ll be shouting “Merry Christmas to us all!” through the streets in no time.

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The Book We’re Talking About: ‘Here’ By Richard McGuire

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by Richard McGuire
Pantheon
Published December 9, 2014

What we think:
Before Richard Linklater made the decision — hailed as groundbreaking — to film a single actor for 12 years, Richard McGuire used his own artistic medium to chronicle the life of a single room over the course of millennia. His 1989 comic series “Here” was quietly published by Art Spiegelman in RAW magazine, and this month the concept has been put into a graphic novel of the same name.

When we first meet our protagonist — the corner of a living room nestled within a house built in colonial America — it’s 1957, and she’s decked out in shades of mauve, with a crib situated at her center and a painting of an overgrown forest hung above her fireplace. In short, she’s an ordinary room — a womb fostering small, universal moments.

On the next page, it’s 1942, and on the next, 2007. Little has changed but the wallpaper and the texture of the couch. When we return to 1957, a woman enters, and wonders aloud, “Hmm… now why did I come in here again?”

This quotidian scene, which bookends the story (in the end we return to the woman, who remembers she wanted to pick up a book from the coffee table) sets the tone for most that follow — other than a few climactic pages, McGuire’s book concerns itself with private laughs, family portraits, teens studying and couples redecorating.

The drama, then, arises not from the plot, but from the convergence of many plots. In 1986, a doorbell rings. Simultaneously occurring on the same page is a conversation from 1609, when an American Indian couple rustling in the same spot in the woods stops in their tracks to whisper: “Ntelsitam” (“I heard something”). A man from an archeological society enters the 1986 living room, inquiring about the home’s backyard, which could house the remains of a burial site. A soda-drinking boy nods along, wearing a shirt that reads “Future Transitional Fossil.”

McGuire’s tinkering with time is more than clever. Readers have taken chronological leaps before, using machines invented by sci-fi writers, the many pages of hefty bildungsroman, or the modernist conventions that fold years into sentences. But allowing a brief history of the world, from 80,000,000 B.C. to 2213, to swirl around a living room — a setting that’s intimate but not too intimate — is particularly moving.

Hearing Revolutionary War-era sons quibbling with their fathers over politics reminds us of how permanent some facets of humanity are. McGuire does this in a way that doesn’t undermine the dramas that make up our lives, no matter how insignificant they may seem when read aside a thumping dinosaur (the dinosaur gets one panel, and a Halloween party gets several pages).

While McGuire’s original panels were inventive in their own right –- separate scenes set in different eras would take up flat space within a single image of the room, removing chronology from the representation of time –- the book format is even more impressive. Turning its pages doesn’t thrust you forward or backward, but just elsewhere. The result is a tenderly deconstructed flip book that’s worth reading if only for its pleasant depictions of the near future.

What other reviewers think:
The Atlantic: “Here is a meditation on ‘impermanence,’ which is what makes it emotionally compelling yet unsettling — as though every moment in time is preserved in some random playback mode.”

The Morgan Library & Museum: “Populating the space with multiple frames of action, dating from the ancient past to the distant future, McGuire conjures narratives, dialogues, and streams of association that unite moments divided by years and centuries.”

Who wrote it?
Richard McGuire is a comic artist, and author of children’s books.

Who will read it?
Fans of graphic novelists — particularly Chris Ware, who cites McGuire as an inspiration.

Opening lines:
“Hmm… Now why did I come in here again?”

Notable passage:
“I used to see her run by my window where I worked. She was always running.”
“I was always late for work.”