What book(s) do you recommend people read around Christmastime?
I would recommend experiencing Christmas rather than reading about it. Let the workflow lag and allow the marvelous protective fog of the holiday protect you from the everyday. Get off the screens and the twatter and talk to those around you and take an active interest in their lives. But since even Christians have lost a sense of Advent and what Christmas is about, read what is perhaps the most beautiful book ever written: The Gospel of Luke. It gets right to the reason for the season. Or do yourself a favor and buy the best-selling Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Joseph Ratzinger, otherwise known as Benedict XVI, and have a smart Pope explain it to you in a new light. Leo the Great's Christmas sermon is only a click away, as are those by St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Thomas Aquinas. Far better than anything you will likely hear if you go to church these days, which you should—even if only out of curiosity or some vague sense that it's the right thing to do. And, if you must, while it may be taken as cliche by the cool kids, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is very much a Christmas story. Guys like J.R.R. Tolkien used to write highly regarded Christmas stories for fun instead of tweeting ironic poses.
-Matthew Peterson, founding editor of The American Mind
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol takes the cake. But read the text, don't substitute with a film version. You will find this short work to be both witty and, at times, profound. A Christmas Carol suffers because of its over-familiarity. What's at play is actually something deeper.
I recently did, with friends, a podcast on this short work that you can access here.
-David Bahr, managing editor of The American Mind
One must read ghost stories at Christmas. I don’t make the rules. I don’t even totally understand this one, but I follow it religiously—I can’t deny there is just something about a ghost story at Christmas. If you haven’t tried it, do so this year and thank me later. There’s a reason why Dickens told the Christmas story he told, and why it strikes such a nerve: there is of course an element of the supernatural at Christmas, and contemplating the chill of the unknown while you huddle by the fire with a cozy beverage (mulled cider for me, please) creates a delicious contrast that can’t be beat. Tuck into some M.R. James (“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” e.g., but any good collection of his is a treasure trove) or read the originals upon which the “Haunting Of” Netflix series is based: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, and The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. There are other classics of the genre, but those ought to get you started. Don’t go for gore: it’s boring and tawdry. Go for the shiver down your spine that will creep up on you at unexpected moments, whispering to you of things in heaven and earth beyond your philosophy. Enjoy!
-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind