Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Stories for December

The Virago Book of Ghost Stories made October Short Story Mondays such fun, I decided to read from a holiday collection for December, too.

Perhaps I started checking the local stores too early, but neither B&N nor Borders had a collection in stock. Amazon was the next option, but the number of choices there was overwhelming. What could I do but turn to other bloggers for suggestions? A conversation on twitter and comments on my blog lead me to purchase Christmas Stories from Everyman's Pocket Classics, a book I first heard about around this time last year from Darlene.

This list of authors included reads like a literary Who's Who, and I couldn't wait to get started! Since December 1 happened to fall on a Tuesday, Short Story Monday is a day late this week.

"Vanka" by Anton Chekhov, originally appearing in The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories (1922), was the first story I chose. In it, a young orphaned boy, working as an apprenticed shoemaker for a cruel master, is writing a letter on Christmas Eve to his grandfather. The letter is a plea to be removed from the horrible situation and allowed come 'home' to the family that employs his grandfather as a night watchman.

Chekhov's description of Christmas Eve night is beautiful:

"The air is still, fresh, and transparent. The night is dark, but one can see the whole village with its white roofs and coils of smoke coming from the chimneys, the trees are silvered with hoar frost, the snowdrifts. The whole sky spangled with gay twinkling stars, and the Milky Way is as distinct as though it had been washed and rubbed with snow for a holiday..."

The letter, though, is simply sad. It reads:

"Dear grandfather, it is more than I can bear, it's simply no life at all. I want to run away to the village, but I have no boots, and I am afraid of the frost. When I grow up big I will take care of you for this, and not let anyone annoy you, and when you die I will pray for the rest of your soul, just as for my mammy's."

The boy addresses the letter "To grandfather in the village" but later adds a name to the envelope, and naively drops it in the box before returning home to dream sweet, hopeful dreams.

The story left me with an empty, somewhat bittersweet feeling... not at all what I was expecting from Christmas stories! You can read the story here. Visit The Book Mine Set for more short story posts.


  1. I'm a sucker for gorgeous book cover designs and I want it already, just for the book cover!

    I'll definitely look into this one as the holiday season continues :)

  2. This was my first read of Chekhov and I had a similar reaction. I hated the way it ended because I really got into the story and then it just ends and I wanted to know what happened next. I want to read more Chekhov but was so disappointed that I don't know what to read next by him. Hope the next story is better. The first piece I read out of the New Yorker collection was a disappointment as well...Marxist elves are not my idea of a good Christmas story.

  3. What a gorgeous book! I look forward to the little tidbits of Christmas stories you will be giving us over the next month JoAnn!

  4. I also love the cover! -- I do judge a book by its cover, but shoot, that story sounds a little sad. Thanks for stopping by :)

  5. I must admit I bought the Christmas Stories book last year based on the cover alone. I still haven't read any of them. But it is back on the coffee table for the holiday season.

  6. That cover is adorable! Although I'm still trying to figure out if there's a Christmas connection.

  7. I can only imagine how many there were to choose from on Amazon. I hope that this one is a winner for you!

  8. saveophelia - Good covers attract my attention, too. This one caught my eye last year.

    Book Psmith - This was my first experience with Chekhov, too. I keep reading that he is the master of short stories, and plan to look into one of his collections after the holidays. Sorry the New Yorker collection didn't start on a better note - Marxist elves??!

    Rachel - I love Christmas stories, and there are so many great authors in this collection, it just has to be a winner. It will be fun to read my way through.

    Kim - This was a little too sad for a Christmas story, in my opinion. The beautiful cover is a definite plus though.

  9. Thomas - At least it will be handy when the mood strikes! I also read the O. Henry story this week - that one was like a Wild West Christmas.

    Softdrink - I was thinking about the Christmas connection with the cover, too. The redbird is some kind of Christmas symbol - luck, perhaps? It reminds me of the Fannie Flagg novel A Redbird Christmas.

    Staci - I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the number of choices on amazon, but was very grateful to have some guidance and recommendations from my blogging pals!

  10. Ooh, I'm looking forward to your latest series of short story posts - Christmas ones for December are perfect, and this sounds like a good volume!

  11. I found that the Muriel Spark story was rather an odd one for a Christmas story as well but there's all sorts of people out there isn't there. The Saki story was good for a laugh!

  12. What a cool idea JoAnn! The cover is absolutely gorgeous.

  13. Verity - Holiday themed reading is so enjoyable...hope this collection turns out to be as good as the Virago Ghost stories!

    Darlene - I almost read the Muriel Spark story this week, but decided on Chekhov because I'd never read him. I do remember you writing about Saki last year, and will surely be reading that one!

    Reviewsbylola - I thought Christmas stories would be fun - and I loved the cover, too!

  14. Cover Sucker Here...LOL (it's great). I don't love short story collections, but for Christmas, they seem to work for me. Thanks for mentioning this book.

  15. Oh, I'd love to read this. I haven't read much of Chekhov but he obviously writes wonderfully. I'll check my local bookshop to see if they have this.

  16. Diane - It sounds like quite a few of us are suckers for a great cover. I think short stories are perfect for the holidays, too!

    The Literary Stew - I know I'll be exploring more of Chekhov after the holidays. Hope your bookstore carries this collection.

  17. I don't read a lot of short stories, but thsi one looks good. Thanks for the review.

  18. Stacybuckeye - This was my first Chekhov, and I plan to read more in 2010. Short stories are especially good during this busy time of year, I think.


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