Tonight at the bookstore! 7PM, it’s fruitcake weather again! Please join us for our own Brad Craft’s annual Holiday Reading. Truman Capote’s classic, A Christmas Memory & an encore. Cookies. Wine. tradition and good times.
Brad and Nick are joined by novelist Jason Vanhee!
It is, indeed, that time of year. Come Tuesday, December 2nd, at 7PM I will be reading Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory at the bookstore. I don’t know if seven years quite constitutes a “tradition” yet, but if it does, this is ours, and mine.
Every year I pull my rather weathered copy of the book off my shelf, and read it again to myself. Then I read it aloud. No one but me to hear it then, that first time, in November. I stumble, every year, in the same places, over the same words, even after seven years and more than a dozen performances of the piece. Every year I smile and every year I choke up in exactly the same places. Every time I am impressed again by the quality of the prose and moved by the power of the sentiment.
It is a perfect, American Christmas story.
Of all the readings I do each year, this is the one I like best. I can’t say, even after all this time that it is the best I can do, but I’m proud of it, nonetheless. The folks who come to hear it, and the folks who come back year after year, tell me how much this story means to them, how much they enjoy our evening together. They tell me the cookies were better last year, or that they wish the cider was “hard”, but no one really complains, and a good time would seem to be had by all.
A Christmas Memory is an expression of gratitude. That’s it’s power, I think. It’s beautifully written and as brief, as slight, perhaps as an actual memory, but it’s authority comes from the sincerity with which it was written. The joy and the regret are real. The love is honest.
Truman Capote was already something of a literary celebrity at just thirty-two, and working as a journalist, alone at Christmas, in a hotel room “on the other side of the world” when he wrote this story. In it he recalls to life Buddy — himself at six — and Sook, his “sixty-something” cousin and best friend, their little dog, Queenie, and the holidays they spent together in Monroeville, Alabama, where Buddy’s mother left him, in the care of rather stern “relations.” Together the friends make fruitcakes, and Christmas decorations, fetch a tree from the woods, and make each other kites as presents, yet again unable to afford the gifts they each wish they might buy for the other. That’s it. That’s the story. From such humble materials, Capote made a minor masterpiece; redolent of whisky and candied fruit, pine and orange-peel, tinted with the red dust of the roads and colored by the loneliness of a young man, far from home, remembering the last happiness of his troubled childhood. He would go on to write other, grander things. He never wrote a better.
And every year, I read it aloud at the bookstore. I’d like to think I’m better at this now than I was the first time I did it, but I don’t know that to be true. What I do know is that there is a magic in the words; a power to unite and delight the reader and the listeners alike, a magic that transports us all back to childhood, and the wonder of a cold, Christmas morning, the pleasures of a kite as it takes the air.
It’s a story, and a tradition for which I am grateful and with which I hope in turn to express my gratitude to the audience, our customers at the bookstore, to my employers for letting me read aloud, to the memories of the author, to the shades of Buddy and Sook.
Gratitude, I’m convinced, to be sincere, requires action, sound. We must say it, show it, sing it if we can. Well, I can’t sing, so this is the best I can do.
Hope to see you there, the night of.
(Thanks to Rosemary’s Blog for the photo.)
Haters gon’ hate. I know all the purists will be disturbed to see — what shall we call this? “cheer”? — so early in the season. I get it. I do.
Okay, maybe I don’t. Maybe I’ve worked in retail too long. Maybe I’m a little obsessed with the Holidays. I love Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice. I love the food, the lights, the music, the classic stories by Dickens, Capote, et al, and yes, the schmaltz. It’s all good — to me.
Every year, when the new ornaments first appear in the Gift Department, I get a little giddy. I love all the pretty little birds, the glass spacemen in their delicate rocket-ships, the wooden hedgehogs, the shiny. Love the shiny.
Every year I tell myself I will not buy more ornaments for what will be, after all, an already laden and not very big tree, and then, every year, I buy more. (Last year I did finally retire some of my older ornaments that I liked less, particularly those in themes no longer likely to be used again. Cows, for example. I had a lot of cows: cows in Santa hats, cows with wreaths ’round their necks, angel cows, wise-men cows — alot o’ cows.)
I’m a sucker now for those pretty little glass birds. Might be a whole tree soon with just those little glass birds.
And yes, I am already listening to some Holiday music. I can hear the collective groan out there in the wide world. I’m not talking Jungle Bells here. A wonderful composer, Sir John Tavener, just died, at 69 — far too soon. Last night I was listening to some of his glorious choral music, and yes, some of it was composed for the season.
And, yes again, I’m already reading Holiday stories. Every year for some years now, I’ve read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory at the bookstore, come December. I will again, Thursday, December 12th, at 7PM. And every year, for an encore, I read another Holiday piece; a short story usually, or a poem or two, by the likes of Ogden Nash. The Capote is a beautiful thing, an American classic, full of humor and sentiment, but also suffused with the melancholy of remembered happiness and regret. One does not necessarily want to send the good people home on such a sad note, so I try to find something to read after, something more specifically funny, even silly, to end the evening on a lighter note. The search, as they say, is on.
Forgive me then if I’m already in the mood. I know it is early yet, and you may not want to hear about it. Really though, it is part of the job. That it happens to be my favorite part, my favorite reading, certainly, and my favorite season — well, I understand if that’s just me.
(Come on now, admit it, how can you not like all that new shiny?)
Premature Season’s Greetings!