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Books with the word 'Christmas' in the Title
By David Pitt

The Virago Book of Christmas (Virago Press, hardcover), edited by Michelle Lovric, is an anthology of Christmas stories written by, and about, women. There are more than fifty contributors, including Charlotte Bronte (an excerpt from Jane Eyre), Edna Ferber (a short story, No Room) Agatha Christie (an extract from a Hercule Poirot story), and Emily Dickinson (a letter written to a friend). The range of material is impressive, and the quality of writing is, in place, downright moving. A very nice little book.

Also very nice is The Christmas Tree (Random House, paperback), by Julie Salamon. It's the charming story of an orphaned little girl who's shipped off to a convent, where she befriends, and please remember this is a Christmas story and therefore is not bound by the usual standards of realism, a fir tree. The two grow up together, until, many years later, the tree is in danger from a particularly nasty winter storm. And to save her friend, the now-grown-up little girl must make a difficult sacrifice ... Delightfully written, with lovely illustrations by Jill Weber, this is one of those wipe-away-the-tears-before-anyone-sees-you-crying stories.

The Last Noel (Sourcebooks, hardcover), by Michael Malone, is the elegant, lyrical story of a friendship born in 1963 and revisited each year around Christmas time. Okay, sue me, the book doesn't actually have the word 'Christmas' in the title -- it's too darn good not to mention here. Malone is quickly becoming one of my favorite novelists, a wordsmith with a sharp ear for dialogue and an artist's gift for creating character portraits. His novels are beautiful things, and this one's a sheer delight.

White Christmas: The Story of an American Song (Scribner, hardcover), by Jody Rosen, traces the somewhat surprising history of the Christmas standard. In 1940 its composer, Irving Berlin, didn't give too much thought to the song -- it was a minor number in a stage show -- but, a couple of years later, Bing Crosby's beautiful rendition (in the film Holiday Inn) made the song a nationwide hit. Here you'll read about the birth of the song, its overwhelming popularity, and its impact -- for example, it unleashed a torrent of similar Christmas songs on the world, and led to a spirited battle between Berlin and a young fella named Elvis Presley. Fascinating stuff.

Finally, here are two Yuletide-themed novels by well-known novelists. Skipping Christmas (Doubleday, hardcover) is the imaginative tale of a married couple who decide, just this once, not to celebrate Christmas; they're going to take a cruise, instead. But this seemingly-straightforward decision complicates their lives no end, as friends, neighbours, and colleagues simply refuse to accept it. The novel's written by John Grisham, best known -- as if I have to tell you this -- for bestselling legal thrillers like The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and A Time to Kill. It's well done, and I like it very much, though I should point out that it was originally published in 2001, and the publisher apparently still has copies of the first printing on hand, which indicates it wasn't a big seller. However the book has been reissued at a lower, more reasonable price, and I think it'll make a pleasant gift.

So will The Christmas Train (Warner, hardcover), by David Baldacci, the story of a journalist who, through an unfortunate sequence of events, is forced to take the train home to Los Angeles for Christmas. Along the way he meets an assortment of colorful characters who lead him to a new appreciation of the holiday season. Baldacci is, of course, the author of Absolute Power, Total Control, and other fast-paced thrillers, and this new novel may come as something of a surprise to someone who's familiar with those rather clumsy nailbiters. It's gentle, and witty, and endearing -- very good, but very different. Like Grisham's Skipping Christmas, the book could have been merely a novelty; but, like the Grisham, it is a well-crafted, entirely enjoyable Christmas yarn.

Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles on books, on a variety of subjects, as holiday gifts. Find more suggestions in our Columns.
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