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Penguin 16-20

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Penguin Books launches their Christmas Book-a-Day challenge, Season’s Readings. A prompt for everyday up to Christmas Day. Are you getting into the holidays spirit?

16. For someone I love
Love: Poems by Pablo Neruda

17. Funny read
Without Feathers by Woody Allen

18. Massive Tome
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

19. Traveling home—reading this
I’m actually going home *after* Christmas and New Year, in mid-January. I have been fussing with my reading list for this trip to Asia and two of them are The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

20. Set where I live
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, a tribute to books in print and type set in my very own San Francisco

Penguin 11-15

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Penguin Books launches their Christmas Book-a-Day challenge, Season’s Readings. A prompt for everyday up to Christmas Day. Are you getting into the holidays spirit?

11. Christmas Classic
I always used to pick A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; but The Christmas Train by David Baldacci is not a bad choice. I like story set in a train.

12. Book of poems
Love: Poems by Pablo Neruda

13. Stocking filler
What I call “loo literature” books! Books on etiquette, about dogs and cats, and little travel tips kind of books.

14. Read at school
A Separate Peace by John Knowles has stayed with me all these years. The loss of innocence and peer betrayal first shocked me in my formative years and continues to remind me of our regard of morality.

15. Favorite colour cover
I like very plain cover without a lot of design. I opt for black and grey.

Penguin 8-10

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Penguin Books launches their Christmas Book-a-Day challenge, Season’s Readings. A prompt for everyday up to Christmas Day. Are you getting into the holidays spirit?

8. It’s a mystery!
Defend and Betray by Anne Perry really blew me away. She’s really dark, and her mystery often probes the darkness of human heart. This is one of the three mysteries in a single volume. I enjoyed every one of them.

9. I judged this by its cover
1momentCute, chick lit-ish, well-written tale about an ex-techie woman in Silicon valley saving an old neighborhood bookstore. Charming!

10. Latest purchase
With the giftcard I received for my birthday I bought A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines.

Penguin 5-7

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Penguin Books launches their Christmas Book-a-Day challenge, Season’s Readings. A prompt for everyday up to Christmas Day. Are you getting into the holidays spirit?

5. Quintessentially British
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

6. Everyone should read
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

7. Childhood favourite
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Penguins Challenge

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Penguin Books launches their Christmas Book-a-Day challenge, Season’s Readings. Here are my answers for the first 4 days.

1. Iconic first line
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

2. Last read
A Time to Kill by John Grisham, actually one of the best reads this year.

3. On my Christmas list
On my wishlist is All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

4. For chilly nights
Any Agatha Christie would do, but I’ll go for Peril at End House, which I haven’t read.

Extra: Under the Tree?

Matt 139

Happy Holidays! Picture taken at the Christmas tree in the Castro.

When Christmas carols were within earshot last night on the street, it occurred to me that readers have their traditions too. With just a week left in 2012, and Christmas celebrations and festivities descending upon me, I doubt I will get to all these books but I’ll share the list anyway.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. Hilary Wainwright, poet and intellectual, is enduring a grim wartime Christmas at his stiflingly suburban mother’s house when a Frenchman, Pierre, turns up to give him news of the small son that he had to leave in occupied France. After the war, Hilary returns to a blasted and impoverished France in order to trace the child.

Dickens at Christmas by Charles Dickens. It is said that Charles Dickens invented Christmas, and within these pages you’ll certainly find all the elements of a quintessential traditional Christmas brought to vivid life. Nuff said.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. This is the story of Hig, his dog Jasper, and his plane, as they discover life after the end of the world. Since the end of the world didn’t happen, I can now put this book back on my list.

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway. A few people have recommended this book to me. This is a detective novel in which the mysteries of people’s lives threaten to overshadow mysteries born of criminal activity. The crime that gives the novel its initial momentum fades away like the half-glimpsed vintage car, never to reappear.

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore. A debut novel from a high-achieving independent publisher, The Lighthouse has surprised some observers with its place on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. Disquieting, deceptive, crafted with a sly and measured expertise, Alison Moore’s story could certainly deliver a masterclass in slow-burn storytelling to those splashier literary celebs who take more pains over a pyrotechnic paragraph than a watertight plot.

Extra: Skipping Christmas

Becca at I’m Lost in Books kindly asks book bloggers to contribute guest posts for her during the month of December. She will be hosting a Holiday Post Extravanganza which started yesterday with a list of 10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Book Lovers.

Being raised Baptist and enrolled in Catholic boys’ school, I knew the Bible like the back of my hand. The story of Jesus’ birth was a staged tradition in school. Despite all the Christian, religious, and biblical inculcation, I was not converted. I resented the notion that a religious faith makes a person. My parents were first generation Chinese raised in Hong Kong just before Mao defeated Chiang Kai Shek and declared the formation of People’s republic of China. They belonged to the generation that believed in being hard-working and making a better life. Religion was the last thing they deemed necessary in improving the quality of life. Religion, or schools sponsored by the missionaries and religious denominations, however, were the answer to children’s welfare, because they were more respectable schools with good discipline record. Christmas was inevitably a tradition observed in school and celebration stayed within its bound. My parents were indifferent about Christmas, although they would take us out to dinner.

Now Christmas is a time to celebrate family (although they live Hong Kong and I don’t always go visit during this peak travel season) friends. It’s a time to get together, enjoy the company, and eat! My favorite is a pot-luck hosted at a friend’s house where everyone contributes to the feast, which is always an international buffet with samosas, sushi, sesame chickens, and tacos on top of the traditional holiday fares. Over the years I have become scandalized at the collective insanity of Black Friday. Usually, it is associated with a hot new toy or electronics everyone wants. People fear the supply will run out, so an atmosphere of panic buying develops. Now it seems there is no “Big New Thing” and yet people are engaging in the same kind of desperate, driven shopping behavior for ordinary products they can buy any day—like attacking a pellet of cheaply made sandwich maker for $2 each.

The leisure brought about by holidays is best spent on reading and browsing bookstore like City Lights. I don’t have any designated Christmas reading, but would read Christmas carol for fun. I usually read what appeals to me in the pile, picking the novels that book bloggers have passionately recommended to me and that I have saved for the long hours of holidays. This year I’m hoping to read Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea and M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, which I ended up not reading over my birthday weekend. These are the “cream of the crop” books. I won’t go as far as the Kranks in Skipping Christmas, but I won’t go through the frenzy and hassle myself. As for gifts, I have opted out long time ago. I don’t do gifts and advise friends and family to count me out. I could be spared from the whole madness of elbowing through the stores buying and returning things I have no use for. Food I have plenty and am happy to share, I tell my friends.

Stocking Filler

Musing Mondays2

This week’s musing asks:
Did you get any books for Christmas? If so, what were they?

Friends have learned from experience not to give me books because I’m the one person for whom buying gifts of books is most difficult. This truth has been acquiesced over the years. That I have refused to participate any sort of gift exchange or secret Santa (except for work) has helped resolved this gift problem. I do receive couple giftcards from close friends and I used them to buy books I would most likely to enjoy. I bought all the noteworthy books of 2011 recommended by Out Magazine.

Before I went to Las Vegas for Christmas and Sandy Lam Concert, I hit the store to loot a haul of new books by favorite authors. While I tried to wrap up Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress, I sneaked peeks of Linda Grant and Alan Hollinghurst’s new books. I simply couldn’t resist.

We Had It So Good Linda Grant
The Forgotten Waltz Anne Enright
The Stranger’s Child Alan Hollinghurst
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes

I treat myself with books that I would enjoy for sure, even though consider my stoical reaction her previous The Gathering (Booker Prize winner), buying another Anne Enright is a leap of faith.

The Unofficial Christmas Reading List

(Picture taken at Union Square, San Francisco 12/19/11.) This post is inspired by my overhearing of a customer who asked for Christmas books at the indie. “Unofficial” because I don’t seek out books on and/or about Christmas. These are books I read in the past that happen to have a Christmas theme. But—you’ll never know, maybe you’ll find your stocking filler here.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas Agatha Christie. I always make exception to this one. If I decide to read a book on Christmas, this is it. Multi-millionnaire Simeon is intent on playing a sadistic game with his family’s emotions. An unexpected guest, Stephen Farr, son of Simeon Lee’s former partner in the diamond mines, means that the house is full of potential suspects when the game turns deadly.
The Battle of Life Charles Dickens. The setting is an English village that stands on the site of a historic battle. Some characters refer to the battle as a metaphor for the struggles of life, hence the title.
The Christmas Carol Charles Dickens. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge’s ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visits of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.
Skipping Christmas John Grisham. The funniest Christmas book ever. John Grisham turns a satirical eye on the overblown ritual of the festive holiday season, and the result is Skipping Christmas, a modest but funny novel about the tyranny of December 25. Grisham’s story revolves around a typical middle-aged American couple, Luther and Nora Krank.
A Jolly Good Fellow Stephen V. Masse. Probably the most overlooked novel, not just one with a Christmas theme. Two weeks before Christmas, Duncan Wagner gets into his car for another attempt at kidnapping the son of his most despised enemy, State Representative Win Booker.
Merry Christmas Mr. Baxter Edward Streeter. It’s a 1956 classic about the humorous view of a successful businessman’s methodical approach to “this Christmas business”, contrasted with his wife’s chiding scorn over his “typical businessman’s approach to something beautiful and intangible.”
The Angel Doll: A Christmas Story Jerry Bledsoe. Fortify yourself with a full box of Kleenex with this one. It concerns a pathetic 4-year-old named Sandy, a victim of both poverty and the great polio epidemic. If you insist on a dying child this season, this is the book for you.
The Christmas Tree Julie Salamon. The novel is based on a true story about some nuns in New Jersey who donated their Norway spruce to Rockefeller Center.
* * *
Two non-Christmas books I found at the indie by writers I have enjoyed: The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright and We Had It So Good by Linda Grant, both were Booker Prize winners. Having enjoyed The Translation of the Bones, I have also got Francesca Fay’s debut, An Equal Stillness. Looks like my stocking is filled!

Merry Christmas To You

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Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey
and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys
and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother’s child is gonna spy
To see if reindeer
really know how to fly.

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said
many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

“The Christmas Song” (1944), commonly refered to as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire“ or “Merry Christmas to You”, is a classic Christmas song, written by vocalist Mel Tormé and Bob Wells. According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool,” the most-performed (according to BMI) Christmas song was born.