Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Stories With A Formula But No Heart

Every season there are stories that just make the holidays seem a bit brighter.   There is no doubt that every reader has their own favorites that they read and reread to to get into the right mood.  Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one such story along with Andersen's  The Little Match Girl.  Let's not forget O Henry's Gift of the Magi.  Each  of these stories go straight for the heart and elicits the true emotions of the Christmas season.  There are very few stories like this of our generation.  It seems that writers and readers alike have forgotten that at the center of the Christmas messages is love.  Let's be totally honest,  the message may be lost because writers and perhaps their publishes, don't want to sound overly preachy.  In an effort to stay mainstream without getting too religious all the Christmas stories have become the same.  Sweet stories about the holiday season that are empty of a message.

Please stop reading this if you love to read holiday books that have no meaning behind it except to give the author and publisher a paycheck.  Is this a little harsh?  Perhaps but let's lay the formula of the quick, no meaning,  forgettable  holiday novel.  There are at least five elements that make this niche market nauseating.  Readers may find all of these elements in the book or at a minimum two.  Make no mistake, the publisher pushing the novels are trying to make extra holiday dough to add to the bottom line.

First,  there is  someone with a serious illness who is just about to die or has just recently died.  Mom has cancer.  Child has incurable disease that is so rare only 0.01% of the population will get it much less know of the disease.  Yes, this is to make sure that everyone realizes how precious each moment on earth is and that next Christmas we may not be around.   If VanLier's  The Christmas Shoes come to mind, well it should.  It actually is the winner for best of the worst tear jerker story about a dying mother and an adorable child at Christmas.  Seriously, these books are not good for the hypochondriac in the family or for the reader who wants a Christmas the tis merry.  Who wants to think about dying at Christmas?  Well, maybe the depressed reader who wants a little more misery to make their Christmas bluer. Other than that, no one.

Two,  poverty or hard times have just hit home.  Yes, this may seem a little hypocritical to complain about since mentioning   classic stories that deal specifically with poverty.  However, in some of  today's holiday novels the message seems hollow and insincere.  For example,   in Wright's  The Christmas Jars the message of sacrifice is lost. The novel is based on the tradition of putting money in a jar all year long and at the end of the year use the money to help someone who is in a bad situation.  Um, well it would be a great story if the author had not wrapped it into an unbelievable turn of events that leads the main character to find out about her birth mother from complete strangers.  It's a small world scenario that just doesn't add up to reality.  In fiction, suspend reality to enjoy the story, right?  Yes, do that and the book will be fine.

Three,  cute adorable dogs or cats who tug at the heartstring because they were lost but now found or they are on their last legs.  Kleenex time again!  Kincaid's  A Dog Named Christmas is claimed to be  the book to get for the dog lover in your list.  To be honest, it is a good book to give to someone who is not  a serious reader.  As a librarian, this book has been suggested to reluctant readers because of it's brevity and "brain candy" plot.  However,  Kincaid's story is not one to be given to a dog lover. Why?  Simple, what dog lover would love a story about  taking in a shelter dog for only the holiday season and returning it once the season is over.  Really? To be fair that is not how the story ends but the premise there is an animal shelter out there that would consider this as a way to take care of the animals is frightening.   There are so many other stories that are better written and the plots are not as contrived as this one.

Four,  the plot is so predictable that one would think they are reading a Harlequin romance.  Picture this: a lonely Amish widow who is in need of a nanny to help take care of his six uncontrollable but adorable children.  Does the reader really need to think hard on what's the ending of the book will be?  Nope.   Gray's  Snowfall: A Days of Redemption Christmas Novella follows the recipe for quick light romance right to the last page.   The only thing that makes it passable is that it is set at Christmas time and it is perfect for the Christmas niche market.  Was it mentioned this is a quick read?  Good thing because long  sappy stories can be draining.

Five,  build a story around a dysfunctional family that needs to be reminded of the true meaning of life, (otherwise known as the true meaning of Christmas).    Hildebrand's Winter Street has all of the family drama and more.  This is definitely one of the best worst holiday book for dysfunctional family that packs into its pages every storyline from  the history of soap operas.   Let's start with the checklist.  Cheating wife, check.  daughter who is unable to get boyfriend to commit, check.  First son is successful in business but by questionable means, check.  Second son, not as successful and fooling around with a French maid, check.  Youngest son can not be reached because he's in the army and his unit is in Afghanistan, check.  First wife comes in to make all things merry and bright, check.  Well at least by the end of the book the family finds happiness in the chaos.  How?  Who really knows because in soap operas they all live to see another day.

Now don't get discouraged.  Although the books listed here are the examples of why Christmas books may suck the holiday spirit right out of the reader.   There are many worthwhile reads for the holiday season.   Consider this the opportunity to look at the worst Christmas holiday reading season in order to find the great stories that are waiting to be discovered.   Are they out there?  Yes, Virginia there really are good holiday books that do not follow the cookie cutter formula but rather go on a path that is unique and unforgettable.

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