Monday, January 6, 2014

What I Read On My Christmas Vacation

Fans of the movie A Christmas Story might think the title of this post sounds a little bit like the title of a theme, like the kind that Ralphie writes when he is assigned "What I Want For Christmas" and waxes poetic about his Red Rider BB Gun. I guess that's only fitting since the first book I read over the holiday break was the basis for that film:  In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd, who also wrote the screenplay and narrates the movie. I picked this book up for a dollar at a booksale and had been saving it to read during the holiday season. Nominally a novel, it reads more like a series of essays about growing up in Indiana during the Depression linked only by short interludes in which an adult Ralphie reminisces with one of his childhood friends. The first chapter, which tells the story of Ralphie and the BB gun, is the only one set at Christmas, although later, unrelated chapters contain elements that were incorporated into the movie version, like the infamous leg lamp. All of the stories in the book are told with a nice humorous, nostalgic tone, but some of them did fall kind of flat for me. Knowing that the Shepherd later wrote the script for the movie makes the book feel like a first draft that was subsequently revised and tightened up to bring all of the best parts together into a more cohesive storyline.

Another book I was spurred on to read after seeing the film version was Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. Although there were again some big differences between the two versions, both worked equally well in telling the story of a man trying to recover from mental illness and win back his ex wife, with different degrees of success, by adopting an optimistic attitude about life. Quick deals with his characters and subject matter in a way that never veers into cliches or stereotypes, which was refreshing and surprising for a feel-good novel that deals with topics that are often portrayed in an over-the-top way.

And finally, I read the literary memoir All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smart, a literature professor who spent a year traveling through Latin America conducting book clubs about Jane Austen novels in Spanish to see how her work translated into other cultures. The most interesting parts of this book were the author's descriptions of the different countries she visited and accounts of the cultural mishaps she faced when things were lost in translation. Less interesting were the recaps of the book discussions she led. Each group's discussions rehashed much of the same territory and the points they raised about Austen's work weren't anything new or exciting. Although a bit tepid overall, the book highlights the timeless, cross-cultural appeal of Austen's work, making for a pleasant enough read for fans of Jane.


  1. A very eclectic mix of books! I've wanted to read The Silver Linings Playbook for a while, but many friends have told me to just watch the movie as they are different.
    All Roads Lead to Austen reminds me somewhat of Reading Lolita in Tehran - the actual book discussions didn't add much to the substance of the book.

    1. The movie and the book are different, but enough so that I felt like I enjoyed both equally rather than preferring one over the other. The character of Pat comes across as quirkier in the book, which was interesting.



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