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Dave Wood's Book Report, Dec. 10, 2008

Great works for readers of all ages make the list

I'd have given my right arm for the new volume before me when I was book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Back then my job at Christmas was to comb through famous works of literature about Christmas.

These were difficult to find. Some were way too long; some too short; some were old chestnuts that folks had been reading for years.

Now that I don't have that job anymore, I have the perfect solution, thanks to Everyman Library and one of its editors, Diana Tesdell (Knopf, $15, cloth).

This is a beautifully done Everyman hardcover, modest in price, which belongs on everyone's book shelf, for that time on Christmas Eve when the conversation dies down and someone says, "Hey, Grandpa, read us a Christmas story."

Tesdell begins with a great Noel fabulist, Charles Dickens, excerpting a section of "The Pickwick Papers" entitled "The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton."

Soon after comes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Blue Carbuncle, featuring Sherlock Holmes and his "biographer," Dr. Watson. (See I told you this book doesn't contain chestnuts!)

Somehow we always connect Christmas lit with the 19th and 20th centuries (Dickens and O. Henry), but Tesdell doesn't forget more modern authors, including John Cheever ("Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor"), Truman Capote's hilarious and heartbreaking "A Christmas Memory," Richard Ford's "Creche," and even crotchety old Evelyn Waugh makes it not the anthology with "Bella Fleace Gave a Party," which is set in rural Ireland and bears Waugh's characteristic style:

"Ballingar is four and a half miles from Dublin...Celtic lettering of a sort is beginning to take the place of the Latin alphabet on the shop fronts that complete the square. These all deal in identical goods in varying degrees of dilapidation. Muligan's Store, Flannigan's Store, Riley's Store, each sells thick black boots hanging in bundles, soapy colonial cheese, hardware and haberdashery, and each is licensed to sell and porter for consumption on or off the premises...Someone has written 'The Pope is a Traitor' in tar on a green pillar box. A typical Irish town."

There's warm inspirational stuff, too, like Vladimir Nabokov's "Christmas."

"She was my first love. My first kiss. She was a little match girl who could see the future in the flame of a candle. She was a runaway who taught me more about life than anyone has before or since. And when she was gone, my innocence left with her."

Here comes a book for my sister, who loves to quilt and who loves to cook. It's by Madison author Jennifer Chiaverini, who has written an entire series about Elm Creek Quilts, novels about a quilting club in Pennsylvania.

In her new book, Chiaverini adds a new element when the novel's narrator decides to revamp the quilting club's antiquated kitchen. So not only do we look a quilting patterns as we read, but we pick up recipes galore.

That's what I call double-niche marketing.

That's how narrator Eric Welch recalls Madeline Grace Webb in "Grace," by Richard Paul Evans (Simon & Schuster, $19.95). Evans is the perennial bestselling author of Christmas stories like "The Christmas Box" and "The Gift."

His latest fiction tells of two brothers hiding a runaway in their club house in early 20th century Salt Lake City.

"A Day at an Airport," by Sarah Harrison (First Avenue Editions, $6.95) is one in a series of children's pictorial books that introduce youngsters to different industries and activities put out by Lerner Publishing of Minneapolis.

Lerner is also out with another book of mnemonic devices entitled "Mrs. Riley Bought Five Itchy Aardvarks," by Brian Cleary (Millbrook Press, $16.95). Cleary has written several of these books which help kids learn tricks of memorization.

The title of the new book should help kids remember the six major animal groups: Mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, insects, amphibians.

Dave would like to hear from you. Call him at 715.426.9554.