Season's readings

Stories light the way to Christmas

Rae Riebe of Cedar Rapids decided to celebrate this Christmas through daily “Season’s Readings.”

“Every day is like opening a Christmas present,” she said last week. “I had no idea that today, when I picked ‘The Loudest Voice,’ I would be reading about Christmas from the vantage point of Jewish immigrants.”

Typically, Riebe would be watching a string of Christmas movies this time of year. “But I practically have the dialogue memorized,” she said.

Riebe, 60, a former copy desk chief at The Gazette, landed on the idea of daily readings when she found “Murder for Christmas,” a 30-year-old collection of short stories, in a secondhand store.

Once she’d read a couple of O. Henry stories and “truly great” stories by Woody Allen and Damon Runyon, she moved on to the stories in “Christmas on the Great Plains.”

“That book took the project to a whole other level of enjoyment,” she said.

She’ll spend the final days leading up to Christmas with David Sedaris’ rollicking “Holidays on Ice.”

“It has been fun discovering something new,” Riebe said. “I have plenty of stories left over for next year.”

Riebe posts mini-reviews of her daily readings on her Facebook page, with links to the stories that are online. Here are some excerpts from her reviews:

“The Turkey Season” by Alice Munro

The narrator looks back on her experience in the 1940s working as a gutter at the Turkey Barn when she was 14. It is a coming-of-age tale that concludes on a Christmas Eve. … A nuanced and textured work. Highly recommended.

“Making Bows” by Ted Kooser

The Nebraska poet recalls the retail end of Christmas (when) he worked in the basement of his father’s store making bows for the gift wrappers. … Kooser’s experience as a poet is evident. “The great grey furnace sighed and ticked. ... (It) breathed like an enormous and motherly old woman, pleased to have a boy among the dark folds of her skirts.”

“My First Christmas tree” by Hamlin Garland

The Pulitzer Prize winner for biography was born in Wisconsin and lived for many years on a farm in northeast Iowa. … When Garland was young, decorated Christmas trees were rare. The trees were mostly in urban areas. He tells of walking through the cold and snow on a starry night to catch his first glimpse of a Christmas tree. … The story reminded me of my parents, who told tales (that have faded in my memory) about not having Christmas trees or wrapping paper when they were young.

“A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote

It is sweet and sad. Capote understood misfits. The story:

“The Carol Sing” by John Updike

The story focuses on a tradition in the town of Tarbox, interspersed with song lyrics. Essentially, it is about death and new life. The story:

“Dancing Dan’s Christmas” by Damon Runyon

This was my first taste of Runyon, and I am hooked. Dancing Dan is a shady character who, when drunk, sets off a series of events that change the course of Christmas for a few people struggling to get by. The conversational tone is a marvel; the characters vivid and memorable.

“Long Distance” by Jane Smiley

The main character, Kirby, drives from Nebraska to Minnesota to spend Christmas with his brothers and their families. He is relieved that a woman he met while working in Japan won’t be able to visit him for the holidays. … The title refers to his relationship with the Japanese woman, the journey he took in a snowstorm to get to Minnesota and the emotional distance he cannot seem to overcome when dealing with relatives or anyone else, for that matter.

“Phonograph Records” by Mari Sandoz

The story takes place in frontier Nebraska. The father, a Swiss immigrant, spends an inheritance on a phonograph and thousands of recordings, much to the dismay of his wife. The children need shoes. The father exclaims, “Frozen feet heal! What you put in the mind lasts!”

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