Cedar Rapids native Andrew Shaffer found himself on the best-seller list this year with “How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters,” a companion to the SyFy Channel’s popular and satirical “Sharknado” movies. Biting humor, as it were, is a specialty of Shaffer’s, who has also penned the parody “50 Shames of Earl Grey” and publishes alternative Christmas cards, including a line for atheists who want to get into the spirit of the season.
His new, free e-book, “The Shelf on the Elf: Holiday Leftovers,” collects three essays and two short stories, each with a decidedly unconventional Christmas angle. The two short stories—“An Earl Grey Christmas” and “The Murders Across the Street from the Rue Whorehouse: A Christmas Story”—are both parodies. The former finds the narrator on the run in an Amazon shipping warehouse on Christmas Eve, while the latter pins a murder on a beloved holiday figure.
While the stories are clever, I found the essays more engaging. The first, “Hunting Season,” recounts a Shaffer’s dramatic encounter with a knife-wielding man in downtown Iowa City one December evening and the surprising boost the event gave to his confidence as a writer. “Frontline in the War on Christmas” is built around the notoriety his Christmas cards have brought him and is a thoughtful consideration of a secular approach to Christmas. “Hiding the Holiday Pickle” delves into the true origins of what is purported to be an Old World Christmas tradition. Shaffer discovers that family traditions hold value regardless of their definitive roots.
With its adult content, “The Shelf on the Elf: Holiday Leftovers” (which is available on Shaffer’s web site: andrewshaffer.com) is unlikely to replace “The Littlest Angel” or “The Night Before Christmas” or the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth as anyone’s holiday reading tradition. But if you’re looking for something tart to cut the holiday sweetness, Shaffer offers a naughty little treat.