Some holiday books are almost boring, or overly sentimental. Saccharine sweet, cozy. And some others are, well, downright weird. Happily, there are options. There are really creative and artful tellings of the tale, that avoid schlock or shock. You have read about our favorite devotionals this year, but here are some others, perhaps a bit off the beaten path, but truly fascinating and edifying.
Christmas With Deitrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg Fortress) $11.99 Bonhoeffer shows how the birth of a child brings about the transformation of all things; one of the great Christian leaders and thinkers of the Hitler resistance, this new rendering of the sparse text is on full color paper, in a very handsome, warm attractive hardback. The graphic design is stellar, the prose solid and thoughtful.
Sermons for Advent and the Christmas Season Bernard of Clairvaux (Cistercian Publications) $24.95. One of the most important medieval writers, it is fascinating to dip into the best Christian thinking about the holidays, long before contemporary understandings took hold. By the way, we stock a similar volume of sermons by Augustine of Hippo, and a great paperback called Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel: Ancient Sermons and Hymns for Contemporary Christian Inspiration edited by John Witvliet and David Vroege (Baker; $12.99) which, besides one entry from Calvin and one from Luther, are all pre-reformation readings.
Advent and Christmas Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton (Liguori) $9.95 Last year we sold others in this lovely little series, Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri Nouwan and Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Thomas Merton. Chesterton’s smart “New War on Christmas”Â (1925) is worth the price of the book. He reminds us, as only he would, that “you cannot suddenly be frivolous [on Christmas day] unless you believe there is a serious reason for being frivolous.”Â
Cloth for the Cradle: Worship Resources and readings for Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Iona Community Wild Goose Worship Group (GIA) $ 15.95 We carry some other stuff by John Bell and the feisty, artistic, contemplative, justice-seeking gang at Iona. Good for worship planning, although some use it just for personal devotions, even if most are designed for participative worship.
Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation Luci Shaw (Eerdmans) $15.00 There are lots of poetry collections out there, but Luci’s is one of our favorites. With blurbs on the back from the likes of Scott Cairns, Julia Kasdorf and Jack Leax, this deserves to be taken seriously. A nice paperback, the poems tell not only of the Advent waiting, annoucements, nativity and birth, but of the life and teachings, friends and enemies, death and resurrection of Christ, as well. Much here would be useful year “Ëœround, but most are for the upcoming season.
Magi: A Novel Daniel Gilbert (Paraclete) $17.95 We have a fondness for Paraclete’s nice fiction, and the deep blues and browns on the cover this novella speak of the richness of the story, the fictionalized account of one Ramates, one of the Magi, on his darkest day, and into his quest to discover the truth of the ancient prophecy.
Star of Wonder Leena Lane & Elena Baboni (Abingdon) $14 This children’s Bible story book is oversized, delightful, the artwork whimsical without being cute; seriously artistic without being (too) weird. It tells the full story pretty directly, but it reads well out loud.
The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas (Voyager) $7 We are so glad this is now out in paperback; it was an ALA Notable Children’s Book, and has won awards from a variety of the best children’s lit journals. The text is the King James Version, and the heartwarming, unusual and playful watercolor illustrations are spectacular. This is the most pregnant Mary ever drawn, and the third-world peasant look is most likely pretty accurate. The angel of the Lord with her big “Ëœol wings and untied army boots is mind-blowing, allusive in oodles of ways.
Angels Among Us Leena Lane & Elena Baboni (Eerdmans) $17 Baboni, the illustrator, lives in Italy and her day job includes restoring ancient Master’s paintings, so she is well schooled in the arts. Here, various Bible stories of angels are retold, with powerful, contemporary, slightly askew visuals, making this a powerful reflection, appealing to younger or somewhat older children. The unusual illustrations keep one on one’s toes while reading about such remarkable episodes from redemptive history.
Christmas in the Trenches John McCutcheon & Henri Sorensen (Peachtree) $18.95 One of the best publishers of illustrated children’s books offers a beautifully told–told by a grandpa— and gorgeously illustrated telling of the night during World War I when soldiers stopped fighting to sing Stille Nacht, and Silent Night, in two languages, together. The well-loved folk-song story of it is sung by John McCutcheon on a CD. (You should know him for his various hammer dulcimer albums and renown in the folk music world.) This is a grand story, one of hope, humanity, peacemaking and yet a bit sad. After that moment, how did they go back to the killing the next day?
A Northern Nativity William Kurelek (Tundra Books) $9.95 Kurelek was a renowned Canadian artist (who fell out of favor in the late 70s when he did a series of anti-abortion paintings.) Here, he tells, in lovely lyrical prose, of his Depression-era childhood in the far north, and what it would be like to have Jesus born into that world of indigenous fisher folk, Amish buggies, lumberjacks, cowboys and igloos and boxcars. What a mystical and moving vision of incarnation and cultural contextualization.
Snow Angels CD Over the Rhine (RedEye) $16.95 Well, what does one say about the husband and wife duo known for smoky vocals, exceptionally artistic lyrics, playing and production, and amazing, moving pop ballads and blues? This is a ton of fun, really, really sexy, with a couple of overtly redemptive carols and a lot of wintertime cheer, pop music for grown-ups. Nearly a continuation of their recent Trumpet Child, which some folks in the know are calling the best album of 2007.