My New Year’s Bookbuying Resolution — Join Me!

On Saturday, on my way out of Home Depot in American Fork (Utah), I saw something which surprised and delighted me: a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I had never seen it there before, and technically it’s not there now, but I wasn’t hallucinating. It’s “coming soon,” opening in “winter 2024.” This inspires a new year’s bookbuying resolution or two, in which I’d love for you to join me.

I welcome the new arrival. Like the arrival years ago of Home Depot in American Fork and Lowe’s across the street in Lehi, its proximity means I will expend less time and fuel traveling to Orem or wherever else. That means, in theory, more money to buy books and more time to read them. There’s a tiny environmental impact too.

Barnes and Noble American Fork - Bookbuying Resolution

However, silver clouds have dark linings. For me this silver cloud has two: one from the past, nostalgic and not very useful in the present, and one for the not-too-distant future, which you and I can do something about.

Hence my resolution. You’re welcome to share it, once I’ve explained, which is after some related chatter, er, context.

That Teetering Stack of Books I Read in 2022 and 2023 (ish)

I love reading books, and I learned at least in time for graduate school to love writing about the books I read. My intention, these last two years or so, was to keep blogging about the books I read, as I had done sporadically for a while, then more methodically here, here, and here.

Those posts were fun to write, and they were well received, and the routine was simple enough. When I finished a book, I stacked it in a particular place until I had written about it here. Well, the stack has grow too large. I haven’t taken time to write about the books since September 2022, and I was playing catch-up then.

So today we catch up. I’ll list some books in passing but stop to chat about most, knowing full well I won’t do justice to any of them. Sixteen are fiction and grouped accordingly. Seventeen are nonfiction and separated into books about writing and others.

“A Light to Lighten the Gentiles”: Christmas Reflections

The simple — and I think understandable — fact of the matter is, a lot of my thoughts about Christmas come with music attached. Last week, one of the season’s first chances to sit quietly and think Christmas thoughts came at Carnegie Hall, up in the cheap seats on the highest balcony. A fine New York City ensemble, The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and a choir of professionals from Montreal, La Chapelle de Québec, performed Bach’s entire Christmas Oratorio. It was glorious. The hall was nearly full, including, just in front of me, five rows of priests, seminarians, and a bishop or two.

As I write this, Christmas music plays from my iPhone’s very long Christmas playlist. “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” is playing now. It has become a favorite. (I wrote about this before.) The playlist is mostly alphabetical; if I didn’t tell my phone to shuffle it, I’d get five different recordings of that carol in a row. It wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Using the shuffle button has its risks. That sublime carol just gave way to the Chipmunks singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It’s been on my phone for a few years, since I used it to summon the family to wakefulness, breakfast, and gifts one Christmas morning. Perky and annoying, it was just the thing to make it difficult for them to fall back into sleep.

It’s still perky and annoying. But it’s short and I let it play. I’m too lazy to reach out my finger and skip it, let alone remove it from the playlist. “The Huron Carol” by the Canadian Brass is next.

All that music is the setting for writing my Christmas reflections. The reflections themselves come mostly from the Bible today, though music makes another appearance at the end.

Come As You Are: Reflections on Reunion

This is a reprint of a blog post from 2013, which in turn was based on something I said at my 30th high school reunion that summer. In helping to plan a 40th reunion, I’ve had a few classmates mention it. I’m reposting it here so I can share a link to a current blog, not a long-defunct one. It is abridged and otherwise slightly edited.

Come As You Are

One of the things people need to know about an event is what they’re expected to wear. What we recommended for our 30-year high school reunion was “nice casual.” What I wished we could say was, “Come as you are.” That would have been unhelpful, but here’s why I wished it.

Ten Ways to Celebrate Easter (Alone or Together)

Christmas looms large on the Christian calendar, but I’ve long thought that Easter should loom larger. I may have thought that before I encountered Easter’s prominence in the Russian Orthodox tradition a few decades ago; I’m not certain. In any case, Gethsemane, Calvary, and the empty tomb are the climactic scenes to which the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem is a wondrous prelude. There is no greater cause for celebration in all of earthly Christianity than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So let’s celebrate Easter!

There are many ways to do it. None of the ways I’ll list involve the Easter bunny or a nice Easter dinner. I look forward to the baked ham, the chocolate, and the jelly beans (not the spice ones, and not the black licorice flavor) — but this not about those.

You’ll see that my categories overlap, but I won’t lose any sleep over that if you won’t. And I’m certainly not suggesting that you do everything I’m about to list. This is merely a list of ideas.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve done a lot of these in the past week, as I prepared this essay, and I’ve done the others before too. They all work for me; I hope some of them will work for you.

Christmasing with Preet (a Christmas short story)

There were 104 rooms – the sign called them “smart apartments” – in Verdant Meadows, the largest assisted living facility in town. So Alli made 104 identical holiday decorations to pin to the small, eye-level bulletin boards on the residents’ doors.

She worked for hours with her colored pencils, until she had drawn a poinsettia she could bear to have people see. She scanned it, arranged four identical images on a page, and added two words beneath each image in a legible but noticeably festive typeface: “Happy Holidays!”

She’d planned for the message to be “Merry Christmas,” but the manager of Verdant Meadows mentioned that about one in four residents didn’t celebrate Christmas. So she changed it. She didn’t want to offend a single person, let alone 26 strangers, with her signature good deed at Christmas. That would ruin the feeling.

She used her mother’s photo printer with a glossy photo paper, inspected each page for printing glitches, then meticulously cut the pages into quarter-sheets with a paper cutter. That way the cuts would be neat and the size uniform, and the decorations would stack beautifully until she and the other girls passed them out. She printed and cut one extra sheet, so she’d have two spares, plus one to keep for herself and one to enclose in her thank-you letter to the manager for giving his permission.

She’d been smiling ever since she finished her drawing. As her preparations neared completion, her smile grew. So did the warm Christmas feeling inside her. She wasn’t just using her artistic gift at Christmas, which was already a happy thing. She was also using her gift for organization to give her artistic creation to a hundred people or more – and to help the other girls get a warm Christmas feeling too, by making it possible for them to help her.

It was also nice that she could probably use this in the Volunteer Service section of her scholarship and college applications, and maybe some other things. But it was the feeling that mattered.

Christmas Reminds Me

During this Christmas season, I’ve been noting the many reminders the season brings for me. By nature they are not new thoughts, but Christmas reminds me of important things, I think.

Some reminders are connected to my personal circumstances, from which yours may differ in essential ways. Some are matters of my particular faith. Some are controversial, but I’ll list them here anyway — and try to resist the temptation to explain at length how each applies to the world as I see it. Feel free to make your own connections, if you will.

There Might Be Another Way (a short story)

Pia had slept as late as she dared on a Sunday. She slipped into a pew halfway up the right side of the chapel just as the bishop stepped to the pulpit to begin the weekly sacrament meeting. She’d looked almost human in the mirror before leaving home, which was pretty good, considering.

She listened conscientiously to the announcements, which had little to do with her, then sang the opening hymn, “Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth,” with as much of her usual fervor as she could muster. Her focus drifted during the brief invocation by one of her neighbors. It drifted further during some quick items of congregation business. But she managed to keep trying, at least, to ponder the Savior and his sacrifice, as the deacons passed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to the congregation. Everyone at church called the bread and water simply “the sacrament,” but in the privacy of her own thoughts she preferred the more solemn and evocative phrase.

The bishop announced the first speakers, a girl of about fourteen and an old man she’d seen on Sundays but didn’t know, and she drifted away again. She flipped to the Notes app on her smart phone, where she’d composed a sort of letter in the wee, desperate hours – a letter full of things she could never say or send to Doug, her back fence neighbor.

She saw him in his usual place, across the chapel, sitting alone, one row further back, in a heather gray suit (her favorite) and a gorgeous green necktie. She tried to envision him sitting with a wife, when he had one, but she didn’t know him then, and she’d never seen his ex.

She should have entered the chapel from the other side, even if it took half a minute longer to get to the other door. She could have asked to share his pew. He’d have agreed, of course – and she’d have been no more distracted than now. She should have left for church a minute earlier.

Doug’s posture was attentive, but she recognized the expression of a man who was somewhere else. He often looked like that, though not when he was teaching the adult Sunday school class or chatting with her afterward, and usually not in their occasional conversations over their common fence.

What she’d written overnight, as if to him, was unthinkable, but she couldn’t resist reading it again.