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R&R 139 | Holidays on Ice… v.2.0

David Sedaris
Holidays on Ice
First published in: 1998 (first edition), 2008 (second edition)
This edition: Back Bay Books, 2010 (second edition)
ISBN: 978-0-316-07891-7
Genre: memoir, humorist
Pages: 166
Cover design by Chip Kidd; cover photography by Marshall Troy

post_RR139

The first thing I plan on doing when I'm done writing this book review is to deconstruct the myriad of branches and bulbs that is our Christmas Tree – which, I should add, is our second tree. We've managed to kill off our first one. It was quite a pathetic sight, really: limp branches, falling off. Needles everywhere. Duct tape couldn't save it. Tears were shed, some out of pride: that dear ole tree lasted us 4 whole Christmases. The rest of the tears were the direct result of my husband and I crylaughing our way to the gardencenter to pick up our new tree.

The holidays are once again over and done with. So this review is, as we Dutch would say it, "butter after the meal" and thus completely unnecessary and too late. BUT. It's how I roll.

When I bought HOLIDAYS ON ICE v.1.0 in 2010 at a second-hand book store, I wasn't actually aware of there being a newer version published two years earlier. I found that out when I reviewed it, but also figured I'd get to the rest of the book at some point! Now, I'm reviewing v.2.0, but only the 6 additional stories as I already covered the rest several years ago.

The first "new" story I discovered in v.2.0 is Jesus Shaves, from one of my favorite Sedaris bundles, ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY. It's more about Easter, but generally can be read as a story about any holiday, and holiday traditions. And how they vary across cultures. And how secretly, one can be pretty intolerant about someone else's beliefs – whether we're talking about easter bunnies here… or about something deeper. What I believe? That works. That makes sense. What you believe (or don't believe)? Man. That's fucked up. I liked that bit of social commentary here because it's true! It's what we humans do. Many tend to judge everything that doesn't fit within their own mindset. And I love how Sedaris addresses that with light humor.
What I also loved about this story is the dialog, which is in broken French (as it's set during a French class) translated to broken English for the sake of this story. Hilarious. It's like Sedaris ran Google Translate over it before getting it ready to send to the publisher.

Us and Them continues with the theme of intolerance for other people's traditions and beliefs and non-beliefs. (But takes place during Halloween.) The Tomkey family, you see, doesn't watch TV. They don't believe in TV. But it's so normal! Everyone watches TV! Etcetera. It's a great analogy. Or at least, that's how I read it. It's not quite as direct of a Christmas story, but it was still apt: it made me think about how some people clutch their pearls when someone deigns to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. I say Happy Holidays. Not to stomp on Christians… but to include everyone.

The next story is a short one with a big message: Let it Snow, about Sedaris' siblings and stubborn mom (I love reading about her, I really do), is about forgiveness and loving your mom – no matter what insane crap she pulls at times.

Six to Eight Black Men is a little close to home, and a great addition to the collection. The Dutch holiday Sinterklaas, after all, is how Santa Clause originated.
It's one thing to live in this country during this Holiday (December 5th/6th; a time of arguments about political correctness, or the amount of pepernoten you'll find in stores nationwide from freakin' August on), it's another to try and explain it to foreigners without feeling embarrassed… or being called a racist. See, Sinterklaas doesn't have elves as helpers: he has black men. Six to eight black men. The story behind this is that Sinterklaas freed slaves, and gave them paying jobs. People who don't know this tend to assume they are slaves, and they judge us harshly, probably based on our history.
…the blackface doesn't help. While kids here are taught that "Black Petes" are their friends (a good message), I still cringe every time I see shoe polish (!!!) and bright red lips mixed with golden hoop earrings and a bad afro wig… on white people. To refer to Jesus Shaves for a moment: "Man. That's fucked up." I don't know what I'll do about this holiday when I have kids.
Thankfully, Sedaris doesn't make us feel like we need to crawl into a corner and never show ourselves again. Every country has embarrassing traditions and silly stories to tell. We've all got something that makes others raise their eyebrows all the way into their hairline. (Sedaris mentions how a blind man in Michigan can legally hunt.)

So far so good: all the new stories, despite different holidays, seem to fit well with the older six. It seems it's become more about holidays in general, making the bundle a lot more varied. The stories are each unique and just very different, and the book's a joy to read. But The Monster Mash could easily have been excluded from the bundle, and I wouldn't have missed it. Don't get me wrong, it's funny – morbidly funny (it's about David working at a mortuary), but there was no holiday spirit like with the other stories. Any other time of the year: bring it. I'll read it and love it. But it's not something I'm looking to read specifically over Christmas.

The final story is from Sedaris newer book SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK (which is on my to-be-reviewed pile). This illustrated bundle of books is about animals doing human things, which is both bizarre and hilarious to read. The Cow and the Turkey is definitely Christmas themed (as barn animals are doing their annual Secret Santa), and it covers selfishness and how karma will eventually bite you in the ass. It's a bittersweet ending to a fun bundle of Holiday stories.

Sedaris is a walking oxymoron: the best cynical sentimentalist I've ever had the joy to read. I'm just grateful he's writing. He's cheered up many a foul mood of mine. And he's given me at least 11 (out of 12) reasons to enjoy Christmas even more. Thanks man.

Happy new year, everyone. I hope 2014 will bring you a lot of happiness and joy; that you will accomplish what you hope to accomplish or at least find the spirit and inspiration to try; that you and yours will be safe and in good health. And of course I hope that in 2014 you'll have the chance to explore lots of new stories and worlds…
XO Kaat Z

R&R 131 | The Stupidest Angel

Aaaaand we're back! I'm going to do my best in 2012 to balance work & personal photography projects! Here's the first review for 2012! Yes, Christmas is over, but I didn't finish this book until after Christmas, which makes an untimely review acceptable. Make-up (and some photoshop to enhance the eyes and dead-looking skin) is inspired by Super 8's easy zombie make-up 😀

Christopher Moore
The Stupidest Angel: A Heart-Warming Tale of Christmas Terror
First published in: 2004
This edition: Orbit, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-84149-690-0
Genre: satire, fantasy
Pages: 243
Cover illustration by Steve & Sian Stone; design by Peter Cotton (LBBG)

book131-stupidestangel-1000px

In a nutshell?

It was Christmas, 2011. I'd just finished reading a book, and being a complete Christmas buff, wanting to get in the mood, I wanted to read a Christmas book. What to do, what to do? I hadn't yet gotten around to ordering my intended read for the year's holidays, the newer version of Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, which would contain 12 stories instead of the 6 that are included in my older edition. So I repeat: what to do, what to do?

Why, reread The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore, of course!

Joshua Barker hopes he doesn't get into too much trouble for not being home on time. As he tries his best to make his way home, he just wishes that he won't be punished too badly. When he witnesses Santa (also known as Dale Pearson: scumbag) being hit over the head with a shovel, and falling over lifelessly, Joshua realizes he's REALLY in for it now. Please please please, somebody, ANYBODY, make this go away. Bring Santa back to life?

Enter Raziel (of Lamb fame), a beautiful blonde hunk of angelic being, who's – unfortunately – as dumb as he is magnificently gorgeous. In search of a child on earth to grant one wish to ("a Christmas miracle!"), he figures, "Sure! Let's bring the dead back to life!"

So obviously crap really hits the Pine Cove fan. Theophilus Crowse (Pine Cove's sole police presence) already has his work cut out for him in a town full of crazies, which includes Theo's own wife Molly, former Z-list actress best known for her role as Kendra: Warrior Babe of the Outland, and her psychosis. Add zombies to that list, and it's really no wonder the poor guy is at a total loss. Luckily, he has help in the form of a heartbroken biologist, a Warrior Babe with bonus voice in her head, Santa's ex-wife, a pilot and a chatty fruitbat with pink sunglasses.

I first read this heart-warming tale of Christmas terror riiiiiight before I started the Reading & Reviewing project, Christmas 2007. I remember being at my inlaws' farm the day I read most of the book, and how Broer (Wil's dad) asked me, "what are you reading?" and I replied, "Oh , someone's killed Santa and there are zombies, too". And Broer, perplexed, just started giggling (he's a giggler), because that was an answer he wasn't expecting. I think prior to that day, Wil's parents must have (mis)taken me for a Very Serious Reader.

When I visited Wil's parents again on Christmas 2011, I told Broer I'd started reading 'the one about Santa' again, and his eyes twinkled as he remembered that I told him about it 4 years ago. How could you forget a book about Santa murderin's & zombies? There hasn't quite been a book like it yet, and that's pretty much what you can say about every single one of Christopher Moore's books, most of which deserve to be read at least 2 times.

The Stupidest Angel has been the first one I've reread, though, possibly because it was one of the first I read (I was a Moore-virgin until the summer of '07, when I read A Dirty Job) and the timing was right, also because it was Christmas… but also because I have a soft spot for Moore's Pine Cove setting and characters, originally from the book The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. I feel Theo, Molly + narrator, Mavis and Gabe make up for the funniest group of characters yet, with awesome dialog and interactions. A great addition to the cast is Skinner the Dog; I think it's so funny how Moore will sometimes shift to Skinner's point of view: "Will that guy give me food?" It's an example of why I appreciate Moore's humor so much. He's just a tad silly, but in an unpretentious, brilliant and memorable way.

The Stupidest Angel is a delightful treat of a book: unconventional, ridiculous and funky. Buy it, read it and then put it in someone else's 2012 Christmas stocking, and when they've read it, ask to borrow it so you can read it again during Christmas 2013.

In a nutshell

Pros:
– It's really unforgettable & worth a reread
– Moore's best characters & setting are in this one
– Unconventional and original. Love that.
– Made of awesome: giggleworthy material aplenty

Cons:
– None! (You should know what you're in for with Christopher Moore.)

R&R 115 | Holidays on Ice

Christmas-themed R&R 115 takes priority over non-Christmas-themed R&R 114. Yup.

David Sedaris
Holidays on Ice
First published in: 1997
This edition: First Back Bay paperback, 1998
ISBN: 0-316-77923-7
Genre: humor
Pages: 134
Cover design by Rymn Massand; cover photograph by James Smolka

R&R 115 | Holidays on Ice

Ah, yuletide is upon us once more. I heart the holidays; it's currently cold and very, very white outside (this is the snowiest winter in years for this part of Europe), but I'm warm and gleeful because it is Christmas Eve, and Christmas is almost here. I love the lights, candy canes, baubles and tinsel ("Ohhh… SHINY!") and – yes – I'm sure I'd get a kick out of egg nog but it's not really a thing here. I'm not fanatical about Christmas, but it does qualify as my favorite holiday of the year. And this year, I couldn't resist incorporating my favorite festive season into my favorite activity: reading. It's Christmas… David Sedaris style.

Holidays on Ice is a small bundle containing six Christmas stories; perfect for an entertaining and quick read during the busy holidays.

The collection starts off with a hit: the SantaLand Diaries is now one of my very favorite Sedaris stories. It's take your reader to work day weeks; Sedaris describes, in glorious detail, what it's like to work as an elf at Macy's SantaLand. There's an Elf for everything (Window Elf, Exit Elf, Photo Elf, you name it…), and Sedaris introduces the reader the other side of mall Santa madness. Immediately, Sedaris shows his satirical side, but his bluntness is nothing compared to that of the second story, Season's Greetings to our Friends and Family!!!

A parody on the quintessential Christmas Letter, the Dunbar family matriarch describes to anyone who'll read it her horror at having to take in her husband's illegitimate lovechild. It's almost scary how well Sedaris pulls off Mrs. Dunbar's voice. It's almost as if this letter actually is written by a crazy, neurotic and embittered woman who uses far too many exclamation points to keep up appearances (but failing miserably).
The narrator is severely unreliable: nothing she writes can be taken at face value. Which makes it even funnier. Um, but if you're into political correctness, this book is so not for you. There's no mercy…

Not even for baby's.

Sedaris dials the sadism down in the third story, which features the beloved Sedaris family – I love Sedaris' stories about his family! – and one special house guest: Dinah, the Christmas whore. The title is absolutely the funniest, but the story itself is not the catchiest. But it does show the most Christmas spirit, and that makes it a winner: the Sedaris family seriously couldn't care less that Dinah's a prostitute and welcomes her into their home. Ah, it's sweet.

Sedaris has a reputation to uphold: Dinah's story was cute, but it's time to move on. Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol has him reviewing elementary school plays. Thaddeus stamps all over them.

In the role of Mary, six year-old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin. A cloying, preening stage presence, her performance seemed based on nothing but an annoying proclivity toward lifting her skirt and, on rare occasions, opening her eyes.
– Front Row with Thaddeus Bristol, p. 95

And here I was thinking Season's Greetings!!! was evil. Ohhhh, the nastiness of Thaddeus Bristol. Delicious reading material. I ate it up.

The fifth story is a bit of a snoozer though; Based on a True Story is a speech by an obnoxious television exec (with regular pauses for effect added in there), and while it was certainly riddled with humor, I think the voice Sedaris had created was (again) too convincing and it had an adverse effect on me. I kinda didn't want to hear a word this douche – the exec, not Sedaris – had to say anymore. Based on a True Story was also the least Christmas-y of them all, and thus the weakest link in this collection.

Sedaris brings it home with a fantastic story, mocking materialism and competitiveness. Christmas Means Giving, sure – but with your heart, and for the right reasons. It was a perfect story to close with.

HOLIDAYS ON ICE is a short and (not so) sweet collection, but the content is a delight, no story the same.

I opened Holidays on Ice because of Christmas spirit; six completely different stories later, I'm smiling and already putting this one back on my TBR-pile – for next year. I have annual Christmas movies: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Grinch. Bad Santa. Methinkst I now have a book to read every Christmas, too.

— Fin —

:)

A few more reviews and an end-of-year post will be posted before 2011.