Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ready for Christmas in September?

One of the best parts of being a Word Nerd(*) for a significant amount of time is having been exposed to and remembering many excellent books and writers in a variety of genres. Whether it's classic literature, science fiction or non fiction, if it's well written I love it.

This also means that when friends peeve about things, chances are I just might know of a book someplace that touches on a similar topic. So in the year 2012, with friends righteously bemoaning the fact that Christmas decorations having been available since early October WHEN IT'S HALLOWEEN'S TURN, DAMNIT, it brings to mind a story that I read a long time ago.

When I was in high school, Ballantine Books produced a series of books showcasing some of the best work of science fiction's luminaries, both the rock stars and some early pioneers. Frederick Pohl is an author who is both, with a career spanning some 70 years. He earned both Hugo and Nebula awards and his "Best of" collection contains some truly amazing writing. The particular story that the "Christmas in October" theme brings to mind for me is "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus". If you can lay your hands on this book or buy it in eBook form, I hugely encourage you to do so. READ THIS STORY!

One thing that a really outstanding writer can do (cue Joss Whedon reference) is take a story whose premise is appealing/fun and which creates certain expectations... and then surprise the reader by turning it into something else entirely. In the case of this story, the setup is easy: it's a satire told from the point of view of a rising executive in a big city department store, dealing with the stress of the late Christmas season...on September 8th.

Here's an example of a song sung by that executive:

"'Tis the season of Christmas, and all through the house St. Nick and his
helpers begin their carouse. The closets are stuffed and the drawers
overflowing With gift-wrapped remembrances, coming and going. What
 a joyous abandon of Christmastime glow! What a making of lists! What
 a spending of dough! So much for the bedroom, so much for the bath,
So much for the kitchen -- too little by half! Come Westinghouse, Philco!
Come Hotpoint, G.E.! Come Sunbeam! Come Mixmaster! Come to the
Tree! So much for the wardrobe -- how shine Daddy's eyes. As he reaps
his Yule harvest of slippers and ties. So much for the family, so much for
the friends. So much for the neighbors -- the list never ends...". (And it goes on)

The setup is funny but if it had stopped at cleverly written "late Christmas season in September" satire, it would have only been a pretty good story. Where Pohl made it a great story is by taking that cracked beginning and gradually morphing the story into a sweet and deeply affecting love story. You see, our hero hires a woman to work for the season who he ends up falling for, like a rock. Only, she's not from around here...she has been living in Borneo with her missionary father and sisters and she is just weirded out by this lengthy, consumerist celebration of Christmas.

That "Season of Christmas song"? Our executive sings it to her family when having dinner at their house (still in September) and is quickly asked to leave. More hijinks ensue and the plot keeps you guessing. But the overall story is one of the best love stories I've read, one that I still think of warmly, many years after I first read it(**). Now you, READ THIS STORY

(*) Term "word nerd" used courtesy of Uppercase Bookshop, my *favorite* area bookshop. A highlight of the town of Snohomish!

(**) Now that I got all that mushiness out of my system, I have to go compensate by being insensitive, insulting people on the Internet and riding a motorcycle like a hooligan. (Manly grunt)