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BOOK TALK: Three tales for a winter’s night

It is traditional for many families to read a Christmas story to each other during the holidays, even if it is the only time of year.

A Christmas Carol (1843), by the great English author Charles Dickens, is without question the most popular tale.

The classic story features some of the most memorable characters in English literature —Scrooge, Marley, Cratchit and Tiny Tim— and a plot device that serves as a perfect vehicle for the reflective and redemptive nature of the story.

It is also much more than an indelible classic. An essential theme runs like a thread through the fabric of the tale. A Christmas Carol, above all, is about regret. It is about regretting not what you may have done but the opportunities you failed to pursue. In this regard, the classic tale transcends the characters, plot and even the story of Christmas.

Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story (2013), by acclaimed mystery writer Craig Johnson, is not in the same class, but it is a compelling story that draws on the Dickens’ classic to explore the same theme.

Sheriff Walt Longmire is reading A Christmas Carol in his office on Dec. 24 when he is interrupted by the ghost of Christmas past: a young woman with a hairline scar across her forehead and some pointed questions about Walt’s predecessor, Lucian Connally. Walt fails to recognize the mystery woman but she appears to know him and claims she possesses something she must return to Connally.

The sheriff, at loose ends with his daughter Cady, and undersheriff Vic Moretti, in Philadelphia for the holidays, agree to help the young woman despite her reticence about revealing her identity.

Spirit of Steamboat, like A Christmas Carol, is a novella and can easily be read in an evening, even with breaks for treats and eggnog.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1957) is a timeless classic by Welsh author Dylan Thomas, one of the greatest poets and storytellers of the 20th century.

This story, believed by many critics to be the best English Christmas tale after A Christmas Carol, is a nostalgic, bittersweet memoir told through the eyes of a child.

“December, in my memory, is as white as Lapland,” Thomas recalls in the story. December is also a month that bursts with, “deadly snowballs” and snow that, “grows overnight on the roofs of houses.” And he marvels at the other quirky delights of winter: the frozen sea, snowboots and footprints, aunts who lace their tea with rum, the wind rustling through the trees and holiday presents and sweets such as candy cigarettes. The language is simply beautiful and the story, once read, will remain with you long after the holidays are past.

These tales are all available at your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca. All library branches will be closed for the holidays from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2. The ORL wishes to take this opportunity to extend the best of the season to all.

Peter Critchley is a reference librarian at the ORL's Vernon branch.

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