From classics to kids books, Calgary authors reveal favourite holiday reads

'In Cold Blood' may not be the most uplifting read, but at least one Calgary writer brings out the Truman Capote classic every Christmas.

What are your favourite holiday reads? Tell us your picks in the comments below

The Christmas holidays are the perfect time to curl up by the tree with a good book and a warm drink. (Literary Hub)

The Christmas holidays are a perfect time to find a cozy spot and curl up with a favourite book. 

We asked some of Calgary's many talented writers to tell us about one of the books they like to return to over the holidays.

Derek Beaulieu — Moby Dick by Herman Melville

​Derek Beaulieu is the author of eight books of poetry and was Calgary's 2014-2016 Poet Laureate. He's the co-editor of The Calgary Renaissance, an anthology of contemporary poetry and fiction by Calgarian writers.

"My book is a big, long 19th century American novel — Moby Dick by Herman Melville. You know, it's an odd choice, but every holiday I take the opportunity to read a really big novel.

"Moby Dick is a book we all think we know — we've heard a lot about it, it's a cultural touchstone — but it's actually a very, very strange book that just goes on and on into all the intricacies of life of that time, not just the hunt for the big white whale. There's an entire chapter about white things. Yes, white things.

"This is my fourth time reading it. I read it in my early 20s feeling some sort of obligation ... and I barely got through it. About half a dozen years ago I read it [a third time] and it was like a veil was lifted. It was funny, it was engaging, it was adventuresome and it was intricately strange. 

"Reading Moby Dick is like an interminable turkey dinner. You're full for days and weeks on end — it just fills you up as you go."

Nothing says Christmas quite like a Santa hat and a hardcover copy of Moby Dick — at least if you're Derek Beaulieu. (Kristen Beaulieu)

Chris Turner — The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket 

Chris Turner's works include How to Breathe Underwater and The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy. His next book, an overview of the oilsands, is expected to be published in fall 2017. 

"I don't know if someone gave it to us or what, but it wound up in with all of the other Christmas books. What I like about it is the writing is sort of fun and darkly comic, and all the stuff you would expect from Lemony Snicket, but it is also a great moral Christmas story without being obvious and saccharine — and there are a lot of obvious and saccharine things about Christmas that you've heard a thousand times.

"The Lump of Coal is this walking, talking lump of coal that's basically trying to find its place in the Christmas firmament, so it's ultimately a quite beautiful little story, but told very much from an odd angle. It's a nice twist on the classic holiday tale."

'It's ultimately a quite beautiful little story, but told very much from an odd angle,' said Chris Turner. (Harper Collins)

​Garry Ryan — Millicent and the Wind and 50 Below Zero by Robert Munsch

Garry Ryan is the author of the Detective Lane mystery series. His next book, Matanzas, will be published in late 2017. Ryan had a hard time choosing between Millicent and the Wind and another Robert Munsch classic, 50 Below Zero.

"Christmas is about kids, or at least I think it is, and Millicent is just this beautiful story about a girl who lives off the grid with her mother and her only friend is the wind, so the wind brings her this beautiful gift. It's just a great, great story. It chokes me up every time.

"My wife and I read stories at Pages Books once a month. The kids are usually toddlers so you never know how they're going to react, [but] the moms seem to like it. It's that kind of story, it has a universal appeal to it.

"And when I think of a book for Christmas, that's the book I think of, just because of kids and gifts. And there's a beauty to it — that story just always grabs me."

Garry Ryan says he's owned this copy of Millicent and the Wind for at least 30 years. (Garry Ryan)

​Aritha van Herk — The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier

Aritha van Herk is an award-winning novelist whose latest work is the prose/poetry book, Stampede and the Westness of the West. She's been reading Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater every Christmas for more than 30 years.

"Why do I re-read The Hockey Sweater? I don't like hockey, I don't play hockey, I can't skate. It's a book about a boy, it's [written] by a man. So it's actually in complete opposition to what one would expect from me. But in a curious way it's one of those wonderful stories that captures all of the desire and frustration of a Canadian childhood."

(The book is about a hockey-mad boy whose Montreal Canadiens sweater wears out, so he asks his mom for a new one and ends up with a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.)

"And of course the moment he puts that on his life is a disaster because he's on the wrong side.

"It's got that wonderful sense of Canadian disappointment and yet somehow 'I'm going to get through this.' So it's really a great story about winter."

Aritha van Herk with her signed copy of the Canadian classic. (Brian Stanko)

Kirstie McLellan Day — In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Prolific hockey writer Kirstie McLellan Day's latest book is 99: Stories of the Game, which she wrote with Wayne Gretzky. Her next book, written with Kelly Hrudey, will be published in fall 2017.

"I don't read [other books] when I'm writing — I can't, because I pick up voices too easily.

"Bottom line, we don't want Wayne Gretzky sounding like a character in a Stephen King novel.

"So I always make sure to take a few days off at Christmas and that's when I crack open all the new books that have been piling up, mostly detective fiction.

"And every Christmas, I re-read [Truman Capote's] In Cold Blood. I know it sounds dark, but curling up in a big armchair and opening it up continues to refresh and inspire me because of the writing.

"His writing is simple, but it transports me and it is the book that taught me to write. It's pure, you just don't see a false note. It's a beautifully written book."

Kirstie McLellan Day will be cuddled up on the couch with Truman Capote this Christmas. (Larry Day)

Interviews have been condensed and edited.


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