‘Tis the season (for Christmas books)

In the book world you can expect certain books to be published at certain times. January is full of self-help, diet, and exercise books for all those people making New Year’s resolutions. Summer sees loads of mysteries and an uptick in fiction for women, books about sisters and friends with images of women on beaches or in fields on the cover. I always felt that in the fall a lot of biographies and histories were published, kids need something to buy dad for Christmas.

Late November is the season for Christmas books. I’m not talking about holiday craft and recipe books, or books like the Mark Twain bio that are expected to be big sellers for the holidays. I’m referring to the romance and mystery books set in “Christmastime.” For romance books it’s a time when families and friends come together, experience some minor stresses, meet a handsome stranger or reencounter an old flame, and have everything end happily ever after. The mysteries generally have the main character’s attempt at happy holidays destroyed by murders and other crimes.

James Patterson’s Christmas book is one of his Alex Cross books, Merry Christmas, Alex Cross. The publisher’s description: It’s Christmas Eve and Detective Alex Cross is called away from his family to resolve a horrific hostage situation that is spiraling out of control. Really? Did this have to be set around Christmas? I doubt that the time of year plays into the plot much. Hostage situations with a Christmas tree or two, maybe some carols playing on a radio in the background. I feel like Patterson could have written a manuscript, realized the book would have a late fall release date and decided to throw in some Christmas related bits.

Romance writer Mary Balogh’s 2012 Christmas book is a republishing of two novellas, A Christmas Bride/Christmas Beau. This seems like a case of a publisher insisting the author have a new Christmas book so the author rummaged around in their older works for a few holiday stories. It frustrates me that people will buy anything Christmasy this time of year. Throw a red and green cover on a book and people will fall over themselves to buy it. Blue and white covers work too. Time to make money off the masses.

While I wouldn’t call myself a Christian, the hyped up consumerism this time of year does bother me. I feel as though people will buy anything if they are told it will make their holidays brighter or happier. Generally the romance books are not purchased as gifts, from what I remember being in the book selling business. Women buy them to leave their real holiday stress behind and escape to snow covered Montana where handsome farm hands are home for the holidays and meet striking women, or sweet suburbs have twinkling lights and new neighbors who need a fall in love over a plate of gingerbread cookies. It’s not how Christmas really happens, although I suppose this feeling goes back to my general derision of romance novels in general.

The Christmas mysteries are purchased as gifts about as often as not. People seem to enjoy reading about CIA operatives and detectives running about trying to solve crimes and trim the tree at the same time. I’m not sure where the appeal is, murder around the holidays has to be more stressful than your average family get-together. Maybe people like reading about situations that make a lazy brother who “forgot” to get a hotel room or screaming nieces and nephews in matching sweaters a little less awful.

I will give a few exceptions to my general fussiness over Christmas books. Author Debbie Macomber seems to truly love Christmas. She has written a Christmas book every year since the late 1990s. It’s kind of adorable. Her website extolls her love of the holidays and writing the books is a tradition for her. She seems to have found a soft spot in my grinchy outlook. If someone loves this holiday season, I think it shows in their work. Richard Paul Evans seems to have an understanding of the holiday spirit as well. You’ve probably heard of his books, The Christmas Box, The Timepiece, and Lost December to name a few. He has written a Christmas book every year for the past decade or so as well. He has the feel good market well covered.

Even these books make me roll my eyes a bit. Why can’t they take place during other times of the year? Why does winter have to equal Christmas? It’s exhausting. I don’t want to be a Grinch, but the forced holiday cheer gets to me, especially when it starts immediately after Halloween. Thanksgiving gets a small window to shine and then it’s buy buy buy. Christmas books feed into this frenzy of holiday craziness and that puts them on my naughty list.

Kelly Hannon worked in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at www.letterstopeopleihate.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

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