Christmas Reading/ White Christmas: The Story of an American Song by Jody Rosen

white christmas

Every year I try to read something new that is related to Christmas, about Christmas or set during Christmas. This year, I wasn’t tempted by any of the Christmas fiction available at my library so I did a quick search in the catalog for nonfiction Christmas-y books and this title jumped out at me. I am an ardent lover of holiday music and have always admired Bing Crosby’s version of White Christmas so I knew this book would be perfect for me.

White Christmas was written by Irving Berlin, already a majorly successful composer, and used in the film Holiday Inn which was released in 1942. Around September of that year the song became a best-selling record and was played frequently on the radio. Berlin tried to have the song’s popularity stifled because he wanted to save it for December, but he needn’t have worried; the song stayed on the charts throughout that year and into the next. With its haunting melody and nostalgic lyrics, White Christmas was adopted by American soldiers as a symbol of home and better times and continued to top the charts throughout the war. In fact, the master recording had been pressed so many times that it wore out and Bing Crosby had to re-record the song in 1947 (this second version is the one we hear now). It is currently the best-selling single of all time.

In this microhistory, Rosen examines not only the history of White Christmas, its structure and recording, but the entire history of pop music from the twenties through the sixties. There are chapters on Tin Pan Alley, Irving Berlin’s rise to fame from a poor upbringing in Siberia, Bing Crosby’s preeminence, how music changed so dramatically in the fifties with the rise of rock and roll and how this demolished the traditional songwriting and sheet music business (and forced Irving Berlin to retire). He also discusses how most of our standard songs (including Christmas music) was written by Jewish composers who so perfectly captured the hopes and dreams of all everyday Americans.

I got more than I bargained for with White Christmas and am thoroughly delighted. I enjoyed reading about the golden age of songwriting and about Berlin – a perfectionist, a somewhat cranky, patriotic humanitarian who lived to the age of 101. When I hear White Christmas now I will think of all I learned while reading this book and of how truly remarkable it is that this song has persisted in being so influential 71 years after its first release.

This is a wonderful Christmas read – one I highly recommend. Are you reading anything Christmas related?

Also, I am participating in Wilkie in Winter, hosted by The Estella Society. I’ll start reading The Frozen Deep tomorrow for the readalong.

Have a great weekend!

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Christmas Reading: Dylan Thomas + Truman Capote

This past weekend I was craving some cozy, Christmas, comfort fiction so I turned to two stories I had on my shelves. Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales and A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales is a charming remembrance, an adult’s memories of his childhood holidays filled with food, ‘Useless’ and ‘Useful’ presents, and the music that roars on Christmas night. Dylan’s language is colorful and vivid and there is a very jubilant energy bursting from the story. It is really a joy to read.

A Christmas Memory is a bittersweet story that I try to read every year during the holidays. It is told from the viewpoint of a child, Buddy, and recounts his memories of his Christmases in Alabama during the 1930’s. Buddy and his cousin, whom he calls ‘my friend’ throughout the story, embrace the traditions of the season by scraping together all of the money they can find to buy ingredients to make fruit cakes. They make them for friends, family and even President Roosevelt. They also find joy in harvesting their own tree and making presents for each other. This autobiographical tale takes the reader back to a simpler time and introduces us to the unforgettable character of Buddy’s cousin, who was based on Capote’s real relative, Miss Sook. This is a gem that I highly recommend.

If you’re looking for some quick and gladdening reading during this hectic time of the year, try one or both of these terrific stories!