Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

68. The Christmas Letters
by Lee Smith
fiction, 1996
fourth reading
finished, 11/25/10

On this, my fourth reading of The Christmas Letters, I found I loved it more than ever. It is one of the best concepts I can imagine - Christmas letters from three women beginning in 1944 with the mother, Birdie; continuing with her daughter, Mary who begins writing in 1967; and then a final letter from Birdie's granddaughter and Mary's daughter, Melanie. They span 52 years, years in which a lot happens in America and in these women's lives. The first ones are very personal, sent to sorely missed family members, while the later ones are to family and friends. There is usually a recipe included which relates to the story told in the letter, and even these recipes show the passage of time. An early letter from Birdie offers a homemade carrot cake which won Mary a 4-H prize, while some years later, Mary includes a recipe for a 'Speedy Italian Supper' from a cookbook called Cooks on the Run. The early letters were handwritten, but in a 1966 installment we read an apology for 'these carbon copies ... but I am in a hurry and we have a lot of news.' There is a particular poignancy when we read of happiness one year with no thought that next year's letter will tell of a death in the family.

If you send such letters, or receive them, you know that the writer tries to put the best spin on the year's events. Troubles are glossed over, with only a line or two about what was most likely a big deal.
We only regret that it did not work out for Joe at Copeland Construction, but we wish you good luck, Joe, in whatever field you decide to go into.
A later letter from Mary says, all in capital letters:
in which we learn the truth behind events and people mentioned in past letters.

Lee Smith is a wonderful storyteller, and this is a very special book.


  1. I have this in my stack from the library, (on your recommendation) but haven't started it yet, can't wait! I'm currently reading the "new" Miss Read novel, Christmas in Thursh Green. Miss Read provided the outline, and reveiwed the story her assistant actually wrote, but it is quite good and true to her natural style.

    Have a lovely weekend

  2. I love this book as much as you do. Did we discover it at the same time or tell each other about it? I can't remember. I've read it at least 3 or 4 times. Such a wonderful book and it is very apt in showing how much we "spin" our lives when telling others about the highlights. :-)

  3. Oh, Niki, you will love this book! I've heard about this Miss Read book. I'll be interested to hear what you think. Gosh, she's 97 years old now.

    Kay, I bet you told me about it, but honestly I can't remember. Have you read any other books by Lee S.? I haven't.

  4. I loved the Christmas Letter when I read it, which reminds me that I need to select a few holiday reads soon.

  5. I've never heard of this book, Nan, but is sounds the type of reading I am often in the mood for around this time of year. I'm sure my library must have it.

    I love Miss Read as well.

    SO MUCH TO READ! The pressure's on. Ha!

  6. Diane, I want to read only Christmas books this month, except on my kindle I'm reading mysteries. :<)

    Yvette, I so enjoy the women in this book. I think you will love it, too.

  7. Awesome! I'll see if the library has it when I head over there tomorrow.

  8. Nan, sounds like a wonderful book. I will have to request it from my library! Thanks for the great review!

  9. Sherri, it is definitely your kind of book!

  10. Ooooh, this sounds wonderful! I've never even heard of it. I'll have to look it up. I'm a big fan of Christmas books, these days, but not all of them are worth the time.

  11. Bookfool, I really think this one's 'worth' it! Nice people who seem very real to me. I cared about them and their lives.

  12. I will look for it. I love to write letters and to receive them of course so it should be a good read for me.

  13. This book is currently sitting in a box with all my Christmas books that I pull out each year and savor. I love The Christmas Letters and you write so well about it in this post. I hoe to reread it this year.

  14. Lisa, you'll love it. The writing is so good, the characters are so real that you might feel like you are reading actual letters. :<)

    Penny, isn't it so great! I have a box of Christmas books too that I get out in November. You can see some of them behind the picture of the book.

  15. I just picked this one up from the library...can not wait to read it!

  16. Staci, I will be so interested to hear what you think!

  17. I'm not usually into reading holiday-themed books, but I love Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies and hadn't heard about this book before! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  18. Christy, I will look into Fair and Tender Ladies. I so love her writing.


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