My very own Christmas Jar.
Last Christmas, my mother gave my husband and me a jar filled with coins and a few $1 and $5 bills. She also gave one to my brother and his wife. With the jars came a copy of this book for each of us, Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright. I thought it was an incredibly neat idea, and was very moved by the gift even before I knew the full meaning behind it. I had intended to read the book shortly after receiving it, but amidst the post-holiday travel and breakneck speed of our life at the time, I just never got around to it that winter.
Fast forward to this holiday season: Joe and I put a charitable spin on our gift-exchanging this year, and my mom commented that it reminded her a bit of Christmas Jars. This evening I turned on the Christmas tree lights one last time and finally read this novella.
This is a quick read at just over 100 pages, a feel-good book for a feel-good season. Hope, an aspiring newspaper writer, receives an anonymous gift one miserable Christmas Eve: a glass jar full of coins and $20 bills with the words “Christmas Jar” written on it. She tries to track down the origins of this generous, bizarre tradition, but very few recipients of jars from years past are willing to speculate much on them except to say that some things don’t need to be understood to be appreciated. She eventually gets a lead on a family in town who restores old furniture and slowly unravels the mystery. After spending many months with the quirky Maxwell family, she faces a conflict: write the story and gain the glory, or keep the trust they have all come to place in her. Though Hope is not sure how to resolve her feelings, she knows deep down that the choices she makes leading up to that year’s Christmas will define the depth of her character.
Last weekend, we drove down to Dallas. One of my best friends from college and her husband moved down there this past year, putting them only 3 hours away from Oklahoma City. It was an excellent visit — a brewery, an Asian art collection, the art museum, a walk around the cool & eclectic arts district, and a very intense game of Scrabble.
Christmas Market in the Bishop Arts District, where our friends live.
Fashion exhibit at The Crow Collection of Asian Art.
Samurai exhibit at The Crow Collection of Asian Art.
You might be wondering what a weekend getaway to Texas to see our friends has to do with my quest for a million words. Joe’s Nissan Versa has a CD player, which means that on the night before we headed out we made a stop at the Metropolitan Public Library to pick up an audiobook for the drive! We picked up two, but wound up listening to only one: Ur by Stephen King. Originally available only for the Amazon Kindle, this novella introduces readers to Wesley Smith, an English teacher at a small college who loves books. One day in class, he scoffs at a student doing his reading assignment off a Kindle…a computer. But, fresh off a breakup where his ex-girlfriend accused him of being unable to use such devices “like the rest of us,” he takes it as a personal challenge and orders one online.
There are some weird manufacturing quirks to his new Amazon purchase. For one thing, it appeared in the mail for him after only one day, even though he didn’t request one-day delivery. Also, it seems to be a shade of bubblegum pink. Finally, it has an experimental prototype menu called “Ur.” As Wesley loses night after night of sleep exploring Ur novels and Ur news archives, he can’t help but wonder: How many Urs are out there? And why did this strange Kindle show up in his?
Eleanor and Park is an unlikely love story about two misfits in the mid-80s who find out they fit with each other. Though that sounds like the plot summary for a lot of YA books about young relationships (minus the 1980s, probably), Rowell really has a gift for putting you inside the heads of our titular protagonists. The chapters are divided between the two POVs. Many shared moments are expanded for the reader, as they first read how Eleanor experienced something, then read how Park perceived the same event. Other chapters are internal revelations exclusive to that character; hard, secret truths about sincerity, identity, sex, family dysfunction, and abuse. I listened to this book on Overdrive, and the two voice actors reading as Eleanor and Park did a wonderful job.
Eleanor is the new girl on the school bus, a curvy girl with wild red hair and bright, unusual clothing like mens’ Hawaiian print shirts and scarves tied all around her arms. Park is a Korean-American teen who’s into punk rock and getting a driver’s license. When he gruffly tells her she can sit next to him on the bus that first awkward day, he sets off a chain of interactions that will bring them closer and closer together until they can’t bear to be apart. Sharing comic books and mix tapes, they are two bright, hopeful blossoms on the incredibly bleak landscape of their drab neighborhood, which Eleanor refers to as The Flats. Eleanor challenges Park and confuses him, in love with him but unable to fully trust the intentions of anyone around her. Park wants to love Eleanor forever, though at 16 years old, she skeptically remarks several times that they are no Romeo and Juliet.
It’s a real, raw story about falling in love for the first time, facing your demons, and listening to The Smiths on the way to school. I would highly recommend it.