Imagining the Holidays

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

"IF YOU COULD SPEND A HOLIDAY WEEK AS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER , WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?" Some well-known authors reveal their surprising choices.

The Prince | in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince

I've been grieving over a sweetheart I just lost -- my dog. And I've been thinking of things I've misplaced, like my focus. I've also been losing a little optimism about the world and am scared about those who think they own the stars. Perhaps if I traveled with the Little Prince, I would find these things. What's more, I have always loved to draw and he would help me revise what I am seeing. Since I am learning to speak French and the Little Prince speaks that language as his first, by necessity, I would listen carefully for the true meaning of what he says. The Little Prince would never sneer at me for being sentimental about larger hopes or nostalgic for things forever gone. We would see things from the beginning, where all things are still possible and assumptions don't yet exist. But first I must find the Little Prince. In a world of fiction, he would reappear with a flower in his hand, and during my week with him, we would find my dog at last.

-- Amy Tan, author of "Saving Fish From Drowning"

Professor Pnin | in Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin

Oh, no question: I would spend it with Nabokov's tragicomic Professor Pnin. I would sit Pnin down and try to explain America to him. I would tell him to temper his Russian sentimentality and think in pragmatic terms of his academic career. I would hold his hand, maybe stroke it a little, address him by his patronymic and mention the pleasures of a romance with a healthy, strong American woman as opposed to that crazy Liza of his, and I would give him the number of my analyst. "In America," I would say, "in progressive coastal America, we try to cut out the extreme highs and the scary lows and to enjoy the wonderful middle. Wouldn't you agree, Timofey Pavlovich, that this is the best course of action to take?"

-- Gary Shteyngart, author of "The Russian Debutante's Handbook"

Buddy and "my friend" | in Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory"

The fact is I do spend a holiday week with two fictional characters every year: 7-year-old Buddy and his 60-something, very distant cousin, known only as "my friend," via Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." Actually, it's more than a week, it's the time between a morning in late November when our friend announces "It's fruitcake weather," and the afternoon of Christmas Day when she declares, "As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes." Every year, when the four of us (Buddy, our friend, Queenie the rat terrier and I, the tag-along reader) approach Mr. HaHa Jones's caf┬┐ to purchase his bootlegged whiskey for our fruitcakes, I feel our collective heart "overturn." Every year, I laugh at the lovely absurdity of 31 fruitcakes sent to "people who've struck our fancy," and feel the Christmas Eve thrill of "stars spinning at the window like a visible caroling." Every year, although I know it is coming, I am heartbroken to learn that Queenie, rushing to bury her Christmas-morning bone in the pasture, will be buried there, too, "a winter hence." I've read "A Christmas Memory" every December since I was a girl, and -- much like the season itself -- despite its brevity, its familiarity, despite my conviction, each year, that surely, this time, I'll have outgrown its charms, the story never fails to surprise me with delight.

-- Alice McDermott, author of "After This"

Scrooge | in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol

Scrooge, pre-visitation by the ghosts.


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