Holiday Albums You Love—And Others You Should

Now that it’s December, it’s time to dust off those records that live in the back of your collection, the ones that only get played one month out of the year: Christmas albums. In this post, I’m taking a look at some of the albums on Billboard’s list of the ten top-selling holiday albums of all time. Chances are you own some of them, and maybe you can’t imagine Christmas without them. But the thing about traditions is, you have to add new ones from time to time. In that spirit, I’m offering some alternative holiday albums that might be less familiar and a little fresher to your ears.

Gigantic Bestseller:
ElvisElvis’ Christmas Album – Elvis Presley
Released in 1957, Presley’s first Christmas album—the top-selling record on Billboard’s list— features secular tunes on side one and sacred fare on side two, including a few non-Christmas gospel songs that had been previously released. The King is solemn on the religious tunes but loosens up for the secular stuff, including originals like “Santa Claus is Back in Town” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me).” Personally, I can’t stand Elvis’ version of “Blue Christmas,” but it’s here, too.

Alternate Choice:
James Brown’s Funky Christmas – James Brown
Let the King rest in heavenly peace this year and invite the Godfather of Soul over for Christmas instead. This compilation features tracks from the three holiday albums Brown recorded at the height of his funky powers between 1966 and 1970, including “Go Power at Christmas Time,” “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” and “Soulful Christmas.” Brown shows his socially-conscious side on tracks like “Let’s Unite the World at Christmas.”

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Holiday Reads for the Not-So-Holiday Minded

Every Christmas, there are certain books that my family pulls off the bookshelf. They are absolute must-reads for Christmastime, like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol or Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. However, occasionally between stealing the last can of Who Hash and God blessing everyone, I need to read something that will take me out of the holiday while still capturing the holiday spirit, if only for a moment. Here is a list of classic novels that includes the holidays, but are about so much more.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
This classic novel begins with a heartwarming Christmas scene, but it takes you through several seasons in the March girls’ lives as they face each blessing and trial together. The love and support the March girls give each other through the years illustrates the importance of family.
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Fictional Feasts

Last autumn, I had the pleasure of visiting family in England and staying with my cousin and her husband in their cozy 16th century home in a tiny East Sussex village not far from the town of Lewes.

On a chilly, clear evening after a full day of walking and exploring the area, my cousin prepared us a warm, delicious meal of daube and homemade bread accompanied by a glass of hearty red wine. Our dinner conversation started with “What is daube?” – a classic Provençal beef stew – and “Where did you get the recipe?” – from French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David. By the way, Virginia Woolf (who had a weekend home in Lewes and sadly drowned in the nearby River Ouse) wrote about ‘Boeuf en Daube’ in her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse.

“… an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine …” Continue reading

Five American Writers Who Served

On November 11, America will pause to honor all those who have served in its Armed Forces. Veterans Day as we know it was established in 1954, when Congress changed the name of Armistice Day and broadened its definition—what had been primarily a celebration of World War I vets was redefined as a day dedicated to all military veterans.

Here at HPB, we’re thankful for all who’ve donned the uniform to fight for our country. But being the bookish types we are, we thought it’d be interesting to consider a few of the great American writers who spent time in the military. Most of these authors wrote about their war experience, and it’s safe to say that all of them were shaped by it in profound ways. The writer Norman Mailer called it the worst experience of his life but also the most valuable.

Joseph Heller
HellerThe novelist of Catch-22 fame joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at age 19, shortly after America entered World War II. He was sent to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, and from there flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier. After the war, Heller went to college on the G.I. Bill and worked as an advertising copywriter before the publication of Catch-22 established him in the literary world. The satirical novel, published in 1961, is decidedly anti-war, but it has been used by the U.S. Air Force Academy to teach about the dangers of bureaucracy. Heller even appeared at the Academy in 1986 for a celebration of the book’s 25th anniversary.

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New Reads with a Holiday Twist

When you think of holiday stories,certain must-read classics come to mind, such as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and more recently Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. These are stories that make their way off my shelf and into my hands every holiday season.  However, sometimes I crave a new holiday story and go looking for touching, romantic or even mysterious holiday books to devour.  If you are looking for something new this holiday, here are a few suggestions of holiday-themed stories that have been published in the past few years.

whatlight-coverWhat Light, by Jay Asher—Released in 2016, this moving Young Adult novel follows the story of Sierra and Caleb. Sierra’s family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon and every year she has to pack up and move to California to sell trees in their Christmas tree lot. This Christmas she meets Caleb, a boy with a troubled past. This story is about finding forgiveness, redemption and love, and it just may break your heart.  This book is featured in our Holiday Gift Guide.

a-baxter-family-christmas-9781471143311_hrA Baxter Family Christmas, by Karen Kingsbury—Released in 2016, Kingsbury brought back the Baxter family for an all-new holiday story, as John Baxter invites the transplant recipient who now has his deceased daughter’s heart to share Christmas Eve dinner with the family, a dinner that just might change all of them. Continue reading

50 Facts About How The Grinch Stole Christmas and The People Who Made It

It can’t be denied that the mid-1960s was the golden age of the animated TV Christmas special. You could deny it, but you’d be wrong. The stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer premiered in 1964, and A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted twelve months later. The next year, in 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas aired for the first time.

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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the animated Grinch, here are 50 facts about the classic TV special and the people who made it.

1. The Dr. Seuss book on which the special is based was published by Random House in 1957. It also appeared in an issue of Redbook magazine at the same time.

2. Dr. Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Geisel. His dozens of children’s books have spawned 11 TV specials, four feature films, four TV series and a stage musical. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984.

3. While attending Dartmouth College, Geisel got caught drinking gin with friends in his dorm room. As punishment, he was forced to stop all extracurricular activities, including writing for the school’s humor magazine. To surreptitiously keep writing for it, he began using the pen name Seuss. (Dartmouth gave him an honorary doctorate in 1956.)

4. His first book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected by anywhere from 20 to 43 publishers, depending on which time he told the story.

5. An early version of the Grinch character appeared in 1955 in a Seuss story called “The Hoobub and the Grinch.” Continue reading

Christmas Past Makes a Great Christmas Present

The literary work most associated with Christmas is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but, really, all of Charles Dickens’ works somehow seem to fit the holiday season, so we would like to take this opportunity to feature a very special array of British editions of Dickens’ novels, mostly first editions illustrated by Phiz, and a couple of other very special holiday collectible editions.1-thechimes

The Chimes
This 1905 J.M. Dent deluxe edition of the second of Dickens’ famous Christmas books is bound in vellum, with lovely decorative gilt to the spine and front board, showing holly, ivy and cherubs in an Art Nouveau style. Illustrated by Charles E. Brock. $225

2-nicholasnicklebyThe Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
First Edition, mixed issue. Chapman and Hall, 1839. Twentieth-century half morocco binding by Zaehnsdorf of London. $1,200 Continue reading

Stuff Your Stockings like Ol’ St. Nick

Could you imagine if your entire Christmas bounty fit into a wooden shoe? Americans tend to view stockings as a fun appetizer to the feast of Christmas presents that follow. But in some countries, the Christmas stocking or clog itself is the main event, staying true to the tradition’s origin.

This ritual is believed to trace back to the German legend of a rich man named Nicholas and a poor widower who couldn’t afford dowries for his three unwed daughters. Wanting to help, Nicholas tossed three bags of gold through an open window at night, which landed in the stockings drying on the fireplace. As the story spread, children began putting out their own stockings or clogs, filled with carrots and hay for Nicholas’ reindeer, waiting for him to replace their bribes with small gifts. Today in America, stockings have become bigger and the contents vary by family tradition — some stuffing them with whimsical toys, while others prefer practical gifts like tube socks.

This year my family will celebrate the season with our first-ever fireplace. And our new mantel is just begging for a row of cheerfully-knit stockings. So naturally, I’m on the prowl for excellent stocking stuffer gift ideas. If you’re on the hunt like me, you’ll appreciate this round up of pocket-sized gift ideas, perfectly suited for stockings for all ages. Best of all, you can find them all at Half Price Books and it won’t break the bank since there are countless gifts under $10. From always-in-style traditional gifts like journals, planners and stationery, to pop-culture hits like comic book figures, keychains, magnets and collectibles.

stocking-stuffersproxima

What will you fill your stockings with this year?

It’s time to celebrate Booksgiving Day!

Attention kids and parents – it’s time to celebrate your favorite Half Price Books holiday, Booksgiving Day!

Now in its fourth year, we here at Half Price Books celebrate Booksgiving Day with a special storytime. BUT, the best part is, every child who attends will receive a FREE new children’s picture book to take home, while supplies last. (Who doesn’t love free books?!)

And this year, for every book purchased online at HPB.com on Booksgiving Day, we’ll donate a book to the nonprofit organization, Feed The Children. All books donated on Booksgiving Day are part of the Half Price Books Million Book Donation Project, which donated more than 1.6 million books to non-profit organizations and schools in 2015.

So stop by your local HPB on Saturday, November 19 at 2 p.m. local time to celebrate Booksgiving Day with your fellow booklovers, and don’t forget to shop online, too. Hope to see you there!

Check out photos from previous Booksgiving Day celebrations!

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HPB Independence 2015

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Santa Claus at Half Price Books

HPB is full of excitement because Santa Claus is coming to the Flagship store in Dallas! In keeping with Christmastime traditions, Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick will be making appearances at the Half Price Books located at 5803 E. Northwest Hwy. in Dallas, Texas. Bring the whole family – Fido, too – for a memorable snapshot with Santa. Donations appreciated and will benefit the North Texas Food Bank.

santa

Santa’s appearance schedule:
Friday, Nov 25:  1-5 p.m.
Saturday, Nov 26:  1-5 p.m.
Sunday, Nov 27:  1-5 p.m.
Friday, Dec 2:  5-9 p.m.
Saturday, Dec 3:  1-5 p.m.
Sunday, Dec 4:  1-5 p.m.
Friday, Dec 9:  5-9 p.m.
Saturday, Dec 10:  1-5 p.m.
Sunday, Dec 11:  1-5 p.m.
Friday, Dec 16:  5-9 p.m.
Saturday, Dec 17:  1-5 p.m.
Sunday, Dec 18:  1-5 p.m.

We hope to see you at the HPB Flagship this holiday season! Be sure to check out our Holiday Gift Guide.