A New Mexico Christmas reading list - Albuquerque Journal

A New Mexico Christmas reading list

This is the final weekend before Christmas, and at least in this column now is not the time to address the problems of the world. They’ll keep.

Instead, it’s a good time to encourage some rest and relaxation and cultivate the right holiday mood. Who needs to spend Christmas all tuckered out?

And what better way to frame one’s mind than spending quality time with a book? Seriously.

There are many books about Christmas, and if you want to read something along those lines, I would recommend one written by a guy named Luke. He said it best; and in an incredibly few number of words in just two chapters. You may recall the start of Chapter 2: “Now it happened that at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole inhabited world …”

But Dickens excepted, I find most other books about Christmas to be kind of sappy. There are, however, some really good books that have Christmas-related scenes. And some are set in New Mexico.

So that’s what I’m recommending to get you in the proper spirit before the holidays.

My favorite Christmas scene in a non-holiday book is in Rudolfo Anaya’s classic, “Bless Me, Ultima.” It’s a minor part of the book and wasn’t even included in the movie – much to my chagrin. Anaya paints a very funny – if slightly sacrilegious – picture of what can happen when a storm drops a heavy blanket of snow the day of the annual Christmas pageant, and only the naughty boys show up and so must play all the roles.

There is a bit of cussing, mostly in Spanish, but if you want a New Mexico book for young kids, also by Anaya, you can always direct them to “The Farolitos of Christmas,” which was illustrated by noted New Mexico artist Edward Gonzales. If you live in New Mexico, you should become exposed to the works of both Anaya and Gonzales. You just should.

Christmas also comes up in two other classics of New Mexico literature: Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop” and John Nichols’ “The Milagro Beanfield War.”

These four books are among several that feature New Mexico-related Christmas scenes that can help the reader rest and relax, and cultivate the right holiday mood. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)
These four books are among several that feature New Mexico-related Christmas scenes that can help the reader rest and relax, and cultivate the right holiday mood. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

In Cather’s book, Christmas is as bleak as the rest of New Mexico as seen through the eyes of an aristocratic Frenchman assigned to shepherd a rural, forgotten land. Some traditional New Mexico Hispanos now frown upon the book over its outsider Anglo depiction of 19th century life here, just as some people have trouble with the dialect in “Huckleberry Finn.”

But “Death Comes for the Archbishop” remains an excellent piece of writing and is well worth reading. It’s No. 61 on Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

In “The Milagro Beanfield War,” Christmas presents a problem for a dying man and his family. And in fairness, it’s the Anglos who are held up to a less-than-flattering light in this humorous take on water, land grants and other issues unique to the Land of Enchantment.

If you want a total change of pace, Santa Fe author David Morrell is best-known for his fictional account of a Vietnam veteran who was given international fame in a movie starring Sylvester Stallone. The book is “First Blood,” and the veteran is named Rambo. But Morrell has written more than a dozen other action-packed books, including “The Spy Who Came for Christmas.”

This thriller is set on Christmas Eve on Santa Fe’s Canyon Road and involves a baby as well as a woman and child who were victims of domestic violence – and, of course, the Russian mafia. Santa Fe is the City Different.

Christine Barber is a New Mexico mystery writer – why does New Mexico produce so many mystery writers? – who uses Christmas as a backdrop for crime.

In her book “When the Devil Doesn’t Show,” detective Gil Montoya investigates a house fire in which three bodies are found, but only one died in the fire. Expect farolitos and lots of other Santa Fe touches.

New Mexico’s favorite mystery writer, the late Tony Hillerman, didn’t include Christmas in any of his Navajo detective mysteries, but I was reminded by his daughter, Anne, that he did include an interesting winter Zuni Shalako festival scene in “Dancehall of the Dead.”

This harvest celebration occurs each year around Christmastime, though unrelated. Anne Hillerman, by the way, is successfully continuing the stories of her father’s detectives, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, in her own series of mysteries.

On the nonfiction side, author and longtime New Mexico journalist David Roybal, who previously wrote a column for the Albuquerque Journal, presents a touching perspective on what its like to be separated from all you love during the holidays in his latest book, “Manuel of the Americas.” The book covers the real life struggles of a Mexican immigrant who sought work in the United States but was eventually able to return home to his family after securing for them a better life.

There. You have plenty of choices. Now there’s no excuse, unless you tend to procrastinate or actually like shopping in crowds. Happy Christmas.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or dherrera@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.


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