Skip to main content


December 10, 2015

Charles Belfoure’s Essential and Surprising Holiday Reading List

Posted by emily

An architect by profession, Charles Belfoure is also the author of the nationally bestselling THE PARIS ARCHITECT, as well as several architectural histories. In his second novel, HOUSE OF THIEVES, an esteemed architect is blackmailed into a life of crime --- and finds it more thrilling than he’d imagined. Lucky for readers, Belfoure has turned to a life of writing instead, and here, with his singular wry wit, he reveals his essential holiday reading list. No saccharine sentiment here...just plenty of irreverent entertainment for the whole family!

Because I’m an architect by trade, and tend to be more right-brained --- and maybe a tad insensitive by nature --- I’ve never had any great affection for inspirational Christmas stories. I always felt they were schmaltzy or maudlin. I’ve read a few and admire the writing, but the spirit of the Christmas message never tugged at my heartstrings.

There’s the all-time classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which everyone seems to love. Because I’ve had some really lousy bosses, I like the fact that Scrooge gets his comeuppance. In real life, that would never happen. Cruel bosses go to their graves thinking they were really great leaders of men and kind to their employees. I dislike the Tiny Tim ending, especially because it’s such treacle.

Then there’s THE GIFT OF THE MAGI by O. Henry, which probably stands as the classic American Christmas story. He’s a writer I admire, and I always liked his surprise endings. Without getting mushy, it captures the love between a man and wife. They’re desperately poor, but they give up something they treasure to buy Christmas gifts for each other. It’s a good story because it doesn’t cross the line into sappiness.

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY by Truman Capote has become a modern literary classic of the Yuletide season. But although this story has some Christmas cheer in it, it’s basically about a little boy’s lonely isolated existence made tolerable by his companionship with an older distant cousin who’s also an outcast. The character is sort of similar to Dill in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which was actually based on Truman Capote by his childhood friend Harper Lee. Capote and his cousin get lousy gifts (like a subscription to a religious magazine) from indifferent relatives, but they make kites for each other and get momentary joy flying them on Christmas --- a wonderfully described moment in the story.

For real, pure unhappiness, there’s AT CHRISTMAS TIME by Anton Chekhov. An illiterate peasant who hasn’t seen or heard from her daughter since she got married hires a man to write a Christmas greeting to her. The letter is delivered, but the daughter discovers her letters to her mother were never mailed by her bastard of a husband. She’s totally cut off from any parental love. Chekhov didn’t feel the need to be sappy during the holiday season.

But my all-time favorite Christmas tale isn’t a book, but a 1952 movie based on a play called The Holly and the Ivy. Set in England, sons and daughters of a country vicar reunite for the Christmas holiday. The widowed vicar, who thinks he’s been the perfect parent, discovers that his children have great resentment and anger for him when they finally get the courage to tell him. The movie has a powerhouse English cast, including Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, Margaret Leighton and Denholm Elliot. The vicar has spent his whole life attending to his parishioners and ignored the needs of his children. I like this movie because I believe that children should always tell off their fathers and mothers before they die if they’ve been rotten parents. Most children don’t have the nerve to do this and suffer tormented lives. In the spirit of Christmas, though, the vicar admits he was a jerk, and everyone in the movie makes up in the end.

Maybe one day, I’ll write a Christmas short story. But it probably won’t be heartwarming.