USA Today — and the best book I ever found under the tree at Christmas

The best book I ever got for Christmas is actually a Christmas book. Sort of. It’s Patrick Dennis’s “The Joyous Season,” his hilarious and underappreciated 1964 tale of one Manhattan family’s near implosion – and Mom and Dad’s near divorce – in the holiday season. It’s narrated by the family’s acerbic, insightful, and precocious ten-year-old son, Kerry (which, he tells us, “is short for Kerrington, for cripes sake”). Imagine Holden Caulfield with a sense of humor.

I first read it when I was in sixth grade, and I loved it for a variety of reasons that had as much to do with my life as they did with the book. My parents’ marriage was nowhere near as toxic as Edward Albee’s Martha and George from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” but they fought and drank and I fretted constantly those years that they were going to get divorced. (They never did, and clearly their marriage was stronger than I understood at the time.) Still, I took comfort from Kerry’s sense of humor and how – spoiler alert – Kerry’s parents reconciled in the end.

At some point in my adolescence, somewhere in my family’s moves between Connecticut and Florida and New York, I lost my copy of the book and the novel fell out of print. And I missed it. Consequently, I was thrilled when, one Christmas, my wife found a first edition and placed it under the tree for me. It was a brilliant surprise and I started reading it aloud to my daughter that very week. It was every bit as warm and wonderful and laugh-out-loud funny as I remembered.

(This short essay originally appeared in USA Today on December 1, 2011.  To see what books the other authors picked, click here .)


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