The best stocking-stuffer book of all time, of course, is the little New Directions paperbound edition of Dylan Thomas’ classic short story, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”
You probably know that edition: small and nearly square, illustrated with delicate woodcuts by Ellen Raskin. It comes in a pale blue envelope. At just 6 inches wide, it tucks neatly into any sock you might want to hang from your mantel. And the words! Oh, Thomas’ words, which evoke Christmas everywhere:
“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
That lovely edition was published in 1959 and reprinted year after year. If you’re looking for newer bookish things to tuck into stockings, I have more suggestions:
• Macmillan has published a tiny hardcover edition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” with gilt-edged pages, a satin ribbon bookmark and reproductions of the original engravings by John Leech (some in color). The type is on the small size, but easy to read; the illustrations are tiny but lovely; and the story, of course, is delightful. ($15.)
• The second series of Picador’s pocket-size classics includes miniature editions of Joan Didion’s “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others,” Hilary Mantel’s “Giving Up the Ghost” and Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed.” None is particularly Christmassy, but they make such an adorable matched set that you might want to get them all, although then you will not have room for anything else in the stocking except the orange at the toe. ($16.)
• The author of “A Man Called Ove,” Fredrik Backman, has written a Christmas story called “The Deal of a Lifetime,” a novella published by Atria Books and translated by Alice Menzies. The opening line hints that it might be a weeper. (It is.) “Hi. It’s your dad. You’ll be waking up soon, it’s Christmas Eve morning in Hälsingborg, and I’ve killed a person.” The book is illustrated, it’s sentimental, it has a whiff of “It’s a Wonderful Life” about it. It’s a perfect stocking stuffer. ($18.)
• Canadian publisher Biblioasis has published a series of Christmas ghost stories — little softcover books, by writers such as Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens (not the story you expect, but a different one), M.R. James and many others.
“The telling or reading of ghost stories during long, dark and cold Christmas nights is a yuletide ritual which dates to at least the 18th century,” the introduction to each volume tells us. It “was once as much a part of Christmas tradition as decorating fir trees, feasting on goose and the singing of carols.”
Each of these stories is quite short — 50 pages at the most — and reading one aloud during the long dark afternoon of Christmas Day seems quite a fine tradition to revive. ($7.)
• Have enough books under the tree? New York Review of Books’ “banned books matches” is a clever compromise. What looks like a boxed collection of tiny, dollhouse-sized books is actually a boxed collection of tiny books of matches — each made to look like a classic book that once was banned: “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Black Beauty,” “Fahrenheit 451” and “Song of Solomon.” Bonus: For every match collection sold, the manufacturer will donate a book (a real one) to Books for Africa. ($9.95.)
Strike a flame for freedom of expression.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks.