I am hosting the next book club and, for once, I have been stumped by what book to choose for the group. Some of the problem is that my mind feels like Swiss cheese after dealing with so many emotions/life changes in my own world. Everyone knows me as a voracious reader, but I haven’t had much of chance to be a very focused reader lately. I haven’t gotten to the library very often and I’ve been trying to buy fewer books since I don’t really have much space.

What I have been doing is picking up books around the house; however, that doesn’t mean I find those books good for discussion or for our particular group. It’s a rather diverse reading list to be sure—maybe even more eclectic than my usual choices. I re-read the whole Harry Potter series this fall. I also ended up with some of my mother’s books I haven’t read before. Christy. The Children of Henry the VIII by Alison Weir. Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days. And, because there’s a movie coming out, I re-read my own Love in the Time of Cholera.

None of those books fits my criteria for book club. I want a book that pulls me into the story, where I can’t wait to find out what happens to the characters. On the other hand, it’s been a hard year or so—I don’t want something that is too hard on my heart. Over the last year our book club has read about war, genocide, repression of women, mental health and suicide, the pre-Civil Rights era, the Depression, you name it. Unlike my husband, I don’t mind stepping into difficult territory, as long as I can feel improvement by the end. But sometimes that improvement can be tempered by the “rest of the story,” as in knowing that the seemingly reasonable ending in The Bell Jar was followed by Sylvia Plath’s suicide soon after the book’s publication.

Then my practical side doesn’t want anyone to have to purchase a hardback book, myself included. I’d like my book to be available at the library, but most of the “it” list books are checked out, even if the libraries hold many copies.

And then, somehow, I just want the holiday season to reflect peace and goodwill. I don’t want to read something too dark in a year that has been dominated by negative headlines in the newspapers and personal turmoil in our own home. I crave something with the proverbial happy ending, but am too much of a literature major to accept a story where happiness is too easily won.

I always favor tales of redemption, but this year I personally need something in which to believe. I need to believe that problems can be resolved and perhaps I need to be reminded of people’s ability to choose good when faced with adversity.

Book club doesn’t meet until just after the new year—but before Epiphany. At least in my house we will still be celebrating Christmas. I decided I’d choose an official book, but give another option for those who want to read both.

My Christmas book of choice is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I recite lines from it no matter the season, trying to “honour Christmas in my heart and keep it all the year long,” just as Ebenezer Scrooge pledged. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I still need to treat you with that Christmas in my heart.

I had posted on Facebook that I didn’t want any Oprah-style books where we read of an awful life and then at the end, life seems no better. My friend Dawn asked why that view is so common in modern literature.

I submit that it is because so many don’t believe in redemption and, instead, choose edginess while focusing on hopelessness. Charles Dickens didn’t shy away from hopelessness, yet he still could find redemption when redemption seemed hopeless. OK, I don’t think I’m going to choose Bleak House, Great Expectations, or anything that dark, but . . . it’s OK to be reminded of people who need help.

For that reason, in addition to A Christmas Carol, I chose Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. I haven’t read it, but my FB friend Cynthia was far from the first to recommend it to me. You can’t necessarily change the world, but you can work on changing outcomes for one person, one family, or one village at a time.

That gives me hope—and renews my spirit.

(c), 2009, Christiana Lambert