I find comfort in reading about other people's stressful holidays in the midst of my own. Though mine cannot compare with that of the families in Connecticut, or with those who are losing their jobs in these months, I learned this week that the apartment complex where I live has been sold to a developer, who will tear it down. We haven't heard officially, but we will probably have to move out in the next 30-45 days. I've already started looking for a new place for me, two cats, and far too many books. I'm lucky it's just me and the cats, that I don't have to worry about finding a place with good schools for kids, as some folks here do. But it's still going to be an anxious Christmas, and I can feel myself turning toward comfort books even more than usual.
Terry Pratchett's Hogfather is one of my seasonal Christmas books. If you aren't familiar with his work, he is probably best-known for a long series of books set on a world called the Disc, one with a lot of parallels to our own, which he uses to great satirical and comedic effect. Each book can be read on its own, but each book also draws on and then builds on a complicated backstory, familiarity with which gives Pratchett's jokes and allusions a deeper meaning. There are some stand-alone books, but also what I'd call subseries, centered on different characters. I particularly enjoy the books about Sam Vimes and the Watch, the police force in the great city of Ankh-Morpork; the two books about the reforming con man Moist van Lipwig; and those featuring the witches of the remote Ramtop mountains, including the apprentice witch Tiffany Aching.
One of my favorite characters shows up in almost every book: Death. Pratchett's version of the Grim Reaper is a tall skeleton in a black hooded robe, with glowing blue eye sockets, the obligatory sickle and a white horse named Binky. Death is an anthropomorphic personification and therefore he has (in Pratchett's words)
in some measure, human traits - like curiosity. He'll want to see what makes humans tick, being well aware of what makes them stop. It's a moot point if Death can have emotions, but he does appear to be sentimental. Certainly he seems to be increasingly uneasy in his role and has been known to bend the rules very slightly . . .In this book, the Hogfather, the Disc's version of Father Christmas, has gone missing, and Death is filling in temporarily for reasons of his own. His granddaughter Susan (who has a lovely complicated backstory and has inherited certainly family traits) learns of this and sets off to find out why, though he expressly warns her to keep out of it. The wizards of Ankh-Morpork's great Unseen University are also drawn into the mystery, which interrupts their usual Hogswatch program of feasting and academic squabbles. As always, in an entertaining and often hilarious story Pratchett has some serious things to say, in this case about the real meaning of holidays and celebrations, about poverty and injustice, about faith and belief, and about what it means to be human. And as always, it's as hard to stop after one Pratchett book as it is after one piece of Christmas candy.