Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol tops Christmas charts

Waterstone’s last week reported that the fourth book by Dan Brown, “The Lost Symbol”, clocked up the most sales this month making it the number one Christmas read.

The book, which broke every record when it was released, beat the Guinness World Records 2010 and Stephenie Meyer’s Eclipse.

Brown’s first book, “The Da Vinci Code”, which was later made into a film, was top of the Christmas book chart back in 2004.

Waterstone’s fiction buyer Janine Cook said: “The Lost Symbol has not been far from the top of the charts since publication, and it’s a great gift, which is why it’s back on top”.

In other news, rock band Rage Against the Machine ended the X-Factor’s four year dominance of the Christmas number one spot following half a million people supporting an online campaign to get ‘Killing in the Name’ to the top of the charts.

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Charles Dickens toothpick sold at auction in New York

An ivory and gold toothpick once owned by Charles Dickens was sold at an auction in New York City for the amount of US$9,150.

The item is engraved with the English author’s initials. It was sold by heirs to the Barnes and Noble family. The pre-sale estimate was $3,000 to $5,000. The auctioneer, Bonhams, said the buyer did not want to be named.

The toothpick has Charles Dickens's initials and a retracting mechanism.

An authentication letter from Dickens’s sister-in-law says the author of “Great Expectations” and “A Christmas Carol” used the toothpick up to his death in 1870.

The author, also known by the pen-name of Boz, created some of the most memorable fictional characters of all time. Dickens’s work, which also includes “Oliver Twist” and “David Copperfield”, has enjoyed enormous popularity in America since the author’s own lifetime. Charles Dickens visited the country and wrote the travelogue “American Notes”.

Related Links > http://www.bonhams.com

Source > BBC

Creatures of the night

A new exhibition and book details the naughty habit of Cyprus’ mysterious Kalikangiari [Kallikantziaroi]

Christmas has become all about presents, eating delicious food and wild partying. Not only has the true religious meaning of Christmas been overshadowed by other commercial festivities, but certain tales that form an intrinsic part of our culture have unfortunately been long forgotten.

Most of us are aware of the tales and legends of wicked goblins, but what about the Cypriot Kalikangiari? On the island, the Kalikangiari have a long tradition, with endless stories claiming that they visit humans every year during the twelve-day period from December 25 to January 5, known in Cyprus as the ‘Dodecameron’.

Hambis Tsaggaris is a Cypriot writer intent on bringing the colourful tales of Kalikangiari to life, having recently completed his second book on the subject, Kalikangiari: Cypriot Tales.

Through the work, the author has a compelling desire to send his Kalikangiari overseas so that the rest of the world can get a better acquainted with the tales of Cyprus. The book contains sections in Greek, English, French and German.

The author says that the work is a gift in return to the British, French, German, Irish, Scottish, Icelanders, Scandinavians and other nationalities, who cared to introduce and acquaint us to their Goblins, Trolle, Elfen, Sotres, Lutins, Loups-garous, Juledvarger, Hexen, Druden, Alben, Wiide Frauen, Wehmutter and Jolas vlinar. “I rejoice with the idea that the Cypriot Kalikangiari will find a place in foreign libraries and homes, and in the hearts of those who love this most easterly island of the Mediterranean and its people,” said Hambis.

He explains that the stories he writes are not simply based on fantasy, but on the tales described to him by locals who claim to have witnessed Kalikangiari. Having researched the subject for over five years, he managed to talk to about 70 people. “In the old days people were more innocent and lived in darkness most of the time. With no street lights, they would walk outside and wonder what was lurking in the shadows,” explained Hambis. Apparently, adults would implant the fear of Kalikangiari into every youngster with their stories. Because of the frightening tales, kids were scared to wander outside during the ‘dodecameron’ nights in case they encountered the Kalikangiari, who would steal their voice. Rumour also has it that any women who were ‘disbelievers’ and would not cross themselves at night were easy prey for the Kalikangiari. Sometimes women would disappear in the middle of the night claiming that the evil creatures had abducted them. The truth of the matter however was that many women would fabricate these stories so they could spend the night cuddled up with their secret lovers!

In some places, people would not even wash their clothes or have a bath during ‘dodecameron’ for fear of the Kalikangiari appearing in the water. There would be no weddings either, as the public believed that the Kalikangiari would meddle under their feet and annoy the couple. The naughty creatures were even considered a problem during childbirth, where it was feared that they would bother the babies if they were left unguarded. To avoid the demons and swapping of babies, women would be watched continuously during labour. “Don’t forget that in those days, these stories were also a type of entertainment,” said Hambis. “Tales of Kalikangiari that went round the village were like the stories we see on television today. But saying that, don’t think that Kalikangiari are just a thing of the past. I’ve spoken to young people today who have tales to tell me.”

Hambis’ work is not only packed with interesting tales, but also with beautiful sketches of the naughty Kalikangiari in action. These sketches are currently on show at Kypriaki Gonia Gallery in Larnaca until mid January. The Kalikangiari appear as demonic, skinny and black. They are small awkward creatures with tails, horns, large ears, and crooked arms and legs. The images show the greedy creatures bothering humans as they lay in their beds at night, teasing women, disrupting households, tangling the yarn on a spinning wheel and engaging in frivolities in the cobblers’ shops. “The moony experiences of the night with their frightening spectral shadows, led me to the images and illustrations that I’ve developed, sketched and suggested in my book. They are pictures of a bygone world, back then, when darkness was dominant over light,” Hambis said.

“Today’s light intensity, in all its aspects and sense, has confined the Kalikangiari to an obscure corner. However, I felt that it was my responsibility to preserve all those unbelievable stories that have been experienced and related by the old folk,” Hambis added. When asked if he believes in Kalikangiari he replied without hesitation, “Oh yes of course I believe! Some people may say it’s just a legend but why would everyone just make up the tales?”

If you want to get better acquainted with these creatures of the dark night then be sure to go along to Kypriaki Gonia Gallery where you can catch a glimpse of the Kalikangiari getting up to all their terribly naughty habits.

Kalikangiari Exhibit > Presentation of silkscreen images of Kalikangiari. Until January 10. Kypriaki Gonia Gallery, Larnaca. Tel: 24 621109. The book Kalikangiari-Cypriot Tales is currently on sale at Moufflon bookshops.

Did you know? > In Cyprus, there is a belief that children who die un-baptised or are miscarried by their mothers are illegitimate and are transformed into little Kaligangiari. Every New Year’s Day they descend the chimney and call their mother with grievance.

The most popular traditions place the Kalikangiari into the bowels of the earth, except for the dodecameron, continuously striving with axes and saws to sever the tree that supports the earth, so they can topple it. Simple folk call it the pillar of the earth; they fantasise it as an enormous tree with a fifty-metre diameter extremely hard trunk. On December 25, they cease cutting the tree down and rush to the upper word to entertain them selves.

People deliver themselves from the Kalikangiari and their ills by careful defensive strategies implanted in them by their ancestors. Their defensive weapons are innumerable, some of which are: blocking chimneys with thorns, sketching the sign of the cross above doors and windows, placing a black-handled knife behind the door or a horseshoe in the chimney, sprinkling black cumin seeds when warm bread is taken out of the oven.

Christmas stories that warm the heart

Of course children get excited about what they will receive for Christmas, but perhaps there is too much emphasis on receiving and not enough importance placed on giving.

Christmas is a time for giving and for sharing, but not just with material things. More importantly, one of the greatest gifts any of us can give is the gift of oneself, the gift of our time, our attention, our love to the important people in our life and to those we don’t know, especially a person in need.

Today’s reviewed books feature these themes in strong, loving ways. Share them with a child; you’ll both benefit.

“The Christmas Day Kitten” by James Herriot, illustrated by Ruth Brown, St. Martin’s Press, 32 pages. Read aloud: age 3 and older. Read yourself: age 7-8 and older.

Mrs. Pickering has opened her home to a stray cat she names Debbie, who visits when she chooses, soaks in a few moments of solitude, eats a little food and then is gone. Mrs. Pickering never knows when Debbie will return, but Debbie has learned to trust and love Mrs. Pickering and that affection is clearly reciprocated.

One Christmas morning Mrs. Pickering telephones Dr. Herriot. Debbie had arrived early that day, and there is something terribly wrong. Dr. Herriot hurries to the Pickering house and discovers a bittersweet scenario. Sorrow turns to joy, however, when Mrs. Pickering receives the finest Christmas present she could ever ask for.

This superb story will cause readers to rejoice in the holiday spirit of love and giving.

“Prairie Christmas” by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Ronald Himler, Eerdmans, 2006, 32 pages, hardcover. Read aloud: age 5 and older. Read yourself: age 8 and older.

It’s Christmas Day, 1880, on the prairie in Nebraska. Emma is almost 15 years old, and instead of spending Christmas at home, she must go with her mother, a doctor, to deliver a baby. Emma can’t help but wish the baby would be born on some other day. But when she arrives at the house, she quickly comes to learn that she isn’t the only one whose Christmas has been interrupted. Two young children are waiting for their baby to be born, and they are worried. Emma decides she is must do something make the children’s Christmas special while they all wait to hear the newborn’s cry, and that’s precisely what she does.

A marvelous story about family, friendship, and the joy of giving, this selection is a wonderful story to share for the holidays or anytime.

“The First Christmas Stocking” by Elizabeth Winthrop, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, Delacorte, 2006, 40 pages, hardcover. Read aloud: age 5 and older. Read yourself: age 8–9 and older.

Long, long ago in the north country, a young girl named Claire lived with her parents in a small stone hut. Claire and her parents were very poor, and the money Claire’s mother made from her beautiful knitting help add needed income to her father’s meager wages as a coal miner. Claire sat with her mother every day and she learned to knit, doing as her mother told her, to “dream your dreams and knit them into the wool.”

When Claire’s mother died, Claire took over her mother’s job and she knit beautiful stockings. A wealthy woman heard of Claire’s stockings and came to Claire’s door two days before Christmas, promising to pay her handsomely for three pairs of stockings for her children. Claire worked day and night to fill the order, but on her way to deliver the stockings, she came across a boy in rags, freezing in the snow. Clearly the boy needed her stockings more than the rich woman and her children, and the ramifications of her act of kindness had greater impact than Claire or her father could have ever imagined.

An extraordinary tale perfectly supported by lush illustrations, this selection is rich.

Classic books for a Welsh Christmas

A second-hand book by Dylan Thomas is on sale for £1,331 and a Richard Burton book signed by the actor is going for £239.67. They are among Christmas offerings from AbeBooks, the world’s largest online marketplace for books.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is a 1969 reprint of the 1954 classic in one of just 100 specially bound copies of the deluxe edition signed by illustrator Fritz Eichenberg. A separate portfolio consists of five wood engravings also signed by the illustrator.

A Christmas Story by Richard Burton (1964) is Burton ‘s own account of a memorable Christmas Eve in a Welsh mining village as a child. The book is signed by the actor.

The Christmas Morn Carol Service of Celtic Countries by Stanley Davies (£24 to £30) a study published in 1950 of the Welsh Plygain (dawn service), Manx Oie’l Verrey (eve of the Feast of Mary or Christmas Eve), and Cornish Carol Services, also includes a bibliography of carol services and a tentative bibliography of Welsh carols.

Holidays In Wales by William H. Crawford Jr. (£2 to £10) is a small chapbook or pamphlet published in 1950 about the history of Christmas traditions in Wales from the druids to Queen Eleanor, mother to the first English Prince of Wales in 1301.

For those of modest means, try Christmas in Wales: A Homecoming, by Jane and Michael Maas at 53 pence to £29. The author travels back to Wales to discover distant relations. This 1994 story reveals Jane’s devotion to everything Welsh.

Related Links > AbeBooks UK > http://www.abebooks.co.uk

Book review > When Santa Fell to Earth

When Santa Fell to Earth, By Cornelia Funke, Chicken House, 2006, 173 pp.

Timeless. That’s the word for fiction of this sort. How else can a story originally published in German in 1994 and now translated into English for the first time make for such great reading? Cynics might say that it’s got to do with that Santa character stories about him never go wrong, do they? But that’s just it: Everyone knows about the fat guy in red who visits at Christmas. How can a tired old myth be revived so that it still sparkles like freshly fallen snow on Christmas morning?

For starters, did anyone say “fat guy in red?” Funke’s Santa is young, thin and laughs, well, a little more like the rest of us. And he doesn’t stand around outside glitzy department stores urging you to buy more and spend more. In fact, he’s the last real Santa, the only one who still knows that there’s more to Christmas spirit than handing your credit card to the cashier. When his airborne sleigh gets driven to Earth by a storm and his reindeer bolts off, Santa finds himself in a narrow street called Misty Close with two panic-stricken angels, a bunch of angry elves and the wintry cold for company.

And while Niklas Goodfellow for that’s what our unlikely Santa is called is waiting for his reindeer to return, he chances to make friends with two rather unhappy children, Ben and Charlotte. Ben’s relationship with his parents is going seriously downhill; and Charlotte has been having some terrible dreams, though it is never quite clear why.

Their fortunes take a decisive turn for the better once they’ve been invited into Santa’s caravan. They get treated to hot chocolate brewed by angels; they watch the elves making the world’s most beautiful toys; and they resolve to find Santa’s reindeer and bring it back. Meanwhile, there is always the specter of Gruesome Gerold Goblynch, the Stealer of Christmas, who wants nothing more than to turn Niklas into a bar of chocolate. Can Niklas Goodfellow escape the clutches of Gruesome Goblynch and his army of Nutcrackers and still make everyone believe in Christmas once again?

In this magical Christmas tale, he does, with a little help from Ben and Charlotte, of course. Funke’s 21st-century take on Santa debunks all the old notions of a plump Father Christmas squeezing his way down chimneys, bag bursting with toys in tow.

But the best things about the much-loved fable the flying reindeer, the elfin toy shop, and most of all, the generosity of spirit that Christmas stands for are left intact.

It took 12 long years for the English-speaking world to discover Funke’s heartfelt story. Some things are well worth waiting for.

Note: Suitable for children 10 years and older.