"For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin, real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles WERE my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness IS the way." Alfred D. Sousa
Here is is. Time once again for the year end book review. Truthfully
my list is a bit pathetic this
year. Repeats. Kids' books and lots of audio books. Going back to school
fully and completely slammed me. Even now, on break, I'm not entirely
certain I'm going to be able to rest enough to properly gear up for next
semester. Of course, getting slammed with my second massive head cold
in like three weeks isn't exactly helping either.
also did not get around to reading your recommendations from last year.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I've actually always
hated that idiom. I have loads of good intentions. Good actions, too, I
hope, but my ambition seems to nearly always outstrip either my
capabilities or the logistics of a normal life. In order to give myself
one less thing to feel guilty about this year I am NOT going to ask for
your recommendations for next year. I have no doubt whatsoever that
they will be wonderful, but I hope they will keep.
These books are presented most recently read backwards to January.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: Reviewed best at Nemesis this weekend. I love this book. I laugh and cry every time. This was the first year I read it to my kids. We all loved it.
Granta 116: Granta is quarterly journal published in England. I might have mentioned it before? Anyway, every three months this volume comes to my house. And yes, it is technically a periodical, but at each issue being a whopping 200 pages, I'm totally counting it as a book. Hey, it is my list. Granta 116 was called "Ten Years Later" and was filled with stories of post-9/11 living. The shocking thing was that most of this stories were written by non-Americans, mostly living in places besides America. One of my gripes with Granta is that there is no explanation of which pieces are fiction and which are personal essay. I think there is a reason for that--after all, there probably is a fine line between truth and fiction when it comes to learning and teaching bold statements about the human condition. If I didn't already have pacifist leanings before, this collection of stories and essays sealed the deal for me. I still want to write that post about America's lost decade. These essays also demonstrate that when we think of American loss, it is such a drop in the bucket compared to the whole pantheon of human suffering. This year's fourth issue of Granta is still sitting in my bathroom, the topic is "Horror." It might sit for a while longer!
Little Men: I rediscovered Louisa May Alcott this year because I found a series of Librovox recordings in iTunes carrying all of her works. This was my fourth of the year and it was probably one (or two) too many. I loved Alcott as a kid, and now I think she is maybe just a little too precious. In her books, only the good die; all the lost boys are redeemed; and Jo can witticism her way out of any scrape. Still, the characters are rather endearing and she just writes about such good, Puritan values; I do wish that more young people would tackle Alcott. It would be good for them. This novel, like her others, seems more like a series of anecdotes only tenuously strung together by a very simple plot.
The Distant Hours: This book was a great Gothic piece to read in October. My book group did it and the discussion was fantastic. If you are looking for something for your next book group that is a little more page turning, a little more tantalizing, and a little less literary than your usual fare, then this might be just the thing. Oh, don't get me wrong, it is still pretty clean and quite well-written, but it is rather a juicy page-turner. World War II. England. Secrets. Big old castle. A really, really good-looking mystery man. Oh yeah.
Hunger Games: This book hit the list a long time ago because I was reading it chapter by chapter with a tutoring student. Laborious, yes, but it gave me time to really think about it. This was my second reading and I think I enjoyed it even more this time. I caught the subtleties I had missed the first time in the jarring non-stop action of the plot. This was a really great book group discussion and I think I'll probably re-read the series now.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Also a re-read for book group. I reviewed this last year. Lovely and wonderful.
Sylvester (The Wicked Uncle): I love this book. The author is Georgette Heyer and everything she writes is delicious. Her period pieces focus on Regency England and are hilarious. This book is about a hapless young maiden (of course) who, after a disastrous first season out in London, writes a wickedly clever novel parodying everybody in "The Ton." Through a random series of events she comes into contact with her novel's villain just before publication. Naturally she falls in love with him. Naturally. A delight.
Rose in Bloom: Another Alcott title. It is hard to seperate this one from the next, as it is basically a sequel and very little time passes in between. Alcott had very clear ideas about what womanhood should look like and some very definite opinions about the type of education it took to churn out such women. This is a recurring theme in her books.
Eight Cousins: This book reminded me of The Secret Garden in some ways. Both books are really based on the premise that lots of fresh air and exercise and positive thinking can change everything. Not a bad thought really, but I found the eternal optimism in both books a little bit on the annoying side. As for Eight Cousins, again, it is more anecdotal than plot-driven. In that way, it reminded me more of the Anne books.
The Confession: John Grisham hit another slam dunk in my mind with this one. His early novels are page turners because of their intense and often unexpected plots. His characters, even the barest sketches, are always spot on and just fascinating. The last few books I've read still demonstrate that gift for pacing and characterization, but thematically they are just so rich. Grisham forces the reader to ask piercing questions about the judiciary and political systems that determine so much of what happens in our country. In this particular novel he is intensely critical of the death penalty system. What makes the case so compelling is that our death row inmate is actually innocent.
Their Eyes Were Watching God: This is a beautifully written and heart-rending novel by Zora Neale Hurston. Reading her own historical background in the edition I had helped immensely in trying to ferret out what this book is really about. This book is about freedom--for women, for African Americans, from repression. It is about hanging on to the things that are the most beautiful and taking the loveliness of nature deep inside you and making it a part of who you are. Thematically the book was ahead of its time. Spurnned by critics when published in 1937 and then left out of print for nearly 30 years, it is clear that folks had to do a lot of growing up before they were ready for this book.
Little Women: Alcott's best work, in my mind. Her character focus is narrower than in the earlier reviewed books and the story holds together a little bit better. I still can't believe Jo doesn't marry Laurie, however. I'm not quite sure the author even got over it; in Little Men (which takes place five or six years after the end of this book) Laurie, as benefactor to the Plumfield School often comes to visit. He and Jo are as affectionate as best friends and probably rather moreso than married and unrelated grown-ups should be. If I was the German professor I think I'd want to pop Laurie one. I will say, however, that the European section of the book is much more deliberate than the movie and the Laurie-Amy romance is not quite so sudden or unbelievable.
Among the Hidden: Jedi Knight read this for Oregon Battle of the Books. (Or OBOB. The next few also.) It is an interesting plot, though maybe a bit old for my nine year old, even if his reading tastes are a bit precocious. It wasn't too hard for him to read; it was short and quite easy, but thematically there are a some difficult issues. It is about illegal third-born children who have to hide so they and their parents aren't killed. It ended rather abruptly with only the barest resolution.
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher: Another OBOB title. Stupid. JK Rowling really put a lot of other kids' fantasy books to shame. Jedi Knight liked it okay, but that isn't a huge recommendation!
Earthquake Terror: Also OBOB. This is kind of a sweet, though highly improbable, survival story about a brother and sister. I feel like in some ways the author spent a very long time mapping out exactly how to get these kids stranded, alone, in the woods, after an earthquake. Not as much time was spent in figuring out what to do next. Another abrupt ending.
Number the Stars: OBOB. A wonderful way for younger children to first learn about the Holocaust. Much easier to read than Anne Frank, based on true events, and with plot elements just scary enough to instruct and hold interest without terrifying. A brilliant little novel. Winner of the Newbery around 1990.
The Last Newspaper Boy in America: Another OBOB title. This is a great book for boys. The main character is clever and funny and creative. The plot is rather improbable, but is a good way to explore current events. I really enjoyed reading this aloud with my son.
Granta 115: The summer Granta was about feminism. My own feminism post this summer was probably an outgrowth of thinking about what I'd read. I also wrote a personal essay I'm quite happy with in relation to this issue. If anybody is interested in having a copy, please let me know.
Foxmask: This book is by one of my favorite authors, but was a new read for me. It is a sequel to the next title down. I don't think I connected to this particular set of characters quite as well as to another series I've read by the author. Although her fantasy-romance telling is always good value, I have found her novels have generally gone downhill. I found myself not caring nearly as much about the fates of these characters as others. A little bit too much love at first sight in this one. She also left a couple of her characters kind of hung out to dry. I think it probably guarantees a third installment. *sigh* One last note about the author--I am impressed with the way that just as many of her female characters are domestic and motherly as they are tough and adventuresome. She really demonstrates that there is no one way to be a woman who is both good and strong.
Wolfskin: I read this book first a few years ago. I remember devouring it in one sitting. I was even working full-time as a teacher (with two little kids!) at the time and still stayed up until 3 am in the middle of the week to finish it. Very stupid. After all, I had more days ahead of me and then I had nothing to read. So is it a page-turner, yes, of course. Marrillier excels at putting her characters in impossible situations and then getting them out. She loves rescues. And though her women are very strong, she can't quite get over the romance of the damsel in distress.
Getting Things Done: I had to read this for a class over the summer. Pretty much hated it from the beginning, but what really sealed the deal for me was when the author's sample "to-do" list had the following bullet point, "decide what to do with million dollar inheritance." What the? At first I thought he was being facetious, but other items in the book made me think otherwise. The only good pointer I took from this book was never to have more e-mail in the "inbox" than can be viewed on one-screen. I haven't let my g-mail account go over 50 since reading that and I've actually been a much better e-mailer (word?) because of it.
First Things First: I didn't dislike this quite as much as Getting Things Done, but almost. Also read for a class. I just am not a big fan of self-help books.
The Last Olympian: A Percy Jackson book. I will review all five of these under the first "The Lightning Thief," although about this one I would like to say that the choice of the last Olympian was a pleasant and touching surprise.
Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt: My mom loaned me this one, which is not always a good thing. I had mixed feelings about this title. She told me that it reminded her of "The Secret Life of Bees." I think the comparison is apt, though this book isn't nearly as good. I really liked some things about it. Others were just really tacky . . . and one of the tacky things was, admittedly, laugh out loud funny. I find I like books about the South better after having lived there. In these books, the heat becomes a character. That was something I never understood until I spent nearly 6 summers in Houston.
The Battle of the Labyrinth: A Percy Jackson book. I will review all five of these under the first
"The Lightning Thief."
The Star Garden: Oh, dear. What to do with this book? This and the next reviewed are sequels to the rather excellent "These is My Words." The diary format isn't consistently carried through these two books though it is supposed to be; the voice is much stronger in the first. I think a major problem with the series as a whole is that she got rid of Jack at the end of the first book. The love story of these two is such a major part of the first book that some of the heart is sucked out of the other two, leaving Sarah harder than ever. Some of the border dispute issues are interesting, but they end in such dreadful violence that I felt quite depressed. Most of the reviews I've read, however, have nothing but praise for all three volumes. My take? Meh.
Sarah's Quilt: I felt like there were major plot holes and
inconsistencies in character. There were issues from the first book
that were just left dangling and could have been better resolved in the
second and third books and they just weren't. I would have certainly
liked a better resolution of Sarah's relationships with her daughter, for one. The whole Lazarus character was confusing and disconcerting to me. As with the above, there is a plot line that ends in some rather horrific violence that I just felt was unnecessary.
The Good Earth: I chose this for book group back in April. It is a remarkable book, and a clear definition of a true classic. The simplicity of the story and Buck's language belie just how much depth is to be uncovered here. This is a book to read and then talk about and then feel changed by.
The Titan's Curse: A Percy Jackson book. I will review all five of these under the first
"The Lightning Thief."
A Wrinkle in Time: Another book group pick. I knew I went out on a limb for this one; it wasn't very well-received. Whatever. This was probably the first book I remember really loving and read my first copy into an early grave. This was the book that unlocked fantasy for me and helped me to think about the universe and spirituality in terms bigger than anything I could imagine on my own. It is so wonderful.
Granta 114: This particular Granta was called "Aliens" and was about people who end up living in a different place than where they were born or raised, and their experiences in the foreign place. Good stuff. But like all the Grantas I've read: some of the pieces are wonderful and other pieces are just rubbish. Don't think I'll be renewing.
Of Mice and Men: Again, the simplicity of this story, its characters and the coarseness of its language is deceptive. This little novel speaks to many aspects of the human condition, and it will probably never run out of things to say. Another true classic.
The Sea of Monsters: A Percy Jackson book. I will review all five of these under the first
"The Lightning Thief."
House of Mirth: Depressing as hell. But then, it is Edith Wharton, so maybe that goes without saying? I am really glad that I read this as a book group title because I think the discussion is pretty essential to having a good experience with this book.
The Lightning Thief: This is a very original kids' book series. Just like the slough of Harry Potter knock-offs from a few years ago, this series has been much copied in recent years. (The author is even capitalizing on his own success with a second series that is only marginally different.) The first book uses the formula of two guy friends and a girl, appealing to both male and female readers. However, throughout the other books, this formula is sometimes shaken up so that Percy (the main character) takes each quest with a new assortment of characters. Other successful elements from the Harry Potter stories pop up here, but the context is so new and the writing so funny that the stories are really great on their own. Though not as brilliant or with the depth of the Potter books, I think it is safe to say that the Percy Jackson books will be a mainstay in children's literature for years to come. The same cannot be said of the movie franchise. Loads of mistakes were made in the plotting and casting of this movie (including kids that were way to old to begin with), and a sequel would be nearly impossible. In addition, these books were aimed mostly at tweens, but the movie is a terribly scary PG and was way too much for my little kids.
The Associate: Though
not as political charged as The Confession or The Appeal, Grisham has
plenty to say about the ridiculous lenghts companies will go to in order
to defend lawsuits. In the end, only the lawyers stand to benefit. Not the
public. Not the corporations themselves. If we need an answer for why
products are so slow to come to market and so expensive when they do . . .
There is also some discussion of mistakes we make when we are young coming
back to haunt us later on.
Cry, The Beloved Country:
This is one of my very favorite books, and two recent readings were both
in the context of book groups. The first was wonderful, the second not so
much. In this book, I see the author essentially on the side of the Black
South Africa as he casts blame upon the White minority for their
indifference and calculated oppression. He is pleading with his countrymen
to find a better solution and a new way forward. Our discussion devolved
into the question of how poor people need to better help themselves, with
one woman sitting next to me even pulling out the word "Negro."
Really. In 2011. I nearly fell of the couch. Our lovely host that night
seemed a bit disappointed. She had much she wanted to discuss, I could
tell, and the conversation got rather away from her. I have also read this
book just because I like it, on several occasions. Some people say it is
hard to get through, but I don't see it. The rhythmic language and flowing
style are remarkable and lovely. The intro to my book said that Alan Paton
wrote the book while he was touring the world speaking on educational
reform. He had just read "The Grapes of Wrath" before he left.
He wrote this manuscript every night in his hotel room. What a fascinating
paper would result from a combined analysis of both texts.
A Short History of Nearly
Everything: I actually read about half of this book before the end of
last year and I believe I reviewed it there. This book is delightful.
Madame Bovary: I
actually read about half of this book before the end of last year and I
believe I reviewed it there. This book is much less than delightful.
That brings my total to 38 (or 37 and two halves). Not my best showing.
even close. But there are more years and more books. My anticipated
year are The House at Riverton, The Help, Grapes of Wrath, The Warmth of
Suns and Left to Tell. Of course, I am hoping for many more books to
way also. Maybe it is, as Juliet says in "The Guernsey Literary and
Peel Pie Society," maybe books have a way of honing in on their perfect
readers. May 2012 be the year you find your perfect book.
The thing that makes the fiction writings of C.S. Lewis so brilliant is that he is never merely telling a story. He is sharing an allegory, that if carefully read, will give any reader a deeper sense of wonder and faith. Scripture "stories" are great at this too. It is what makes C.S. Lewis (can your really say just "Lewis?" and who names their baby Clive?) classic and highly readable year in and year out.
I love the movies too. The screenwriters have taken Lewis' rather simple stories and pulled out the parts that will translate best to film and extrapolated them into broad action sequences. They have addressed questions of children torn from parents during the Second World War in a way even C.S. Lewis didn't. After all, when the books were first published, the war was over just a few years and maybe people weren't yet asking about the effect of children being sent away yet. It was such a fact of British life that it maybe didn't seem noteworthy in characterizing the Pevensie children. So although it is a wonderful and well-portrayed device in the movies, it wasn't at all the author's intent to tell a war story.
No, he was much more interested in the fate of the soul than the fate of nations. Narnia, as lovely and wonderful a place as it is, was only created as a means to teach Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter about the plan of salvation. To teach all of us about it.
The books are all extraordinary, and as I get older I realize more and more just how much scripture is loaded into them. In this post, however, I'd like to turn my thoughts specifically to the volume, Prince Caspian. A few weeks ago on Facebook page, Mike posted this article. The author talks about how crucial decisions made in this novel demonstrate how life's choices can sometimes be cruel . . . that some things are really meant to test our faith and be difficult. Her essay is well-done and her logic is interesting; it would make for a great discussion. But as I pondered it, I found myself thinking about what else C.S. Lewis was trying to do as an author during the part Ms. Welch referenced.
Some quick background on the novel in case it has been some time since you've read it. The four Pevensie children are taken mysteriously back to Narnia only to discover that hundreds and hundreds of years have passed. Their adventures, and even Aslan himself, have passed away into legends and ancient writing. They meet up with a Dwarf who is able to explain--Narnia is in its darkest hour. The rightful king (Caspian) is attempting to lead one final uprising of old Narnians against the usurpers to keep Narnia from losing all its faith and magic forever. He is out numbered and out-strategized. Finding Queen Susan's old horn, they have summoned help from beyond Narnia.
The Dwarf is doubtful that four children will do a lick of good, but he agrees to take them to Prince Caspian and the others. They must go a different way to avoid the enemies, and Peter, who roamed those parts often once-upon-a-time is confident that he can lead them. Only nothing is the same. And time is running out. And nobody thinks the adventure is amounting to much. Then Lucy sees Aslan. She knows that He is beckoning them to follow. The problem is that nobody else sees Him. There is a vote to follow Lucy or to continue following Peter's instincts which make more logical sense than the direction Lucy is proposing. The vote is 3-2. The Dwarf, Peter and Susan agree to Peter's plan. Edmund, who learned his lesson very well, thank you, believes Lucy, though he himself cannot see yet.
Peter's way is a dead-end, and they lose a lot of time. They end going Lucy's direction by default, which, once the initial barrier is overcome, is clearly the way to go. Eventually Edmund, Peter, Susan and even the Dwarf (in that order) see Aslan.
I think that Brother Lewis is trying to teach us about faith, but not necessarily in the way Welch reports in her essay. I think the allegory here is told in each of our five characters:
Lucy. She represents one with deep and abiding faith. Not perfect, however. Aslan reprimands her for not having followed regardless of the others. She insists that she didn't dare split up and then realizes that Aslan is trying to tell her that it would have worked out. When she begs to know if things would have been better or different if she had just followed the first time he chides, "We can never know what might have been, only what could be." Lucy's gift of the spirit is belief.
Edmund. Edmund represents the one whose experiences, not all good, have taught him faith; but, perhaps more importantly have taught him that believing on testimonies of those who believe is also a very important gift. Edmund is fully aware that he doesn't see Aslan, but he'd follow Lucy, the girl-prophet, anywhere. Edmund, though unable to see Aslan right at first, is rewarded with sight for his faith and meets Aslan with a clear conscience.
Peter. This strong oldest brother represents our worker. He wants to get to the battle, to fight for Aslan and Narnia, so he steadfastly plows away into the wilderness, pridefully listening to his own instincts when he doesn't immediately see the hand of God in his enterprise. He put the whole follow-Lucy-thing to a vote because he is fair and honest and loves his sister, but without some kind of proof he wasn't seriously going to follow her. He repents of his pride when he gets over the ridge and sees that oh, yes, Lucy's way really was the best. His apologetic attitude then leads him to his own vision of Aslan, in front of whom he feels deeply humbled.
Susan. Dear Susan. Blessed with skepticism. Susan represents one who lived in the world too much. I think of all the Pevensie children she would be the quickest to chalk up their first Narnian experience to a dream, or a shared make-believe world the children shared. While Narnia was as real to Lucy as England; I think it became less and less real to Susan each passing day. Susan sees Aslan only when the balance of proof tells her that he must be there, only when she allows Narnia to get inside of her again. But, if you read all seven books, you see that it may not be enough. At the end of the Last Battle, Susan's three siblings are taken home to Aslan who transforms before their eyes into an entirely different form, and Susan is left behind.
Trumpkin. While the four children represent differing levels of faith, Trumpkin, our dwarf, represents no faith at all. Though it is safe to say he is more agnostic (indifference to the lack of evidence for things beyond the physical world) than atheistic, he will do very well for this last category. Even in the face of miracles--the return of the children, the finding of their way through the ancient jungle--he refuses to believe in Aslan until he is physically lifted up and shaken and dropped. His reaction is one of abject fear when he first sees the God of his world. Every knee shall bow indeed.
Don't get me wrong, I sincerely appreciate Sister Welch's thoughts. But this is what I'm trying to say about Clive Staples Lewis. His lovely stories carry in them such a wealth of depth and truth than any earnest Christian would be misguided to overlook them. As I've pondered on these thoughts over the last two weeks, I see a little of myself in each character. Except perhaps Lucy. I am like Edmund in that I sometimes have to follow others in faith until I can see for myself, thought lately I've been reminding myself that this is also scripturally given as a gift. I have Peter's sense of duty and work that sometimes gets in the way of what needs to be done. I trudge along, doggedly and earnestly looking for a path without remembering to look up on the ridge and ask God which direction He would have me go. I carry Susan's skepticism for many things in spades. The world blocks my own view of the Lord far too often. I've even had my Trumpkin moments. Though as I get older, I find that cynicism leaching more and more out of me as I try to make room for things that are good and light.
It is a long post, but I finished my semester today and it felt enormously cathartic to write about something not related to the state of American education and its somewhat indifferent pupils. Maybe I'll even get around to reviewing my books next week.
As mentioned before, next week I'm hosting the ladies in my neighborhood for the annual Christmas cookie exchange. They have been doing this for years and years. Our street does other activities during the year too. It is a very cool neighborhood. The majority of folks are empty nesters, but still pretty young. I imagine that this was quite the happening neighborhood ten years ago when all of them had little rugrats about. Now it is pretty much the Jedi, but everyone has been really kind to us ever since we moved in. In my defense, I did say "yes" to the request because it was between semesters and three months ago and before I was put in the primary presidency. Back in August it seemed so doable. Nine days out . . . not so much.
That's where you come in.
I am going to post the menu here today and you are going to give me some feedback. The prize for helping is that you get to come to the cookie exchange! The airport is just ten minutes from my house and I'm more than happy to come and get you.
The format is an open house sort of luncheon from 11-1. At about 12:45, everybody chooses a few cookies from each platter and then takes them home. So here is my plan:
Meatballs: Purchased at Costco and heated in my crockpot that morning. My sister puts a mixture of BBQ sauce and grape jelly on them which she swears is delicious. I don't know. I don't really love meatballs but I do like things that are easy. These will be very sweet.
Cranberry-Orange Salad: This salad has a yummy homemade poppy seed dressing with mixed greens, cranberries, mandarin oranges, feta and pecans. It is lovely and Christmasy. It is sweet but really tangy also.
Pasta Salad: Bowtie pasta with chopped cucumber, tomato, olives and cilantro. The dressing is a homemade one also--feta cheese, lemon juice, black pepper, purple onion and lots of oregano. Very savory.
Marinated Cheese: Layered cream cheese and cheddar with an Italian dressing marinade that sits for a day. Before serving I dice a little bit of red pepper on the top and some basil ribbons. Served with crackers. Very savory.
Gingerbread: This is my mom's favorite Christmas thing to cook. It is so delicious and fragrant. Her version is dark with molasses and just amazing. Probably served with lemon sauce.
Costco Cream Puffs: Because, honestly, who DOESN'T need one excuse a year to buy these bad boys.
Hot Cider/Wassail: Loved this suggestion. I'll probably use some variation on one of the recipes you comments with.
Lemon Water: For non-cider folks.
As for preparation--the meatballs can easily be thrown together first thing in the morning in about ten minutes. The lettuce salad is a matter of opening a few bags or cans and tossing stuff together because the dressing can be made the day before. The pasta salad parts have to be cold so the noodles, at least can be done ahead. The tomatoes are little and go in whole. The cucumber would need cutting. Again, the dressing can be made ahead of time. The marinated cheese is primarily made ahead of time. If I go with the gingerbread I would want to make it that morning so that the house smells nice.
So what do you think? Do I need another carb? I have lovely homemade rolls that I could do a day ahead of time. They could also be turned into orange rolls, which are totally amazing, but sweeter. Any feedback would be awesome.
As for the cookie I'm exchanging . . . I will either do cookie dough truffles rolled in ganache which can be done several days ahead of time and frozen. Bagging them up for people might be a bit messy. They need to be eaten or refrigerated pretty much right away. My other choice is something more roll-like: hazelnut ringalings or orange rolls which could be more work but the are just so good. And the last option is Russian tea cake cookies. I discovered a wonderful recipe for these last year and I really love them. They could be done the day before.
For decorating, it isn't too hard because I set the house up for Christmas already. I mostly need to move some furniture out the garage in exchange for chairs so there is room for everything. I will do Christmas plates and napkins. For everyone's cookies I will probably put them on the chargers I bought at Walmart at the end of last season for about a quarter apiece. Wrapped will cellophane and a ribbon they will look super festive.
I have no idea how many to expect. Ten to twenty people? I know, helpful, right? Should I have Christmas music playing in the background?