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Two new books seek to rekindle Christmas spirit

The Purpose of Christmas
The Purpose of Christmas
By Rick Warren

Howard Books: 2008

The Purpose of Christmas
The Paper Bag Christmas
By Kevin Alan Milne

Center Street: 2008

These reviews first appeared in the December 14, 2009 issue of the North County Times.

Time was, when Christmas rolled around and you wanted to read something about the holiday, you could choose among Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" or Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Nowadays, though, Christmas-themed books are nearly as common as Christmas-music CDs in Nashville, with new titles rolling out every fall.

Among the new Christmas books for 2008, best-selling author Rick Warren has penned an exploration of Christian faith under the title "The Purpose of Christmas," while first-time author Kevin Alan Milne has turned out a short novel, "The Paper Bag Christmas."

Both books seek to remind readers about the real purpose of the holiday.

Warren (founder/pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County), whose "The Purpose Driven Life" has moved from mere best-seller status to cultural phenomenon, tackles the issue of Christmas' meaning from a devoutly Christian perspective. Warren explores what Jesus' mortal existence means within Christian teaching, and what Christians can gain from the knowledge.

With many people suffering depression during the holidays, Warren lays out how the faithful among them can find strength and meaning even in the most trying of circumstances.

Warren isn't the most gifted of writers, and his style is at times too simplistic and often repetitive. But he takes a very ecumenical approach to the subject, quoting from a variety of translations of the Bible (although those not familiar with the informality of The Message version of the Bible may find it a bit jarring), as well as from Pope Benedict's "Jesus of Nazareth."

Milne approaches the meaning of Christmas through Santa Claus (although he does delve into the Christian roots of Old St. Nick). Set in a children's hospital ward during the holidays, and narrated by a 9-year-old boy who is recruited to volunteer in the ward, the story is pretty predictable from the first few passages.

Like Nicholas Sparks, Milne's storyline hurtles along by sheer force of inertia – once he puts it in motion, it follows Newton's Laws and continues apace. Poorly written dialogue (children just don't talk like that, and didn't even in 1980, when the story is set) and two-dimensional characters aren't nearly enough to derail Milne's march toward a heart-rending Hallmark moment.

The lessons his book imparts are well-meaning and heartfelt, but they're also telegraphed from the first sentences of the prologue.

To be fair, Sparks' books are consistent best-sellers, and Milne's book has received high marks from readers on

So it may turn out that Milne, like Sparks (who is admittedly very modest about his success), will find a wide and willing audience for his breezy little book about rediscovering the true meaning of Christmas.

And only a real Grinch would have a problem with that.