When writing his latest novel, “What Light,” San Luis Obispo author Jay Asher aimed for a delicate balance between uplifting romance and holiday drama.
“While it deals with some serious issues, I wanted it still to maintain the innocence of the holidays,” explained Asher, best known for his best-selling book “Thirteen Reasons Why.”
“What Light” focuses on a teenage girl whose family owns a Christmas tree lot in California — and the local hunk who steals her heart. The book, targeted at grades seven and up, was published in October by Penguin Random House imprint Razorbill.
In celebration of the holiday season, Asher shared six of his favorite Christmas movies and books.
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‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens (1843)
Although he loves Charles Dickens’ novella about a grumpy miser who learns the true meaning of Christmas, Asher has a soft spot for the many screen adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” — particularly the 1983 “Family Ties” episode “A Keaton Christmas Carol” that he taped off of television as a kid.
“I haven’t watched it as an adult,” he acknowledged with a chuckle. “Maybe it’s really bad.”
In addition to the 1983 animated short “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” Asher also likes 2009’s “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge. “I was very surprised at how good that one was,” he said.
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ (1965)
“I’ve always been a huge ‘Peanuts’ fan,” Asher said, so it seems only natural that he’d love this animated holiday tale featuring Charlie Brown and his friends.
“There’s just something very simple and sweet and nostalgic about it — the innocence that everybody wants to feel at the holidays,” Asher said.
‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ by Barbara Robinson (1971)
Asher laughed out loud the first time he read this zany book about a family of juvenile delinquents who crash a church Christmas pageant.
“I thought it was funny,” he said. “A lot of Christmas stories aren’t necessarily funny.”
Even though Asher considers “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” a classic, he wonders if it could be published today. After all, how many modern children’s stories feature kids who lie, swear, steal and smoke cigars?
‘A Christmas Story’ (1983)
Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) just wants one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder air rifle. But everyone — his mother, his teacher, even a department-store Santa Claus — warns him that “you’ll shoot your eye out.”
As a kid, Asher wasn’t a big fan of this wry, nostalgic movie. Now, “as an adult, I love it,” he said.
His favorite moment? The scene in which Santa pushes Ralphie down the slide. “It’s the way Santa looks at him and goes ‘Ho ho ho,’ ” Asher recalled, offering his best evil chuckle. “I love that one.”
‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989)
Hapless suburban schlub Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) tries to give his family the perfect Christmas, despite an overcooked turkey, a manic squirrel, malfunctioning Christmas lights, squabbling in-laws and snooty neighbors.
“The one movie I have to watch every year is ‘Christmas Vacation,’ ” Asher said. “I think it’s one of the best comedies (ever).” ’Nuff said.
Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) leaves the North Pole in search of his father, a hard-nosed New York publishing executive (James Caan), in a heart-warming comedy Asher called “an instant classic.”
In Asher’s favorite scene, Buddy spots a neon sign for “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” and goes inside the shop to offer his congratulations: “You did it!”
“The innocence that you want from the holidays, he has it,” the author said.