Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present (Library Edition)

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Press: Blackstone Audio, Inc.; Unabridged library edition (November 12, 2009)
Author Name:Stuever, Hank; Porter, Ray;


In Tinsel, Hank Stuever searches out the most outlandish cultural excesses as well as the secret beauties of modern America s half-trillion-dollar Christmas holiday. 
When Stuever s narrative begins, he s standing in line with the people waiting to purchase flat-screen TVs at Best Buy on Black Friday.
From there he follows Tammy Parnell, the proprietor of 'Two Elves with a Twist,' a company that decorates other people s houses for Christmas; Jeff and Bridgett Trykoski, owners of that one house every town has with Christmas decorations visible from space; and single mother Caroll Cavazos, who hopes that the life-affirming moments of Christmas might overcome the struggles of the rest of the year.
Steuver s portraits are at once humane, heartfelt, revealing and very, very funny.

From Publishers Weekly

Stuever, a Washington Post staff writer and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, has appeared on The View, The Today Show and NPR with his incisive commentaries. 
Following Off Ramp, he returns for another heartland safari, this time to observe Christmas celebrations in Frisco, Tex.
He explains: This book takes place over three holiday seasons (2006, 2007 and 2008) among three unrelated families who live in a new megaworld north of Dallas, a place that often seemed to have surrendered its identity to the shopper within.
His seasonal survey begins with Tammie Parnell, who runs a business decorating other people's homes.
In the chapter There Glows the Neighborhood, he describes the Trykoski lights, a house decorated with 50,000 lights, and traces this holiday history back to 2004 when Carson Williams scored a million-plus Internet hits after synchronizing 16,000 lights to music.
Stuever watches the 1.1 million-square-foot Stonebriar Centre mall being decorated at midnight.
While single mom Caroll Cavazos shops with her family at Best Buy, the author has an epiphany (I see it as Caroll sees it.
Real lives are being lived here), and later he goes with her to church and a potluck dinner gift-swap.
With impeccable research and solid reporting, Stuever has written the gift book that keeps on giving—Christmas consumerism wrapped together with traditional family values.
12) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
All rights reserved.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Stuever, a writer for the style section of the Washington Post, transplanted himself in 2006 to Frisco, Texas, from the day after Thanksgiving through the Christmas season. 
He was in search of the meaning of Christmas in America and why it is so freighted with emotions and economics.
He befriended several Texans, including Tammie, an upper-middle-class woman with a side business decorating the homes of other upper-middle-class women too busy to decorate for themselves; Carroll, a struggling single mom devoted to her prosperity-preaching megachurch; geeky Jeff and snarky Bridgette, whose house features a Christmas light show synchronized to music that attracts thousands.
Stuever also offers up a fascinating history of how Christmas has evolved across cultures and economies to now include career Santas, family squabbles about locales, the search for perfect gifts and worthy needy families, the relentless drumbeat of retail seduction, and the guilty days of reckoning in January.
Stuever returned to Frisco in 2007 and 2008 to chronicle how the financial meltdown and the recession impacted the spirit of Christmas.
By focusing on one town and a few families, and interweaving the anthropology and economics of Christmas, Stuever offers a sometimes hilarious, sometimes cynical, but always heartfelt look at the meaning of Christmas to Americans.
Completely wonderful.
--Vanessa Bush

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"In this dazzling feat of reportage, Hank Stuever gets at what's best and worst not just about Christmas but about us as Americans. 
Hilarious, insightful, compassionate, and hugely entertaining, Tinsel is a gift (holiday or otherwise) to anyone who loves great writing."—Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife and Prep

Book Description

HMH hardcover 2009

About the Author

HANK STUEVER is an award-winning pop-culture writer for the style section of the Washington Post. 
He is the author of Off Ramp, an essay collection, and has appeared on The Today Show, The View, The Early Show, and National Public Radio.

From The Washington Post

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Bryan Burrough An economist, a newspaper reporter and Augusten Burroughs walk into a bar at Christmastime. 
You have time to buy one person an eggnog.
The economist wants to talk about the money people waste giving stupid gifts during the holidays.
The reporter wants to talk about the simple joys of Christmas among the simple people of simple Sun Belt suburbs.
Augusten Burroughs wants to talk about Augusten Burroughs.
Who gets the eggnog? The economist's name is Joel Waldfogel, he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and he has written "Scroogenomics." Here I would propose that, much as we enjoy humor at the expense of lawyers, we try the same for economists.
I don't mean to suggest that economists such as Waldfogel are the most useless people in America today.
Economists have a use, which is writing things so that other economists have something to read.
This thin book, the size of a slice of Wonder bread and about as filling, is a fine example.
Waldfogel's thesis is that Christmas gifts, as a whole, amount to wasteful spending.
He knows this because he has spent years crafting questionnaires and forcing them upon undergraduates presumably desperate for a good grade.
Asked what value they would place on a list of holiday gifts, they inevitably assign lower values than the cost of the presents.
This gap of lost value economists call a "deadweight loss," and it drives Waldfogel nuts.
He calculates the annual deadweight loss of bad Christmas gifts at $12 billion.
It's inefficient, it's irrational, and it must be stopped.
What drives me nuts is that very smart people such as Waldfogel are spending their time writing about dumb stuff like this.
Talk about waste! I mean, here is an Ivy League professor, a man who presumably might have something to contribute to the debates over, I don't know, climate change or health care, and he has instead devoted years of his life -- years -- to the study of bad holiday gifts.
The fact that my mother still gives me $20 checks for Christmas does not outrage me.
This does.
You want dead weight? Waldfogel sifts through heaps of purchasing data to report that the Portuguese are the biggest per capita Christmas spenders.
Glad we settled that one.
His measurements of "recipient satisfaction per dollar on noncash gifts" indicate that the worst gift-givers are grandparents, aunts and uncles -- a blinding glimpse of the obvious.
Every 6-year-old knows Grandma's presents tend to blow.
Waldfogel's solution? Gift cards.
Mine? Never reading another Christmas book written by an economist.
The reporter's name is Hank Stuever.
He's a Washington Post writer and self-described "urbanized, blue-state gay guy," who in "Tinsel" goes looking for a genuine Christmas in the fakest place he can imagine, the mushrooming Dallas exurb of Frisco.
I happen to be a Texan, and my condescension antennae rise whenever a middlebrow outlander plops himself down in my home state, or just about any place between Richmond and El Paso.
For Stuever, Christmas is just a device, a gimmick he can use to write about the strange, funny people he reads about in David Brooks's columns.
This is the consummate "Young Writer Discovers Middle America" book (or rediscovers, given that Stuever appears to be from Oklahoma, poor guy).
By and large Stuever pulls it off, in part because he eschews (most) condescension and embraces these happy, bustling, Christian Texans for what they really are, not what he thinks they ought to be.
There's Jeff and Bridgette Trykoski, the young couple with the biggest Christmas display in town, and Tammie Parnell, an interior decorator who specializes in "Christmasizing" homes for families who are too busy.
Stuever spends a lot of time at Frisco's Stonebriar Centre mall, and at some megachurches, and driving around with the city manager -- in other words, the things you'd expect him to do.
I guess you'd call "Tinsel" a rumination of sorts, which is a charitable way of saying there's no plot and not much happens.
It feels very familiar, the suburb and the writer, almost too familiar, until it hits you: It's "Borat." Without the bear and, unfortunately, the sharp point of view.
Stuever is a talented enough writer, and having spent three Yuletide seasons in Frisco, he observes just enough -- the illegal-immigrant elves, the overstructured children, the bar scene at Applebee's -- to keep a reader interested for a while.
Eventually, however, one needs a better reason to stick with him.
Absent narrative drive, the book soon passes from your hand, and your mind.
The single thing I will retain from this book is probably Stuever's term for breast implants: "Frankenboobs." Not much of a tribute, but hey.
Which brings us to Augusten Burroughs.
Burroughs is a big deal.
From the promotional literature, it appears his publisher is putting out a half-million copies of this collection of Christmas-themed stories.
I don't normally read topical memoirs, and this was my first exposure to Burroughs, who is a tad controversial.
He tells nutty stories about his family and gay sex.
In the first of these new stories, Burroughs harks back to his Christmas as a 7-year-old, a period in which his parents, between draws on their Lucky Strikes and swallows of Canadian Club, scolded him for confusing Santa and Jesus.
The story meanders pleasantly for a few dozen pages until young Burroughs loses control of himself and, for reasons unclear even to the author, sneaks into the living room and eats the face off a life-sized wax Santa.
He ends up at the hospital, where his parents scold him some more while his stomach is pumped.
Funny story, well told, and I didn't believe a word of it.
Okay, maybe he ate Santa's face.
But the detail, the direct quotes, the mannerisms, the thoughts -- no way.
No way.
I don't know about you, but I can't remember much about my seventh Christmas except for maybe all the Hot Wheels.
Or maybe that was the eighth.
Who knows? The point is, either Burroughs has the most incredible memory imaginable, he's embroidering at a herculean pace, or he's just making stuff up.
Should that bother you, the reader? Maybe I'm just a hoary old nonfiction guy, but in my world, you can't do that.
You can't.
My wife tells me Burroughs is a fabulist.
So that's okay now? I obviously didn't get the memo.
Burroughs's second tale, about waking up at the Waldorf-Astoria next to an elderly, naked-from-the-waist-down, French, potty-mouthed Santa Claus, struck me as only slightly more plausible.
(The real problem was that the transition wasn't clearly marked, leading me to believe for several pages that this was still the 7-year-old Burroughs.
This was disturbing on so many levels.) I'm prepared to believe that Burroughs had his share of bad gay-sex encounters over the years.
I mean, who hasn't? When he subsequently chronicles a few, I actually believe him.
A rich guy with bad breath? That I believe.
But a potty-mouthed French Santa at the Waldorf? I don't know, maybe these things happen.
Maybe I should get out more.
It's a slim book at any rate, good for a few chuckles, and I'm probably being Scroogelike to question it.
So, back to the bar.
Who gets the eggnog? I do, that's who, and make it a double.
Bah, humbug.
bookworld@washpost.com Copyright 2009, The Washington Post.
All Rights Reserved.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Comment List (Total:12)

  •     Synopsis: A homosexual writer goes to Texas to follow several families throughout the holiday season.
  •     Arrived in GREAT condition! Thank you!
  •     Both exuberant and weary, humane and skeptical. Not only a love letter to our obsessions and vulnerabilities but also an impeccable, reported observation of excess, waste and...
  •     We may all think we know what Christmas is all about in the present day, after all, we're living it.
  •     I used to live in Oklahoma and knew people who were actually a lot like the status seeking hippocrites in this book.
  •     Thought I would give this a read. What a mistake. Someone should pay me for my attempt at reading this.
  •     If there is one word to describe what the Christmas holiday has become, excess. Hank Stuever does a fine job providing a chronicle of observations during the most festive events of the year through the eyes of three families. Although one must not judge a book by looking at its cover, but in this case, there is no denying that TINSEL: A SEARCH FOR AMERICA'S CHRISTMAS PRESENT may have one irresistibly doing that as well as having the least expectation of surprise; as the holiday gift giving marathon begins right after the holiday itself ends with the after Christmas clearance sales, many are on the run attempting to catch bargains galore without a second thought.Stuever captures the kitsch and the commercialization that present day Christmas. With day by day detail, there are never ending references that refer to the Christmas season shopping and decorating rituals, which entails the countless trips to and fro big name department and discount stores and the array of decorative lights, artificial garlands and trees, and lawn ornaments that need to be configured with meticulous precision; all amazingly time consuming and costly - a fine example from the perspective of one house or preferably Christmas decoration designer, Tammie, who charges $400 a house and spends 14 hours to decorate rooms (21).But the most important aspect about the book amidst the various tasks that involve the holiday rush is Stuever's underlying meaning of what Christmas may really mean to those who partake in the present interpretation of the holiday, dedication, fun, and excitement. However, this is not understood without the logistical reality that includes two major elements, sacrifice of time and money for a holiday that comes but once a year with great cheer but afterwards experiences a hangover.
  •     Read this my first Christmas in Texas- it made me laugh out loud a number of times and added a fun dynamic to the season.
  •     I live in Frisco, Texas. This book was a laugh a page. A true fairy tale. Just like Cinderella the residents still believe in the fairy godmother.
  •     This is an amazing piece of consumer anthropology written with fantastic voice and character. The work is both memorable and insightful, a careful, comical analysis of Christmas...
  •     I really wish Amazon let you do half stars because this is, in truth, 3.5 I really liked some parts, but others were just OK.I have an odd relationship with Christmas. Christmas in our house looks a lot like Thanksgiving, just with more presents. But I hate shopping. HATE. Yet somehow, I was drawn to this book. To the author’s writing. To the people he met. After finishing the book. it was a pleasant surprise to find the photos of the people he spent Christmas with. I was way off in my mental images, but it was nice to put faces to the names. Speaking of names, I find it amazing and generous how these folks welcomed him into their homes and their lives. While Stuever wrote at length about the growth of Frisco, it’s still very much Smalltown, USA in that respect. He came to know these people, their families, their friends. He nearly became one of them.In addition to looking for “Christmas”, I think the author had more than a little quest to look for “America”. Frisco, TX, land of the McMansions isn’t America any more than Jesus is the Reason for the Season describes the true American Christmas, but the author did well to try and tie both extremes together. Of those people he met: Carroll the shopaholic tither and her family, Tammie and her Hottie Elves and the Trykoskis and their lights, it was the Trykoskis I liked the most because they seemed to show me more about what Christmas is. I didn’t like Carroll and her family — although I felt them to be a good example of Shop ’til You Drop Spoiled America. Sure, Tammie decorated clients’ houses for Christmas – but that didn’t make her Santa any more than a normal interior designer. Jeff T was paid for his work in Frisco Square, but he did his own house – and the city – out of his own interest and passion.At one point he wrote, "The Christmas lifestyle as most Americans know and celebrate it is only about a century and a half old, a straight line from Charles Dickens to Martha Stewart"I had to chuckle at this — because the Christmas that the author found in Frisco isn’t the Christmas I’ve seen in the Northeast. Multiple themed trees? Prelit trees? Worrying about whether a neighbor’s house and Christmas is “Christ-centered”? Never mind Frisco’s obsession with Snow Powder and the Israelis who sell it.I like how he used his journalistic background to mix in reporting with his story telling. The facts he reported on retail figures, economic growth and contraction, the history of Christmas (more Halloween then Jesus) and suburb development provided a nice back drop to the people without taking away from them. It made for substance to go with the fluff.The same could be said for the religious aspects that he discussed. While an American christmas can be religion fee, I’m not sure the same could be said for a Texas Christmas. All in all, a very good read even if it slowed down at parts.
  •     "We've got to figure this Christmas thing out once and for all." (p. 259)"Nearly everything about the American Christmas defies logic." (p.

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