Giovanni's Light: The Story of a Town Where Time Stopped for Christmas

Overview

Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but there was a certain storybook quality about the town that made visitors catch their breath. As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December first, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners, the plastic Santa Claus went back on the top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane at Elwood's Market started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers.

Yet on this particular Christmas, there were signs ...

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Giovanni's Light: The Story of a Town Where Time Stopped for Christmas

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Overview

Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but there was a certain storybook quality about the town that made visitors catch their breath. As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December first, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners, the plastic Santa Claus went back on the top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane at Elwood's Market started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers.

Yet on this particular Christmas, there were signs that the order of things would change. And when it did, the people in Ryland Falls never celebrated Christmas the same way again.

The Christmas spirit is alive and well in this inspiring story about the redeeming power of the imagination and the true nature of compassion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Leif Enger author of Peace Like a River Giovanni's Light is like the timeless Christmas tales we were raised on — tales of deep snow, desperate wishes, and rescued hearts. Phyllis Theroux fears neither familiarity nor sentiment but writes with timeless fluency and attention to truth, so that her fable gathers about it the shimmer of simplicity and strength. The Christmas in these pages is an event of wonder that deserves candlelight and cocoa and people who read aloud.

Howard Norman author of The Haunting of L. Deeply affecting, written with offhand-seeming brilliance and compassion, Giovanni's Light is a Christmas dream of achieved realism. Phyllis Theroux succeeds in plaiting together a philosophy of art with real people's lives in a way that makes her book a small classic.

Thomas Moore author of Care of the Soul Charming and universal, Giovanni's Light is a story of hope and the often forgotten fact that life can change, especially when nature is allowed to play a role.

Benjamin Cheever author of Famous After Death You'll read this in one sitting. And when you've finished, the world will look fresh and new again, the way it used to look. Giovanni's Light is splendid. Read it to yourself. Read it to your children.

Sue Grafton author of P Is for Peril Reading Giovanni's Light is like being transported by magic into one of those miniature villages under an old-fashioned Christmas tree.

Judith Viorst author of Imperfect Control This Christmas, and every Christmas, families all over America should be reading Giovanni's Light. Like It's a Wonderful Life, it offers enduring truths about connection and community. As always, Phyllis Theroux writes with a spare eloquence that speaks directly to the heart. Do I dare call her gentle fable an instant classic? You bet.

The Reverend William Sloane Coffin author of The Heart Is a Little to the Left Giovanni's Light reminds us of the Divine wonder and beauty of ordinary things in the everyday world.

Michael Korda author of Country Matters Giovanni's Light is a charming, lovely story, and the perfect Christmas "stocking stuffer."

Publishers Weekly
A pre-Christmas blizzard alters the emotional and physical landscape of the idyllic village of Ryland Falls in this well-crafted holiday parable. Theroux (Serefina Under the Circumstances) introduces characters at a sprightly pace throughout the brief book, but there are three central figures: Giovanni, a mountain recluse who ventures into town once a year to sell Christmas trees; a frustrated part-time art teacher named Will Campbell; and plucky 11-year-old Miranda Bridgeman, who wants to be a writer. The event that unites them is the snowstorm, which begins by providing some Yuletide ambience before turning into an epic event that buries the town and leaves everyone without power. The residents must reform their rather blas approach to the holidays as they unite to help one another through the tough weather. Theroux gets syrupy with some of the village background and character introductions, but she makes up for the treacle with a nice sense of pace as she weaves together different layers of the story. She also shows a light touch with the various uplifting messages encapsulated in the subplots. Too many writers have to resort to miracles and angels to create their holiday magic, but Theroux wisely relies on the basics of human interaction to deliver her message in this nostalgic, illuminating fable. Illus. (Nov.) Forecast: Blurbs from heavy hitters like Cokie Roberts and Michael Korda will have more influence on sales than the rather bland cover art. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A children’s writer spins a grown-up fable about a sleepy village that had a white Christmas--and was changed forever. Nestled below Old Rag Mountain, Ryland Falls is home to barely three thousand souls, quiet folk who go about their business from day to day and year to year with little change in their routines. Ed Crimmins, the wealthy clockmaker, manages his company with Swiss precision, to such an extent that he sometimes neglects his wife Olivia and son Neddie. Newcomer Will Campbell teaches art classes at the local public school and tries to paint his own canvases in his spare time. The widower Giovanni lives alone with his dog Max on his evergreen farm, harvesting trees for Christmas and trying to forget the deaths of his wife Lucia and son Carlo. Although Ryland Falls is not a great place for the creative and the unorthodox, it is picturesque and capable of providing inspiration to those sensitive enough to notice the beauty around them--artists like Will Campbell and young Neddie Crimmins, for example, or poets like 11-year-old Miranda Bridgeman. Christmas is usually a big thing in Ryland Falls, but this year for some reason no one has the heart for it: The decorations go up as usual, but the spirit just isn’t there. Late in December, however, a blizzard strikes, knocking out the electricity and bringing everyone in town together for warmth and comfort. Even in a place as quiet as Ryland Falls, it helps to slow down for a change and take stock of things, and by the time the power is back everyone has learned the value of the people--and the place--around them. Likely to warm hearts, especially if read within sight of a nicely trimmed tree. But its shelf life will last about aslong as fresh eggnog or raw chestnuts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743244343
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 10/1/2010
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 1,425,658
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Phyllis Theroux is the author of The Book of Eulogies, Nightlights: Bedtime Stories for Parents in the Dark, Peripheral Visions, California and Other States of Grace, and Serefina Under the Circumstances, a children's book. She is also the founder of Nightwriters (www.nightwriters.com), which holds writing seminars in the United States and Europe. She lives in Ashland, Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ryland Falls, population thirty-five hundred, was a town that didn't look quite real. With its quiet, tree-shaded streets, old-fashioned clapboard houses with wraparound porches, and lawns thick with fireflies on summer evenings, it made people sigh and imagine happy things that had never happened to them. There were vacant lots full of buttercups and Queen Anne's lace, a creek with frogs and large, flat stones for sitting. Children rode their bicycles downtown for ice cream. Everybody knew everybody else's name.

City people called Ryland Falls a backwater, and it's true that not a lot happened here from one year to the next. But in spring, the pear trees along Center Street sent drifts of white petals into air that smelled of fresh grass clippings. In summer, willows formed a soft green drizzle of branches around the pond. And when the air grew cold, the maples on top of Cemetery Hill burst into flame and burned for long blue days before dropping their leaves like a bright tablecloth upon the graves.

In the distance was a mountain. Old Rag was as wild and trackless as Ryland Falls was orderly and refined, and the townspeople didn't spend much time there, except on the road that cut across the top of it. But it gave the town a picturesque backdrop and protected it from the noise and confusion of the big city on the other side.

Ryland Falls had its share of sad people, lonely people, and impatient people, like Miranda Bridgeman, who thought it was the dullest place on earth, and she couldn't wait until she was old enough to leave. Every house had its own private cup of sorrow, although some were fuller than others, and no mountain was large enough to keep out the demands of time.

The demands had built up slowly, over many years, so that nobody really noticed how much faster the pace of life had become. But a town that looked sleepy was, in fact, full of people who had to wake up earlier and earlier to keep up with their own lives.

By 6:15 A.M., half the newspapers were already snatched up off the sidewalks. By 6:45, Reverend Williams was on his second cup of coffee and going over his day's calendar, which usually had three hospital visits and a meeting before lunchtime. And by 7:15, the school bus was rumbling down Center Street, full of children still brushing toast crumbs off their lips, on the way to school.

Like every other place on earth, Ryland Falls was full of busy people who had too much to do. But that was the price of modern life and nobody complained. Then, too, living in Ryland Falls made the faster pace easy to ignore. The librarian automatically renewed your overdue books, the postman would add a stamp from his own pocket if there wasn't enough postage on a letter, and if somebody left the car lights on by mistake, somebody else would knock on the front door with the news.

Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but it didn't take long for newcomers to realize that most people went out of their way to be kind. And there was a certain golden quality about the town — the way the light dusted the shop windows, threaded its way down back alleys, and lit up a stand of daylilies stretching their necks like trumpets toward the sun — that made visitors catch their breath and say, "Oh, my goodness! I didn't know that places like this existed except in storybooks!"

As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December 1, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners from all the downtown lampposts. The inflatable plastic Santa Claus went back on top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers behind the counter at Elwood's Market.

"Happy holidays," she would say glumly as she handed a customer change. "My brother died last month."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Thanks, and my aunt died the month before that."

"Goodness, you've been having quite a time. I hope you feel better soon."

"I'm trying but I was up half the night coughing."

Grumpy Diane could be counted on to come up with these kinds of sinking remarks, but most people let them roll right off the counter. They knew what to expect, which was one of the reasons why Ryland Falls was such a pleasant place to live. You knew what to expect from everything. Even Christmas.

The gingerbread-house contest was always announced right after Thanksgiving. Next, the tickets for the house tour and Christmas tea went on sale. Then came the annual Messiah community sing-along. On Christmas Eve, people gathered in front of All Saints Church while the children chosen to be in the "Living Nativity" scene shivered for a holy cause in a plywood manger. And on Christmas night, almost everybody — with one sad and glaring exception — took their children to Cemetery Hill for a town sledding party.

Almost everything that happened in Ryland Falls was a repetition of something that had taken place last year, or a hundred years ago. That was part of its charm.

But on this particular Christmas, there were signs that the usual order of things was going to be disturbed. They weren't very large signs, at least not in the beginning. But even if they had been, most of the people in Ryland Falls would have been too busy with their own lives to notice.

Copyright © 2002 by Phyllis Theroux

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Ryland Falls, population thirty-five hundred, was a town that didn't look quite real. With its quiet, tree-shaded streets, old-fashioned clapboard houses with wraparound porches, and lawns thick with fireflies on summer evenings, it made people sigh and imagine happy things that had never happened to them. There were vacant lots full of buttercups and Queen Anne's lace, a creek with frogs and large, flat stones for sitting. Children rode their bicycles downtown for ice cream. Everybody knew everybody else's name.

City people called Ryland Falls a backwater, and it's true that not a lot happened here from one year to the next. But in spring, the pear trees along Center Street sent drifts of white petals into air that smelled of fresh grass clippings. In summer, willows formed a soft green drizzle of branches around the pond. And when the air grew cold, the maples on top of Cemetery Hill burst into flame and burned for long blue days before dropping their leaves like a bright tablecloth upon the graves.

In the distance was a mountain. Old Rag was as wild and trackless as Ryland Falls was orderly and refined, and the townspeople didn't spend much time there, except on the road that cut across the top of it. But it gave the town a picturesque backdrop and protected it from the noise and confusion of the big city on the other side.

Ryland Falls had its share of sad people, lonely people, and impatient people, like Miranda Bridgeman, who thought it was the dullest place on earth, and she couldn't wait until she was old enough to leave. Every house had its own private cup of sorrow, although some werefuller than others, and no mountain was large enough to keep out the demands of time.

The demands had built up slowly, over many years, so that nobody really noticed how much faster the pace of life had become. But a town that looked sleepy was, in fact, full of people who had to wake up earlier and earlier to keep up with their own lives.

By 6:15 A.M., half the newspapers were already snatched up off the sidewalks. By 6:45, Reverend Williams was on his second cup of coffee and going over his day's calendar, which usually had three hospital visits and a meeting before lunchtime. And by 7:15, the school bus was rumbling down Center Street, full of children still brushing toast crumbs off their lips, on the way to school.

Like every other place on earth, Ryland Falls was full of busy people who had too much to do. But that was the price of modern life and nobody complained. Then, too, living in Ryland Falls made the faster pace easy to ignore. The librarian automatically renewed your overdue books, the postman would add a stamp from his own pocket if there wasn't enough postage on a letter, and if somebody left the car lights on by mistake, somebody else would knock on the front door with the news.

Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but it didn't take long for newcomers to realize that most people went out of their way to be kind. And there was a certain golden quality about the town -- the way the light dusted the shop windows, threaded its way down back alleys, and lit up a stand of daylilies stretching their necks like trumpets toward the sun -- that made visitors catch their breath and say, "Oh, my goodness! I didn't know that places like this existed except in storybooks!"

As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December 1, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners from all the downtown lampposts. The inflatable plastic Santa Claus went back on top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers behind the counter at Elwood's Market.

"Happy holidays," she would say glumly as she handed a customer change. "My brother died last month."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Thanks, and my aunt died the month before that."

"Goodness, you've been having quite a time. I hope you feel better soon."

"I'm trying but I was up half the night coughing."

Grumpy Diane could be counted on to come up with these kinds of sinking remarks, but most people let them roll right off the counter. They knew what to expect, which was one of the reasons why Ryland Falls was such a pleasant place to live. You knew what to expect from everything. Even Christmas.

The gingerbread-house contest was always announced right after Thanksgiving. Next, the tickets for the house tour and Christmas tea went on sale. Then came the annual Messiah community sing-along. On Christmas Eve, people gathered in front of All Saints Church while the children chosen to be in the "Living Nativity" scene shivered for a holy cause in a plywood manger. And on Christmas night, almost everybody -- with one sad and glaring exception -- took their children to Cemetery Hill for a town sledding party.

Almost everything that happened in Ryland Falls was a repetition of something that had taken place last year, or a hundred years ago. That was part of its charm.

But on this particular Christmas, there were signs that the usual order of things was going to be disturbed. They weren't very large signs, at least not in the beginning. But even if they had been, most of the people in Ryland Falls would have been too busy with their own lives to notice.

Copyright © 2002 by Phyllis Theroux
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