Selected Shorts Christmas Special: Ho Ho Huh?

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Guest host Jane Kaczmarek presents four Christmas-themed works to bring you comfort, joy, and a little sass.

Our first two stories present very different family Christmases.  First, one of our favorite pieces, Ron Carlson’s “The H Street Sledding Record.”  Carlson now lives and teaches in California, at UC Irvine, but for a time he did this in Salt Lake City, Utah, his hometown, and that’s where this charming and funny piece is set.  It begins with a young father throwing horse dung on his roof on Christmas Eve, to simulate the landing of reindeer, and ends, as is fitting at Christmas, with a promise.   

Ron Carlson’s story collections include News of the World, Plan B for the Middle Class and A Kind of Flying.  His most recent novel is The Signal

Reader Keith Szarabajka is best known for his role as Mickey Kostmayer in the television series “The Equalizer,” among many other appearances.  He also lends his deep voice to many action-packed video games.  But here, he is the perfect dad, in Ron Carlson’s “The H Street Sledding Record.”

Next, Frank O’Connor’s “Christmas Morning” gives us a richly detailed picture of a family in turn-of-the-century Ireland, but this family’s Christmas is overshadowed by poverty.  It’s a touching portrait of a mother’s attempt to make things perfect for her young sons one day of the year, and a coming-of-age story told through the eyes of one of them.  The story first appeared in the New Yorker magazine, and was later anthologized in the celebratory volume Christmas At The New Yorker.

Reader Malachy McCourt knows this landscape well—it’s the same emotional world that informs his memoirs A Monk Swimming and Singing My Him Song, and his late brother Frank’s bestselling Angela’s Ashes

George Shephard’s “Occurrence on the Six Seventeen” is a whimsical comedy from a different era, which was also anthologized in Christmas At The New Yorker.  When we think of Christmas miracles they are usually either exalted—the birth of Christ—or sentimental, as in the classic movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” in which a department-store Santa turns out to be the real deal.  But in this story, published in 1939, George Shephard imagines a smaller miracle: sober, self-absorbed commuters, “with necks that know exactly how long they must be pressed against the seat back”, briefly unite in Christmas joie de vivre

Tony Roberts, who reads this story, is a long-time Broadway star and featured player in many Woody Allen films.  Most recently, he guest starred as Ebenezer Scrooge in New York Public Radio’s live performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  

And speaking of “Bah, Humbug!” humorist Calvin Trillin is dreaming of the perfect Christmas—anywhere but here.  His witty ditty “Christmas in Qatar” bemoans meaningless gifts, underdone feasts, and appalling relations.  Enjoy.

“The H Street Sledding of Record,” by Ron Carlson, performed by Keith Szarabajka

“Christmas Morning,” by Frank O’Connor, performed by Malachy McCourt

“Occurrence on the Six Seventeen,” by George Shephard, performed by Tony Roberts

“Christmas in Qatar” (poem), by Calvin Trillin, performed by Calvin Trillin

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

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And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at