Christmas in Plains: Memories

“Resolutely straightforward and kindhearted reminiscence” by former president.

 Drop the “s” from the name of former president Carter’s Georgia hometown, and you have a succinct description of this book. Not that plain is necessarily bad, but just so you know going in: Angela’s Ashes this isn’t. No pitch-perfect recreation of dialogue, no richly evoked smells, tastes, and sounds of childhood—just a resolutely straightforward and kindhearted reminiscence of the holiday season throughout Carter’s life, including his years in the White House.

 Moments stand out: a young Jimmy and his siblings cutting foil from their father’s cigarette packs into strips of tinsel; his awareness as a child of the disparity between his Christmas presents and those of his black friends; his first, anticlimactic experience of a New Year’s Eve midnight as a teenager; Christmas 1979, when a lonely First Family—Jimmy, Rosalynn, and Amy—issued a last-minute invitation to the executive mansion’s household staff and their families to spend the day with them at Camp David.

 The problem is, Carter doesn’t do much with these moments. His prose, irreproachably clean but unexciting, makes few of them really resonate. Most hang there—as does the book—like a simple country wreath on a sturdy wooden door. If that’s your style, Carter’s your man.

Author:
Jimmy Carter

Publisher:
Simon & Schuster

Price:
$20

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Senior Managing Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is senior managing editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a features editor. In another lifetime, he was assistant managing editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was managing editor of Common Boundary magazine and senior editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays have been cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.