“Family, kinship, is what you build from the accidents of life; from different decades, different biologies, different countries, different races.” -The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman
Once upon a time, in the before times, when I was working the counter of a local bookstore, a mother and daughter came into the store on an unusual city tour. They were from out of town, this was their first trip to Ann Arbor, and they were utterly delighted—and delightful.
I asked what brought them to town. A book, they answered, one that they both adored and read multiple times together. It took place in Ann Arbor. Intrigued, I asked which book, wondering if I had heard of it. I had not. It was The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman.
Sometime in spring, I picked up a hardcover copy of the book from a used bookstore, but I didn’t want to read a holiday book out of season, so I held onto it, saving it for the right time. And here they are, all too quickly upon us, the winter holidays. Once Halloween had finished, I cracked open the pages and settled in.
This is not an action book. It is more like visiting with friends. This group of women are very much like people I know. Married, divorced, mothers, grandmothers, experiencing new love, mature love, new babies, lost babies, secret affairs, unfaithful lovers…all friends, even through their differences.
Each chapter focuses on a different woman attending this latest meeting of the annual Christmas Cookie Club. They begin with the recipe for the cookie she is presenting (and read like my mother’s handwritten recipe cards rather than a professional cookbook), and are capped by a brief look at a specific ingredient used in the recipe. Being a foodie, I quite enjoyed learning the history of flour, cinnamon, dates, sugar, and more. This being a food-centric book, I did not find it distracting.
Pearlman often mentions specific places around Ann Arbor, which I found equal parts charming and bittersweet. Familiar names like Gallup Park, Crazy Wisdom Tea Room, Plum, Trader Joe’s, Top of the Park, and the Roadhouse brought a smile to my face. But, aside from the park and grocery stores, these are places that I can’t visit right now either because they are closed or because indoor dining is temporarily off limits. (Even a trip to the grocery store involves more stress than I like to put myself under, so I go as infrequently as possible.)
The grief that the women of the Christmas Cookie Club experience have nothing to do with a pandemic. They meet for coffee or wine; take walks together; go shopping and dancing. And most importantly, they comfort one another. They hug and hold hands and squeeze shoulders. Basically, they live normal lives! Like we used to live.
There are so many Ann Arbor landmarks mentioned that one could easily use it as a guidebook to exploring our community. I find that idea so lovely. The reader is seeing Ann Arbor through a townie’s eyes, not some travel writer’s. I also find that comforting. I can picture these places so clearly. And I hope I can still visit all of my favorite places in the coming year in person. Meanwhile, I have a dozen new cookie recipes to try.
Ann Arbor Book Society Volunteer
Featured in December 2020 newsletter