The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s [sic] A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits byLes Standiford
Crown Publishers, 1st edition, 2008
Genre: non-fiction, Christmas, biography
Synopsis & Review: In 1843, Charles Dickens’ popularity seemed to have plateaued and he was near bankruptcy. Rather than succumb to despair, he sat down and penned one of his most personal stories, and had it edited and published in six short weeks—just in time for the Christmas season. Though he first made little profit on A Christmas Carol, it went on to restore Dickens’ popularity, and became not only his most popular work, but one of the most widely read in the English language in the nineteenth century. Adapted myriad times for stage and screen (beginning nearly immediately; the first opened 5 February 1844), it remains one of the most enduring works of fiction, known in detail even to the many people who have not read it. Les Standiford argues that A Christmas Carol is not merely a holiday entertainment staple, but is also the “reason for the season,” and that Charles Dickens did not simply celebrate Christmas and the benevolence and goodwill it engenders, but resuscitated a dying holiday.
I’ve actually never read A Christmas Carol, and I’ve never managed Dickens. I’ve tried Great Expectations a few times, but then I wander off and read something worthwhile like a Christopher Pike book, or perhaps Gone with the Wind for the umpety billionth time. This makes me feel inadequate, as though I am lacking some fundamental Dickens appreciation spot in my brain. (I can usually assuage that feeling with the knowledge of my overlarge Zola appreciation spot, but it’s not always a comfort.) So I read this essentially on a whim, selecting it while looking for possible books for my two holiday reading challenges. I like Christmas after all, and I like books on cultural history. Unfortunately, this book didn’t really satisfy. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the first things I did when I began this book blogging thing was check out reading challenges. It seemed like such a fun, novel (WORDPLAY!) activity, and like one I’d be good at. (I still cherish my elementary school participation in Book It! Where’s my Personal Pan Pizza, yo?) As is my wont, I jumped right in, joining one-two-three-SEVEN challenges right off the bat. One of the first I found was the Classics Challenge 2009, hosted by Trish.
Being enthusiastic, and a fairly avid reader, I signed up for the Classics Feast, meaning I would read six classics between my April join date and 31 October. No problem, right? Well, it wasn’t so easy. I kind of forgot about and neglected my challenges (save 100 Books, because well, it requires no thought or effort) for a few months. There were a number of unread classics that I wanted to read for this challenge, but for various reasons, I just didn’t get to them. Perhaps I was too ambitious. Perhaps I didn’t take into account the time I’d need for other activities (hello, school!). It wasn’t until I was involved in Carl’s RIP IV–a very short, focused challenge–that I began actively participating in and updating the rest of my challenges. So now I have learned that getting started is easier with that sort of quick challenge–though the knowledge probably won’t apply anymore, at least not at the stacks my destination.
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
2. White Fang by Jack London
3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
4. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
6. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
(Find my challenge page here.)
I didn’t have a set list to begin with, really, other than some ambitious projects I wanted to get to like The Red and the Black and Tom Jones. I ended up just erasing my list entirely and winging it. There are several re-reads on my list, from the early period in which I had trouble being motivated (1-4). The Turn of the Screw and Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural were cross-posted for RIP IV, which again, was a big help. Brideshead Revisited is probably my favorite (though the re-reads were all old favorites, save perhaps for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) on the list; I just read this it past week, and it was profoundly moving and lovely.
I look forward to trying the Classics Challenge again next year, and actually having all my ducks in a row. Thanks, Trish, and also to all the other participants.
Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh
originally published 1945
Little Brown & Co, 3rd printing, 1973
Genre: English literature
Synopsis & Review: Capt Charles Ryder’s company is assigned to a new location; upon arriving at the new billet, he discovers that it is the estate of his old friend Sebastian Flyte’s family. Being at Brideshead again after so many years makes him reflect on his dealings with the Flytes: Sebastian, Julia, Lady Marchmain, Bridey, Cordelia, and Lord Marchmain.
Twenty years before, Charles had met Sebastian by chance at Oxford, and though their first meeting was a bit unpleasant, they soon became fast friends. The two spend their time in drinking and idleness, slowly growing closer. Enchanted by the glamour and beauty of Sebastian and his lifestyle, Charles becomes deeply involved with him and eventually his family. Theirs is a highly dysfunctional family, divided by their parents’ division and their own struggles with their Catholicism. In the aftermath of the Great War–which was supposed to end all wars, but instead ushered in an era of constant warfare–Charles and the Flytes also wrestle with social changes, a Götterdämmerung of the aristocracy.
While Sebastian slowly sinks into to alcoholism (dipsomania!), Charles leaves Oxford to study art. His closeness to Sebastian’s family eventually drives a wedge between them, as Sebastian’s mother Lady Marchmain seeks Charles’ help in treating Sebastian, causing Sebastian to feel betrayed, and the two part company.
Later, after his own marriage to a society girl, Charles encounters Julia, and the love he had for Sebastian re-establishes itself upon her. The two conduct and affair, even seeking divorces from their respective spouses, but when Julia’s father Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead from his long, self-imposed exile on the Continent only to die, Julia is stricken with guilt and renounces her affair with Charles for the sake of her own soul.
During World War II, when he arrives at Brideshead once more, Charles is “homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless,” but after a lifetime of agnosticism, there he finally discovers his own faith in both humanity and the divine.
It took me ages to read Brideshead Revisited. I don’t mean that it was a long read, but rather, I picked it up back in August (August!), read the first page or two of the prologue, and put it down. I just could not bring myself to read it for OVER TWO MONTHS. (Thank goodness the Multnomah County Library has a generous renewal policy.) When Dewey’s Read-a-Thon came up, and Brideshead was still languishing on my side table, I decided it ought to go in my stack. After all, if I couldn’t forced myself into it far enough to really tell how good a book it was during a Read-a-Thon, I probably never would. And you know what I discovered? Two things: The prologue is actually very, very short, and Brideshead Revisited is fantastic. Read the rest of this entry »
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
originally published 1898
Buccaneer Books, 1993
Genre: Horror, Gothic novella
Synopsis & Review: Over the Christmas holidays, a man tells a ghost story he’s kept to himself since it was told to him years ago. A young governess, swayed by a handsome employer, goes to a remote country house to take charge of a young orphaned girl. The house and child are beautiful and pleasant, and the housekeeper who is her closest co-worker is a nice, comfortable woman. But when the young boy is expelled from his school without a word about why, the governess must also care for him, and the atmosphere becomes ominous.
The governess soon discovers that both the children’s previous caretakers are dead, and that they were involved in an unsavory way. She also begins to see strange people where they shouldn’t be. And worst of all, the children seem aware of the unwholesome presences–and even to welcome them. Beneath the peaceful facade of the house and the innocent faces of the children lies an immense, unspeakable evil.
The second book I picked up for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon would also have suited RIP IV–but reading it at work was a dreadful mistake. Though many nights at work are very quiet and I can read undisturbed for hours, last Saturday was a nightmare. I don’t think I managed to go even five minutes without a disturbance of some kind. And reading Henry James under such circumstances was maddening. At least it was only eighty-seven pages. Read the rest of this entry »
Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural edited by Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise
originally published 1944
Modern Library, 8th printing, 1994
Genre: Horror, anthology
Synopsis & Review:
From ghoulies and ghosties
and long-legged beasties
and things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord deliver us!
This is a massive tome, clocking in at over a thousand pages, with fifty-two stories by forty-two authors, from the early nineteenth century till World War II. There are textbook classics (Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” and Saki’s “The Open Window”) and lesser-known works by masters (LeFanu’s “Green Tea,” Dineson’s “The Sailor-Boy’s Tale,” Blackwood’s “Confession”), and stories in every shade, form the comic or ironic to the downright horrible. (And even the occasional snorer.) Published in 1944, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural features none of the late twentieth century masters, such as Jackson or Matheson, but instead provides a solid foundation of modern horror. Each story (or pair of stories, as a few authors feature more than one) is prefaced by a short introduction, usually with some notes on the author and tale. These notes are occasionally humorous, reflecting the changes in seventy years of scholarship. For example, the introduction to Sheridan LeFanu’s “Green Tea” makes no mention of the author’s Uncle Silas or even “Carmilla,” a massively influential vampire story. Because “Green Tea”—which I’d never heard of—“[is] a favorite of anthologists.” You know, I used to read a lot of anthologies, and never once happened across this one. Heh. But, tastes change.
This was my final official book for RIP IV, and it took me FOREVER to finish this. I refused to consider completing the challenge until I had finished it, too. I thought I was never going to, and nearly gave up in despair several times. Three weeks! An entire fortnight, and nearly a half! How is that possible? “Schatzi,” you say, “Cut yourself some slack. It’s a thousand pages.” You don’t understand, a thousand pages is nothing to me; I can read that in a night if I like. Shoots, I read The Stand in a day—in sixth grade. Read the rest of this entry »
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
originally published 1903
Watermill Classics, 1st printing, 1981
Genre: Children’s literature
Synopsis & Review: Eleven-year-old Rebecca Rowena Randall sets off on a journey, leaving her beloved Sunnybrook Farm, mother, and siblings behind so that her maiden aunts Miranda and Jane Sawyer of Riverboro might “make something of her.” For the next several years, her Sawyer aunts will clothe, feed, shelter, and educate Rebecca, but in turn, she will also teach them about love and the child’s place in the home.
Her time with the Sawyers is not untroubled; Rebecca gets into scrapes due to her impulsive nature, ruining a new dress, being accused of swearing, and clogging up the well. But she also performs well in school and becomes a popular figure among the Riverboro small fry. She charms adults and children alike, soon enslaving the blacksmith’s daughter Emma Jane, who will remain her best friend until the novel’s end, and also enchanting the Cobbs and her teacher. Rebecca also gains her own personal genie in the form of Mr Alan Ladd, a rich bachelor who takes an interest in the delightful child, sponsoring her whenever possible. Only Aunt Miranda resists Rebecca’s charms.
Before there was Anne Shirley, there was Rebecca Rowena Randall, an early example of the literate, articulate, and lively little girl that would become so popular in early twentieth century children’s fiction. These girls were irrepressibly joyful and romantic, readers and writers both. But Rebecca was caught between this new style of girl and a nineteenth century model of perfection and womanly virtues. And it shows. Read the rest of this entry »