Happy Holidays // A Quote from ‘A Christmas Carol’

Happy Sunday, everyone! Here’s a heartwarming quote from A Christmas Carol, my annual Christmas read, about the true nature of the season, as well as a pic of my favorite character from The Muppet Christmas Carol, Homeless Bean Bunny:

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“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Festivities’

For me, Charles Dickens perfectly sums up the Christmas spirit: hope, love, good cheer, optimism, and charity.

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This year, I’m reading all of Charles Dickens’ Christmas stories in addition to A Christmas Carol, which is my annual tradition. I’d like to share a passage here of the first paragraphs of the first story in that clothbound Penguin edition, “Christmas Festivities,” because it speaks volumes about the way Christmas should be appreciated and celebrated:

“Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused—in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened—by the recurrence of Christmas. There are people who will tell you that Christmas is not to them what it used to be—that each succeeding Christmas has found some cherished hope or happy prospect of the year before, dimmed or passed away—and that the present only serves to remind them of reduced circumstances and straitened incomes—of the feasts they once bestowed on hollow friends, and of the cold looks that meet them now, in adversity and misfortune. Never heed such dismal reminiscences. There are few men who have lived long enough in the world who cannot call up such thoughts any day in the year. Then do not select the merriest of the three hundred and sixty-five for your doleful recollections, but draw your chair nearer the fire—fill the glass, and send round the song—and, if your room be smaller than it was a dozen years ago, or if your glass is filled with reeking punch instead of sparkling wine, put a good face on the matter, and empty it off-hand, and fill another, and troll off the old ditty you used to sing, and thank God it’s no worse.”

I love this quote, because it reminds me that Christmas isn’t about stuff, but about family and love. It’s one time of year we can all choose to be happy, cheerful, kind, and loving. And I hope that wherever you are, and whatever holiday you’re celebrating this season, that it’s happy and cheerful and full of love.

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December Reads & Recs // The Theme of Magic

I go crazy this time of year with Christmas. So when I thought about what books I’d like to read to make the season merry and bright, I thought of magic. But not Harry Potter-type magic, but rather the kind of magic that’s related to fate and love. So for the month of December I’d like to read these three books:

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1. In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin

I tried reading this book three times and didn’t get far, for some reason. But it has everything I love: a romantic story, a cheesy magical plot, history, war, flashbacks, et cetera.

2. Forever by Pete Hamill

I first started reading this book when I was a senior in high school. I think my bookmark is still wedged somewhere around page 100. Even though I stopped reading it inexplicably halfway through, the story stuck with me. I have been meaning to read it again for the past couple years, and I think December is the perfect time.

These two books also have another thing in common: New York. I’ve been on a New York-themed kick this year with my reading and I’m eager for it to continue. It also reminds me of Christmas in New York, which is a magical experience—despite the man-eating crowds. Nothing is more poetic to me than a snow-blanketed New York, when even the stoplights look festive and everything glitters with twinkle lights from every window. Christmas in New York is one of my favorite feelings.

And lastly:

3. A Christmas Carol

This is my yearly tradition, reading Dickens’s classic story right before Christmas Day. It gets me thinking about the true spirit of the season.

What’s on your reading lists this month?

2013 Book Round-Up

Many, many books were read this year. Here’s the list–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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  1. AbaratI thought this light-hearted, richly illustrated YA fantasy book would be an interesting diversion from more serious fiction, but I hated the first one and didn’t read the sequels, then quickly sold my copy. Oh, well!
  2. Norwegian Wood: Another slight disappointment, you can read my full review here. I think I chose the wrong Murakami to start with, but I shall keep on keeping on.
  3. The Iliad: Who doesn’t love The Iliad? Had to re-read it for class, and thoroughly enjoyed new interpretations.
  4. Inkheart: This was one of my favorite books was I was a young teen, and I re-read the series this year for the sake of nostalgia, and it was wonderful.
  5. Inkspell: the sequel to Inkheart
  6. Inkdeath: the sequel to Inkspell
  7. The Hobbit: I read The Hobbit for the first time this year and found it delightful, although I did like Lord of the Rings better.
  8. The Lord of the Rings: This was actually my first time reading it, and I can see why Tolkien influenced nearly a hundred years of fantasy writers, and basically invented an entire genre. Still, in the past century, no one has surpassed Tolkien, or even come close. One of my absolute favorites.
  9. Paradise Lost: I cannot extol my love for this epic poem enough. It’s absurdly beautiful, and somewhat proto-feminist. And, in the words of my John Milton professor of senior year, “Adam is a total wank.” Read more…
  10. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist: I read this when I was quite young, and re-read it this year. It’s fun and very teen-angsty, but in a good way.
  11. The Great Gatsby: re-read it in preparation for the movie, which I loved.
  12. Muse: Out of This World: The official “biography” of my favorite band; such an amazing read.
  13. This Side of Paradise: Fitzgerald’s first novel, heavily autobiographical and somewhat piecemeal, but it was a treat.
  14. 1984: The scariest book I have ever read, and the standard by which I now judge every single dystopian novel or film. No one does it better than Orwell.
  15. Cloud Atlas: Amazing! Full review here.
  16. The Cuckoo’s Calling: When the world found out JK Rowling had written a secret book, I was among the millions to immediately buy the book, and it kept me guessing throughout. I can’t wait for the next installment.
  17. Green Darkness: A sophisticated historical fiction novel from another era, before historical fiction turned into bodice-rippers (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with bodice-rippers!).
  18. Water for Elephants: This one tested my patience, and severely disappointed me, what with my love for circuses and psychosis.
  19. Middlesex: One of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
  20. The Marriage Plot: Though my least favorite Eugenides, this novel is still worth a read. A slim book, it shouldn’t take too much of your precious book-reading time.
  21. Conversations with EVE: I reviewed this new feminist theory book for Gender Focus. See it here.
  22. My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: a collection of love stories written by Jeffrey Eugenides; not as good as I was hoping, though.
  23. The Fire Gospel: Michel Faber’s novella satirizing The Da Vinci Code, an interesting read.
  24. The Courage Consort: a collection of three novellas by Michel Faber. I enjoyed “The Fahrenheit Twins” the best.
  25. Some Rain Must Fall: my favorite work by Faber so far, apart from The Crimson Petal and the White. This collection of short stories is wonderful.
  26. By The River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept: FIVE STARS WAY UP or something like that. This book blew me away.
  27. Madame Bovary: “Emma Bovary, c’est moi.” In the words of the immortal Summer Roberts from The OC: “It was kind of a bummer. I mean, I know Emma got her heart, like, totally broken, but why did she have to go and eat arsenic?”
  28. A Christmas Carol: my Christmas tradition, and always wonderful to read! This year I fell asleep in front of my tree while reading it and eating milk and cookies…it was ridiculous.

Only 28 books this year: such a disappointment. In my defense, I did begin a blog this year, a huge goal for me. Thanks all for visiting, commenting, and following. I promise more books and clothes in the near future. Happy New Year!

Thoughts on "A Christmas Carol"

Well my first thought is always, is Bob Cratchit played by Kermit the Frog in this version? Every year I read A Christmas Carol in preparation for Christmas, and I’m always surprised and pleased by the richness of the narrative in its original, undiluted by hundreds of renditions and yes, the odd Muppet here and there (that’s also my favorite movie adaptation, because of course). A Christmas Carol is a chilling thriller as well as a heart-warming tale, full of commentary on greed, financial disparity, controversial Malthusian theory, and the spirit of Christmas. In the words of the gigantic puppet who played the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Muppet Christmas Carol, Christmas “is the summer of the soul in December.” (I also like the singing mice 🙂 )

Photo Dec 26, 5 07 01 PMA Christmas Carol is also about the terror that comes with realizing you’re mortal, and the consequences of living not just an immoral, but an ungenerous life. In this era, we’ve learned to treat charity and good works as something unnecessary and sometimes onerous, something that other, better people do. Normal people can’t do things like join the Peace Corps or donate huge amounts of money to charities, and more often than not, the concept of charity either slips our minds, or we hold it in contempt.

A Christmas Carol makes it clear that it is everyone’s duty to care and provide for others, regardless of what you have. It is not only the rich that should give back; everyone has the means to help others, and not just with donations of money or goods. The Ghost of Christmas Present spreads good cheer among the poor and rich people of London, sprinkling water from a handy cornucopia that causes people to stop bickering, makes them stop and count their blessings, makes them more likely to treat their fellow man, in the words of Scrooge’s nephew, as “fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” That’s the true spirit of Christmas: compassion for others.

Good works often don’t mean money. It means kind words and actions, it means shifting the focus of your day from yourself to others, often in the most seemingly inconsequential ways that could make a world of difference. It means staying positive and spreading that positivity to others. It’s about helping others unselfishly. And it’s easier than it seems.

But back to mortality. I find it very interesting that the terror of death forces Scrooge into kindness. True, after his encounter with The Ghost of Christmas Past, it’s the introspection that follows the reliving of his difficult childhood that softens him up, but Scrooge’s moment of repentance occurs because he’s so terrified of experiencing Jacob Marley’s cruel afterlife, to be “captive, bound, and double-ironed,” doomed to want to help others but have no means of doing so. He’s horrified by death (which is right around the corner for Scrooge) and turns to religion, so to speak. He is quite literally a deathbed convert, and Dickens knows this. He could have made Scrooge a much younger man, but the protagonist’s age makes it clear how much contempt Dickens has for those who waste their lives in youth and only grow kind because they’re afraid of death and consequences in the afterlife. It’s hypocritical. Still, it’s not a pessimistic tale: for Scrooge, it’s never too late. He becomes the epitome of the spirit of Christmas, and truly. It just took an encounter with death to wake him up.

So that’s it. Just some thoughts on this little novel that has become so woven into Christmas culture. It’s wonderful to sit and read it.