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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My favorite quotes from ‘Great Expectations’

Earlier this month I read Great Expectations, and previously, the only other Charles Dickens books I’d read were Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. Recently, I’ve been making an effort to read the classics, and since this is where I talk about books, I thought I’d share some thoughts, highlights, and favorite moments from Great Expectations, a classic, beloved story (because clearly, “reviewing” the classics is utterly useless!).

great expectationsEven if you haven’t read Great Expectations, you probably know a little about the story: a poor little boy named Pip lives with his sister and her husband, and is set to be a blacksmith when he gets older. However, he has these wild fantasies of being a gentleman, and is ashamed of his poverty, his low status in society, and of his family, who are like him. His “great expectations” are to be a proper gentleman (and to come into money), and eventually, he gets what he wants—but not the way he thought he would.

Along the way, he meets people from all corners of society, and learns that social circles and maintaining status are difficult and superficial. There’s Miss Havisham, an old woman who has never changed out of her wedding dress (or thrown away the cake) since her groom abandoned her on her wedding day decades ago.

There’s also Estella, the adopted child of Miss Havisham, who was raised to be a weapon by which Miss Havisham can get back at men for what her groom did to her. There’s also Joe Gargery, the simple, proud, and loving father figure to Pip, whom Pip utterly abandons when he comes into money. And then there’s Pip himself, a man who has a good heart, but whose obsession with money and status makes him forsake the people who loved him unconditionally.

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My new commute and my need to read

Last week, I mentioned here that I’ve started a new job. Prior to this, I had worked from home and so I basically went to bed whenever I wanted, woke up with just enough time to start a shift, and had zero commute, obviously! But this new job is over an hour away and so my schedule has changed drastically.

I’m such a night person, but now I wake up at 6 and I don’t usually get home before 7:30, and sometimes even around 9 o’clock. Since I really like the job, I don’t mind the hours, but it’s the fact that I don’t have time for much else that bothered me in the beginning. I’m used to my hobbies: reading, writing, obviously writing this blog, and doing creative things. So in an effort to multitask on my hour-and-a-half long drive, I’ve started listening to audiobooks.

And it’s awesome! I’ve never been an audio “reader,” and I never thought it would be easy to concentrate while driving, but it turns out that listening to a book is not only a great use of my three hours/day commute, but it’s also much more calming than listening to music is. I’ve made it my mission to stay as focused as possible on my hobbies despite the long hours of the job, and I feel like listening to books rather than reading them is a great compromise, and as an added bonus, there were so many resources I found online that offer free audiobooks.

Right now, I’m listening to Great Expectations, a book I have had on my TBR for years. I “read” about 200 pages (according to a corresponding physical copy I already owned) during my commute this past week, and I’m going to make it my mission to “read” the big classics like this.

It’s twofold: listening to books sort of takes away the effort of getting into a difficult novel. It’s more passive than reading since it’s being read to you and so it’s sort of mindless—in a good way. After Great Expectations, I’m going to read Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and then maybe War and Peace, both books I’ve been meaning to read forever but never had the time to devote to getting into it. Audiobooks and my commute turned out to be a perfect combination.

Here are some free resources if you want to listen to the classics on your downtime, and finally get around to reading those books you always meant to: Librophile.com, LoyalBooks.com (where I found Great Expectations), LibriVox, and Audiobooks.net. I considered an Audible account at first but the $14.95/month price tag put me off. Trying to be economical here!

Note: none of this is sponsored; I just like to read books. 🙂

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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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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.