While Chip is vacationing in Hawaii, look for posts from the rest of the MacGregor Literary staff. Not surprisingly, “Favorite Books” is the topic of choice for our crowd of book lovers. Don’t be afraid to chime in with your thoughts on these top picks.
Erin Buterbaugh is our newest agent; her areas of interest include children’s, middle-grade, and YA fiction, as well as women’s fiction, suspense, and non-fiction.
Okay, first of all, I want everyone to appreciate the fact that I’m writing this blog entry at 12:49 a.m. the day it’s supposed to be posted, not because I put it off all week, but because that’s how crippling I found the task of picking my “favorite” book to blog on. Seriously. I’m one of those people who stand, helpless, for hours in the deodorant aisle, eyes glazed over, unable to cope with the four dozen choices before her, so you can imagine my complete apoplexy when attempting to pick out one favorite book from my overstuffed bookshelves. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Since I have more to do in the next three months than to create a system by which I compare every book I’ve ever read and definitively pick the favorite, I decided instead to narrow it down to my favorite book within a category, which I realize is a total cop-out, but one that I’ll hopefully get away with because I’m the new kid and everyone’s still being really nice to me. In honor of last Friday being Friday the 13th, I decided to go with my favorite ghost story. One of Poe’s, you ask? Nope. Well, then, perhaps Washington Irving’s THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW? Wrong again! My favorite ghost story comes from that well-known master of the supernatural thriller, Charles Dickens, and is entitled A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
(If you think I’m cheating further by trying to pass off a Christmas book as a ghost story, I appeal to the original preface to the work, from the pen of Mr. Dickens himself: “I have endeavored in this ghostly little book, to raise the ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly…” Ha! It’s a ghost story.
I’ve kept a yearly Christmas Eve date with A CHRISTMAS CAROL since I was in high school, and though Barbie, VeggieTales, the Muppets (my favorite), Looney Tunes, and countless made-for-tv movies have done and re-done the Scrooge storyline nearly to death, the book somehow never seems the least bit threadbare or faded when I revisit it. Dickens’ prose is sparkling, comical, overflowing with characterization that never makes it into the movie versions. (My personal favorite is the account of the water-plug in the freezing London streets on Christmas Eve, which, the men laboring on it having left it to gather around a fire: “…being left in solitude, its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice.” Yes, this is a fire-hydrant the man is writing about with such color and animation.)
In the shops on Christmas Eve, description that might seem excessive in the average book (when’s the last time you savored a three-page description of a grocery store?) flaunts its extravagance, tantalizing the reader with the bounty and luxury of words as unnecessary but as delightful as the seasonal treats in the grocers’ windows. “…there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle-deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk biffins, squat and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.” I can’t read that without craving a Norfolk biffin, and I don’t have the slightest idea what a Norfolk biffin is.
Now, I admit that A CHRISTMAS CAROL doesn’t fall into the normal family of “ghost stories” in that that its four main ghosts—Marley, Past, Present, and Future—aren’t supposed to be particularly frightening, but there are several darker phantasms in the book that are absent from most (though not all) stage and film treatments. Consider the children found clinging to the second ghost’s robes at the end of his time with Scrooge, children whom a “stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled…into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing.” Yeesh. The children, Want and Ignorance, show in stark relief to the revelry and plenty which otherwise characterize the second spirit’s visit, and their appearance and contrast to the preceding part of the chapter chills me quite as much as it does Scrooge.
The moral of most Christmas-themed stories and movies, at least, those purporting to have a “moral,” seems to be that the trappings of Christmas aren’t important, that the real focus of the holiday should be on Jesus (or family, or the warm fuzzy feeling we get from Santa Claus—the “morals” of these Christmas stories have gotten more wishy-washy over the years). And while I agree that the real focus of the holiday should be Jesus, the argument A CHRISTMAS CAROL makes is that the trappings of Christmas—food, parties, gifts, games—are important, that compassion and hospitality are graces granted to us exclusively during our time on earth, and which we should revel in being able to employ during our short pilgrimage here.
One of my favorite passages, describing Scrooge, post-visitations: “Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”
And now it’s about time for the second ghost to appear (on the stroke of two, if you remember), and I’m typing with one eye shut, but quite as well to have bags under my eyes tomorrow because I stayed up late rhapsodizing about one of my favorite books as to have the malady in less attractive forms. Merry Christmas!