Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas books and Dickens' manuscript

Hey, have you seen this? The Morgan Library has allowed the New York Times to reproduce, online, the full manuscript of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," the story that is now about to celebrate its 166th, and last, Jim-Carrey-free year. Rhian and I actually saw the manuscript--or, anyway, a single page of it--at the Morgan one year; they display it one page at a time. Now you can plough through the whole thing, and compare notes with the rest of the internet.

The amazing thing about the manuscript is how much it looks like a manuscript you or I might be working on. Well--ours would probably be inkjet-printed. But the process is the same, the feel of the endeavor is the same. It is entertaining to see the Times' critics dissect the work:

Unwilling to believe that he is being visited by ghosts, Scrooge defiantly tells one spirit that he might be nothing more than the product of indigestion, "more of gravy than of grave about you.'' One way Dickens tweaks this speech is he substitutes the more bland description of a "spot of mustard" for the more visceral "blot of mustard."

That's a lot of words to spill about the change of a single letter, but we can only hope, fervently and in vain, that future readers will get their rocks off the same way while poring over our forgotten 3.5-inch floppies.

The most remarkable thing about "A Christmas Carol," of course, is that it is a Christmas story that doesn't completely suck. There aren't many, are there? We like Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" (Rhian turned me onto it, as well as the BBC film of it, some years ago), but I can't think of any others offhand.

So what do you think? Got a Christmas book you actually like? Not that we'll go rushing out and buy it, or anything.

16 comments:

sjwoo said...

Looking at this makes me wonder if I should enable Tracking on Word. But then again, if I delete something, it's probably because it wasn't worth keeping in the first place. Still...this is why paper is awesome.

It's funny you should mention 3.5" floppies. Last night, I took it out of my desktop machine and replaced it with a multicard reader (for digicam SD cards and such). It's been a very long time since I used one of those...

George F. Snell III said...

Difficult to write a Christmas story that doesn't turn out sappy. I'm a sucker for the movie "It's A Wonderful Life," mostly because it is actually a very dark, disturbing story - about a man driven to the verge of suicide. It's got pettiness, jealousy, and lots of bitterness too boot.

But that's a film, not a book. How about Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas?" Or the O. Henry short story "Gift of the Magi?"

Shauna said...

Dylan Thomas's - A Child's Christmas in Wales. Terrific!

jrlennon said...

Dylan Thomas, duh, yeah, of course! We were reading it to the kids for a few years there...

I don't think I can judge the Grinch and the Magi anymore...I think they are good stories?

sjwoo, I can't believe you still own a computer that came with a floppy drive.

bigscarygiraffe said...

William S. Burroughs, The Junky's Christmas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6U8YvnpB9IM

James (Mr. 5redpandas) said...

Washington Irving wrote a series of sketches (ostensibly fictional, but there's not much of a narrative to them, per se) about Christmas in England that are very entertaining. You can find them in -The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.- (It's the same collection that yielded Irviing's two big "hits," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle").

I can see how he might have influenced Dickens. Irving mixes humorous description (and light satire at the expense of English nobility), detailed observation and a touch of melancholy (yes, the idea that Christmases past was superior to the present holiday was around back in 1820). The Christmas sketches are probably closer in style to Dickens' own sketches than A Christmas Carol, but they're worth reading.

ed skoog said...

Does "Light in August" count? Its main character is Joe Christmas.

Richard Ford's "The Sportswriter" is a Thanksgiving book. "The Moviegoer" is an Easter book.

Welty's story "A Worn Path" is very much a Christmas story, a good one.

Of course Cheever's "Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor."

Isn't Robert Stone's "Waiting" a Christmas story? A winter story, at least.

ed skoog said...

This isn't a christmas story, but it's Tom Drury, and everything he writes is a little Christmas. A movie thing: http://dlf.tv/2009/pathlights/

E.W.J. Mulch: said...

JRL: I hope you somehow missed Mark Richard's wonderful little gem "All the Trimmings" published in Harper's a few years back--because that would give me the pleasure of introducing you:

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2002/12/0079423

Kind of violent, as Christmas stories go, but beautiful ending.

Diana Holquist said...

David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries. One of the funniest stories ever written. I read it w/ my kids every year at xmas time.

Maybe I shouldn't admit that.

Nevermind.

Happy holidays to all!

Lily said...

My kids are fond of the Best (worst) Christmas Pageant Ever. And just the other day I was wondering if Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel is any good. I've never read him, but keeping running into people who think he's very funny.

Pete said...

Wow. 166 Jim-Carrey-free years - quite an impressive run. Poor old Dr. Seuss only made it to 43.

Melody Fohr said...

I always read and re-read and re-re-read the Christmas parts of the Little House books growing up, as they were always cheerful with a happy ending. May not have been the case in reality, but the fictionalized version was pretty uplifting for a little girl who never had a Happy Christmas.

And it may not count, but there is an absolutely hysterical take-off of Clement Clarke Moore called "A Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas" with a grumpy old Belsnickel whose buggy and cows crash through the roof into the protagonist's bedroom. Meant for children, I re-read this one every year as well.

jrlennon said...

These are great suggestions. Mel, your idea of rereading bits of the Wilder books is great...because I was a guy, I never read these until I grew up...they are simply wonderful.

The PA Dutch Night Before reminds me of that song I'm sure will be instantly familiar to you...hey now, let's get down...let's all go to Allentown...

rmellis said...

There is a book called "The Country Child" by Allison Uttley that has some of the most wonderfully evocative descriptions of Christmas -- I used to read them every year.

Diana, I'm definitely going to read my kids The Santaland Diaries.

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