presenting a few of my favourites
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
"Marley was dead, to begin with." He gave the opening line a neutral, conversational tone, which contrasted marvellously with the tingle of excitement running through us as finally, after dinner, coffee and cigarette (for him) we settled on the couch to let the yearly ritual begin. But by the time we got to "What a turkey! There never was such a turkey", the words were rolling forth in inspired waves, pulling you under into their oceans of gusto and jollity. Finally I could forget the terrifying chapter where the ghostly hand draws back Scrooge's bedcurtains, which would keep me awake for hours afterward with the sheet drawn up to my eyes, casting my eyes about in the dark to make sure no ghost could creep up on me unannounced.
The reading was dosed so that the final triumphant chapter would fall on Christmas Eve. When we got to the lines "And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge" my father read them out with such heart that I had to agree with my sister, thirty or more years later, when she suggested it would be the single best phrase to remember him by.
You can read both the abridged version of A Christmas Carol, which Dickens used to read aloud on his incredibly popular author tours, and the longer version, at dickenschristmascarol.com.
And while you're at it, visit David Perdue's wonderful site, the Charles Dickens Page, where The Christmas Carol page offers links to illustrations, maps of Dickens's London, even things like Dickens's original accounts page for A Christmas Carol (6000 copies sold the first day). At the very bottom, there is this jewel from A Christmas Carol:
"It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself."
A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."
Even if you didn't grow up where it snowed, A Child's Christmas in Wales will be one of the stories most evocative of Christmas you'll ever read, which shows you what a great poet can do. It's all there: the panoply of human types -- the imbibing aunts, the snoozing uncles, the human arts of music and conversation, the human love of sweets, and the mysteries of human time which is both unstoppable and yet capable of preserving some things for you forever.
One of the very best ways to experience A Child's Christmas in Wales is to hear Dylan Thomas reading it aloud. It takes 20 minutes on the wonderful Caedmon collection of Dylan Thomas recordings, 11 CDs where he reads his work and the work of others, including Shakespeare, which you can get from the library. But you will probably enjoy it so much that you'll want to hear more.
The Gift of the Magi by O.HenryI am always telling people to read this beautiful little turn-of-the-century story by O.Henry about, as they say, the meaning of Christmas. O.Henry is famous for short stories with a twist ending, often given you to read in school as ambassadors for the form, also because mostly they are very funny - The Ransom of Red Chief about the kidnapping of a little boy so annoying that in the end the kidnappers are willing to pay the family to take him back is one of my favourites. But The Gift of the Magi is sad and sentimental. Approach it with an open mind and you won't be disappointed. You can read it on the Literature Collection website.
O.Henry, a romantic figure (although he always demurred on this) who had headed west from the Carolinas as a young man to work on a cattle ranch, spent time in prison for embezzling bank money, which he may or may not have done -- he first ran off to Central America, to somewhere for which he later invented the term "banana republic", but returned to the United States to be with his wife who was dying of tuberculosis, entering prison the next year and spending three years there -- said "There are stories in everything. I've got some of my best yarns from park benches, lampposts, and newspaper stands."
Who knows what stories you might get from this bench - in Christmas colours, note - photographed in front of an Irish library?
|Book bench by Irish typepad|