A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth

That old chestnut? Yeah, I read it as kid...or saw the play, same thing. I'll bet I could practically recite it word for word in my sleep. Why, just the other night it was on television...you remember, the one with Bill Murray? If this is your attitude when someone brings up Charles Dickens's devastating story of spiritual decay and desperate renewal, it's probably time to find yourself a copy of the original, just so you can truly recall what all the fuss was about in the first place. The famous plot is what we know perhaps too well, but take a moment to savor Dickens as a wizard of description and comparison, as much here as in Bleak House or Great Expectations. Here, as in The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth, the body and its needs are often the source of inspiration: a caroler's nose is "gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs," a fiddler tunes his instrument "like fifty stomach-aches," and Scrooge visits his future grave in a churchyard "choked up with too much burying; fat with repleted appetite." Of course, Dickens earned his reputation as a sentimentalist but backed up his tear-jerking craftsmanship with an implacable emotional appeal. Scrooge is no stage cariacature of a miser but a reflection of the human heart, just as important (and as worth saving from misery) as Tiny Tim. Darker and wiser than they're given credit for being, these tales are true gifts to readers, from an imagination that was nothing if not generous to a fault. -

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.