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. -

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).