Sunday Post #39: The Last Sunday of the Year

Sunday Post

It has been a little while since I’ve written a Sunday Post entry. December proved to be a busy month, and I have to confess that time off on Sundays wasn’t really spent writing and reflecting so much as trying to catch my breath before Monday.

I have been off work for a week’s vacation and have one more week before returning. Aside from some grading, which I will need to make some time to do in the coming week, I was able to catch up before vacation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of baking, as I typically do over the holidays: gingerbread, cookies, scones on Christmas.

My husband is visiting his parents in Tennessee, and I know they’ll be glad to visit with him. It’s pretty quiet around here without him. Not that he makes a ton of noise or anything, but you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, I have been finishing books quickly. I finished the following books since my last Sunday Post entry:

I am in the middle of a re-read of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, this time as an audio book, and man, am I ever reminded of why I love that book so much. And yet again, it has reminded me of why the French Revolution is so endlessly fascinating. I am currently watching a History Channel documentary of the French Revolution on YouTube. I am reminded once again that I still haven’t read Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama, though I have a hardcover copy, nor have I finished Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser or Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The Marie Antoinette biography has been in my sidebar for a long time. I would love to find another really good historical fiction book set in the French Revolution. I have already read Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. I am not sure about Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety. Have you read it? What did you think? I absolutely loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, but I wasn’t sure about this one. The reviews are not as glowing, and it’s a long book to commit to. I ought to just take the plunge. I’ve been thinking about reading it long enough.

I’ve had a quiet last Sunday of the year with my kids. All in all an enjoyable day reading and relaxing.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Review: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, narrated by Tim Curry

I celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas morning while I baked by listening to Tim Curry narrate my all-time favorite Christmas book, A Christmas Carol. I suppose it’s a lot of people’s favorites. It has been a favorite story of mine, even before I ever read the book, since I was a child.

Each time I read the story, I’m struck again by Charles Dickens’s brilliance with characterization. We who want to write should all read Dickens. He’s a master class in himself. Is there a story that has a more lasting impact on our consciousness than A Christmas Carol? We can all name exactly what it is to be a Scrooge. One might argue the very Christmas we celebrate was just about invented by Dickens. So while it seems a bit unnecessary to review the actual book here, I will share my thoughts about Tim Curry’s reading.

I admit I wasn’t too sure I’d like Tim Curry reading this novella. I like Tim Curry. But when I think of him, I think of bad guys, like Pennywise the Clown. Actually, I suppose Scrooge is a bit of a bad guy, but given he’s redeemed in the end, I tend not to think of him that way. Audible had a $0.99 special on this book, however, so I decided to give it a chance.

Tim Curry’s reading is mostly pretty awesome, especially his characterization of Scrooge and even more especially his characterization of the folks at the end who are selling off Scrooge’s things in the vision Scrooge sees of the future. On the other hand, I found his characterization of the Cratchits lacking. They lacked the warmth I usually like to see in their interactions. I’m a ridiculous sucker for Tiny Tim. I cry every single time he dies in the future that Scrooge sees. I will say, however, that Curry’s rendition of the scene in which Bob Cratchit breaks down after seeing where Tim will be buried was outstanding.

Quite an enjoyable narration and a welcome addition to my audio book library. This book was meant to be read aloud. I have read that Dickens’s own performance of it was quite something to see.

I watched two different staged versions of this story this year (both excellent), listened to the audio, and am currently watching the film with George C. Scott. My favorite film version is the one with Patrick Stewart, but I wasn’t able to find it on this year. I don’t think the Christmas season would be complete for me without some version of this story. Louis Bayard wrote a sequel about Tim Cratchit called Mr. Timothy. If you are curious, a doctor thinks he’s figured out what was wrong with Tiny Tim.

Merry Christmas to all, and as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, every one.”

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★½

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Review: Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard

Mr. Timothy: A NovelCharles Dickens’s [amazon_link id=”0486268659″ target=”_blank” ]yarn about the redeeming power of Christmas[/amazon_link] is one of my all-time favorite stories. I try to watch a version of it every year, and one year, I read the book itself. When Mr. Timothy came across my radar, I couldn’t resist. I think I requested the book on PaperBackSwap. And then it sat unread on my shelf for quite some time.

In Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard takes up the story of Tiny Tim Cratchit, all grown up and mourning the recent passing of his father. Aside from saying “God bless us, every one,” Tiny Tim is probably most famous for being the saintly crippled child who finally melted old Ebenezer Scrooge’s icy heart. When Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present if Tiny Tim will live, the ghost replies, flinging Scrooge’s own words back at him: “If he be like to die he had better do it and decrease the surplus population.” Louis Bayard imagines a Timothy Cratchit who is altogether crushed under the [amazon_link id=”0486415864″ target=”_blank” ]weight of expectations[/amazon_link] of having survived and received the beneficence of the former “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” He has grown up, but who has he become? He is as lost, in his way, as Ebenezer Scrooge. He lives in a whorehouse, where he pays for his room and board by teaching the madam to read. His parents are gone, and he is reduced to taking handouts from Uncle N (old Uncle Scrooge, that is). He hates himself for being unable to cut the purse strings, but he seems stuck, unable to do anything with his life. Then he finds the bodies of two girls, curiously branded with a letter G, and he discovers another lost little girl being hunted, and fearing she will be next to die, Timothy enlists the help of a foul-mouthed street urchin to save her. What he uncovers is the grossest exploitation of the lower classes by the upper echelons of British society. But is he the man to do anything about it? Bob Cratchit once said that in church, Tim said he was happy that others could see him in church and remember, on Christmas Day, who it was who made blind men see and lame beggars walk. Grown up Mr. Timothy insists he never said any such thing—his father only wished that he had. When it really counts, can Timothy Cratchit really offer salvation to anyone? Can he even save himself?

A page-turning tale of Victorian gothic suspense, this novel really begins to pick up once Timothy is hot on the trail of the people at the center of a horrific child slavery ring. Do not look for Dickens in this novel, though I admit he shows up a bit in chapter 16, when Timothy Cratchit is brought before a magistrate on trumped up charges of sexual assault. I love the description of the lawyer Peter Cratchit has engaged to defend his brother:

A stout, whey-skinned man with a decamping hairline and advancing whiskers, soldierly red on both fronts. The hand he presents to me is quite damp, and there is a prevailing humidity all about his person: wet eyes, wet lips, wet teeth … and, exhaling from his pores, an effluvium that, unless my nostrils deceive me, represents the final gaseous iteration of imported Jamaican rum. … There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Sheldrake exudes confidence. (213)

The whole chapter through had me chuckling, and brought to mind Dickens’s own way with characterization and scenecraft.

Bayard deftly captures the soot begrimed streets of Victorian London, from the refuse in the streets, to the cabbies, to stately manors behind lacy wrought iron fences. Timothy’s character winds up being believable. He has so long been the protagonist of a narrative written by others, as he reflects, that it is easy to see how he might lose his way and find it necessary to discover who he really is. If you are looking for the squeaky clean, cherubic Tiny Tim of myth in this story, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a different sort of tale of redemption, Mr. Timothy should do nicely.

Rating: ★★★★½

Check out these other reviews of Mr. Timothy:

Mr. Timothy is the first historical fiction book to count towards the 2014 Historical Fiction Challenge.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Everyone Has Read but Me…

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday focuses on the top ten books I feel as though everyone has read but me. I went to three different high schools. I can’t remember reading a single book for school during all of tenth grade. In fact, all I remember about that year was doing grammar exercises out of the Warriner’s grammar book and feeling that our teacher hated us. Eleventh and twelfth grade were better, but I still managed to graduate from high school (and college, as an English major no less) without having been required to read a lot of books that seem to be staples in the canon.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0452284236″ target=”_blank” ]Nineteen Eighty-Four[/amazon_link] by George Orwell. I actually do want to read this one, and I had every intention of reading it this year, but I think you have to be in a mood for dystopian literature, and frankly, that mood hasn’t happened this year.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0142000671″ target=”_blank” ]Of Mice and Men[/amazon_link] by John Steinbeck. I’ve seen the movie many times, and it’s not like it’s a long book. It’s just that, well, the mood thing. At least that’s my excuse for not reading it this year. You know, I put together this reading challenge specifically to address some of these deficiencies, and I read all of one book for it.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0143039431″ target=”_blank” ]The Grapes of Wrath[/amazon_link] by John Steinbeck. Ditto.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0307454541″ target=”_blank” ]The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo[/amazon_link] by Stieg Larson. Not sure I want to read it, but man, hasn’t everyone else?
  5. [amazon_link id=”0307594009″ target=”_blank” ]Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl[/amazon_link] by Anne Frank. I somehow never got around to this one. I teach at a Jewish school, but the students tend to read it in middle school now.
  6. [amazon_link id=”B000XSKDH4″ target=”_blank” ]Anne of Green Gables[/amazon_link] by L.M. Montgomery. Would I like this? I was never sure, so I never picked it up. Now it almost feels too late to bother.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1420929089″ target=”_blank” ]Little Women[/amazon_link] by Louisa May Alcott. Even my husband has read this book. I never really wanted to, but it sure seems like everyone else has read it.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0375842209″ target=”_blank” ]The Book Thief[/amazon_link] by Marcus Zusak. I have finally been convinced to put this on my TBR pile, but frankly, I avoid books about the Holocaust mainly because it was such a tragic event—many of my students’ grandparents are Holocaust survivors—and sometimes I feel that books and movies try to capitalize on it. It’s hard to explain how I feel. It’s sort of like writing a college admissions essay that deals with your brother being killed by a drunk driver—the admissions committee looks callous if they pick at your writing ability with a subject so fraught with emotion, but the point behind the essay is to evaluate your writing ability. It’s a form of manipulation. That’s how I feel about Holocaust books and movies—it’s almost impossible to criticize them because you look like a horrible person. Case in point, [amazon_link id=”0198326769″ target=”_blank” ]The Boy in the Striped Pajamas[/amazon_link] probably couldn’t have happened in reality because of the manner in which the Nazis dealt with children during the Holocaust, and yet, how do you point that out without looking like a complete ass? I should just stop because you probably think I’m a horrible person.
  9. [amazon_link id=”1594480001″ target=”_blank” ]The Kite Runner[/amazon_link] by Khaled Hosseini. I started this one, but didn’t get far. My daughter has read it. She said it’s excellent.
  10. [amazon_link id=”1451626657″ target=”_blank” ]Catch-22[/amazon_link] by Joseph Heller. This seems to be some kind of staple of teens/twenties. I don’t know how I passed the threshold into the my thirties without having my book passport stamped with this one, but I snuck by somehow. And now that I’m officially in my 40’s, I’m just not even sure I’d want to bother.

In addition to these books, I haven’t read much Kurt Vonnegut at all (that is, I have read one short story). I’ve also read precious little Dickens ([amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]A Tale of Two Cities[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]Great Expectations[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”1612930336″ target=”_blank” ]A Christmas Carol[/amazon_link] being the only selections I’ve read).

However! Before the admonitions start in the comments, I would like to add that I have read all of the following books that seem to be cropping up on these lists on other peoples’ blogs today:

  • [amazon_link id=”B003GCTQ7M” target=”_blank” ]Moby Dick[/amazon_link] by Herman Melville
  • [amazon_link id=”B003VYBQPK” target=”_blank” ]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/amazon_link] by Mark Twain
  • [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell to Arms[/amazon_link] by Ernest Hemingway
  • [amazon_link id=”0679723161″ target=”_blank” ]Lolita[/amazon_link] by Vladimir Nabokov
  • [amazon_link id=”0199536368″ target=”_blank” ]Crime and Punishment[/amazon_link] by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • [amazon_link id=”0143105442″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link] by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • All of Jane Austen’s completed books (the six novels)
  • [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link] by Charlotte and Emily Brontë respectively

So, I am not a complete slouch.

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