Book Club Retrospective #2

BLOG #1, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK CLUB RETROSPECTIVE #2
January 7, 2015

It’s time to look back at last year’s book selections and get your feedback as to which ones you liked best, why, and suggestions as to upcoming twelve 2015 book selections. In essence, this is your opportunity to give the professor a grade for the 2014 book selections.

As I look back, judging by your responses, the #1 book selection of the year has to be the October entry: Ralph Moody’s Little Britches. A number of you were introduced to the Moody family read-aloud series ago, and welcomed the opportunity to revisit. Do let me know which other selections you especially enjoyed.

And for all of you who may be interested in climbing aboard for this year’s selections, permit me to bring you up to date. Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Series was born On Oct. 19, 2010, as a result of former students urging me to come back into their lives in a special way: “Dr. Wheeler, years ago, I was in your classes, and you introduced us to books you’ve loved personally—and got me to do the same. I miss those sessions with you! Please, please, do it again. There are millions of books out there, which makes it ever so difficult for me to choose the ones that are really worth reading—especially for people like me who, like you, strongly believe in God and country, and values worth living by.” [a synthesis of responses].

But now, since I couldn’t give anyone a grade and wasn’t ordering books, I have had little control over who bothered to buy the books and read them and who did not. A year ago, a bit discouraged because I didn’t hear back from “members” very often, I asked for feedback. So positive were your responses, and so many told me you were finding copies, reading them, and adding them to your personal libraries, that I decided to keep the series going. A number of you have gone further and told me how meaningful many of the selections have been to you personally.

Such responses really help, for it is time-consuming to keep searching for new books worth including, older books that are worth considering, and books I’ve loved but must re-read before I grant them my personal blessing by choosing them.

Undoubtedly, the world-wide-web has made it easy for any of us to track down copies of even some of the scarcer titles.

It has evolved into a most eclectic mix of genres: non-fiction, contemporary, books children and teens have loved for generations, timeless classics, romantic fiction, westerns, Christmas classics, and so on. It is my hope and prayer that, if you keep my feet to the fire long enough, we’ll end up with a family library that generations yet to come will cherish.

To make it easier for current members to respond, and for non-members to join us, I am including a list of all the book-selections so far with dates the blogs appeared, to make it easier for new members to begin catching up on books they’d like to add to their libraries. Here they are:

OUR FIRST 36 BOOKS

Bergreen, Lawrence, Over the Edge of the World (May 28, 2014)
Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
Conan Doyle, Arthur, The White Company (April 30, 2014)
Dana, Richard Henry, Two Years Before the Mast (March 26, 2014)
Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns, (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
Grey, Zane (1) Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
(2) Riders of the Purple Sage (June 5, 2013)
(3) The Vanishing American (June 30, 2014)
(4) Wanderer of the Wasteland (March 28, 2012)
Hale, Edward Everett, Sr., The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
Hugo, Victor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
Lorenzini, Carlos, Pinocchio (Sept. 24, 2014)
Lowry, Lois, The Giver (Aug. 27, 2014)
Moody, Ralph, Little Britches (Oct. 29, 2014)
Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (April 3, 2013)
Richmond, Grace, (1) Foursquare (Jan. 2, 2013)
(2) The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
Sabatini, Ralph, Scaramouche (Feb. 26, 2014)
Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012) (Nov. 26, 2014)
Sienkiewicz, Henryk, Quo Vadis (Jan. 28, 2014)
Spyri, Johanna, Heidi (July 30, 2014)
Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)
Wiggin, Kate Douglas, The Birds’ Christmas Carol (Nov. 26, 2014)
Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 26, 2011)
Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)

* * * * *

WHAT I NEED FROM YOU

Please weigh in immediately, and identify yourself (if unknown to me) as to interest in book club. Let me know (1) how long you’ve been a member, (2) what percentage of the 36 books you’ve purchased and read, (3) what your reactions are, (4) what grade you’d give me so far, (5) and any other thoughts you might be willing to share. Do this during the next week, please.

Also, suggestions for adding more members, such as starting up a discussion forum on Facebook or other media venues.

You may reach me at:
Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 1246
Conifer, Co 80433
http://www.joewheelerbooks.com
mountainauthor@gmail.com
Wednesdays with Dr. Joe@wordpress.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Kate Douglas Wiggin’s “The Birds’ Christmas Carol”

BLOG #48, SERIES #5
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #36
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN’S THE BIRDS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL

November 26, 2014

Each of you—even those I’ve never had the privilege of hearing from—who honor me by being a member of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club, will no doubt remember that every Christmas I’ve turned back the pages of time to a Christmas book that has warmed my heart down through the years. For our first Christmas (Nov. 23, 2011), we shared two books: Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Abbie Farwell Brown’s The Christmas Angel –Dickens with his inimitable male Scrooge and Brown with her equally memorable female Scrooge.

A year later (Nov. 28, 2012), we shared Lloyd C. Douglas’s moving Home for Christmas. Then last year (Dec. 4, 2013), we journeyed through the ancient East with Henry Van Dyke’s unforgettable Artaban (The Other Wise Man).

(1888 First Edition)

(1888 First Edition)

 

Now, for our fourth Christmas together, I am finally caving in to all the importuning readers over the last 23 years who have repeatedly urged me to include Kate Douglas Wiggin’s beloved little book, The Birds’ Christmas Carol (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1888) in the Christmas in My Heart® series. I never have, because it is too long, but I can make it our 2014 Christmas book of the year.

St. Luke, of course, told us the greatest Christmas story of all. However, it was left to Charles Dickens, in 1843, to gift the world with the first fictional Christmas book: A Christmas Carol.

Twenty-five years later, Louisa May Alcott brought the four Alcott sisters to life at Christmas time, in Little Women (1868-9). Beth has to be one of the most sentimental and most beloved heroines in all family literature. Just as was true in real life, Beth dies way too young. In my American Literature class discussions, even the macho males who initially groused about having to read “a girls’ book”, after reading it admitted to their classmates that they too had wept over Beth.

Twenty years later (1888) Kate Douglas Wiggin built upon Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Alcott’s depiction of Beth to gift her audience with a Beth-like character of her own—Carol Bird.

The author, Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923) was born in Philadelphia, then the family moved to Hollis, MN. She was homeschooled, then studied at various seminaries and academies. When 17, she joined her family in California; after teaching in Santa Barbara, she moved to San Francisco where she established the first free kindergarten on the West Coast. Her first husband, Samuel B. Wiggin, died young; she later married George C. Riggs. She died in England.

(1929 Popular Edition)

(1929 Popular Edition)

Among her books are The Story of Patsy (1883), The Birds’ Christmas Carol (1888), Timothy’s Quest (1890), The Story Hour (with Nora A. Smith, 1890), Polly Oliver’s Problem (1893), A Cathedral Courtship (1893), Penelope’s Progress (1898), The Story of Waitstill Baxter (1913), Ladies in Waiting (1918), her autobiography, My Garden of Memories (1923), and a number of others. But her reputation rests on two books: The Birds’ Christmas Carol and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Both were bestsellers, but Rebecca swept the nation, no small thanks to two movies: the first (1917) was a silent film with an organ score – Francis Marion wrote a splendid screenplay for it, and kept it faithful to the book. The film was directed by Marshal Neilan and starred Mary Pickford, Eugene O’Brien, Josephine Crowell, Helen Jerome Eddy, Charles Ogle, Marjorie Daw, ZaSu Pitts, and Mayme Kelso. According to Derek Elley, “Mary Pickford plays as she never played before, varying lights and shades to elicit the major interest, tearful at one moment and laughing the next. Her support is flawless, embodying many artists of repute.” The second film (1938) all but abandons the original novel in favor of a bouncy musical. It was directed by Allen Dwan, produced by Raymond Griffith, photoplay by Arthur Miller. It had a star-studded cast: Shirley Temple, Randolph Scott, Jack Haley, Gloria Stuart, Helen Westly, Bill Robinson, Phyllis Brooks, Slim Summerville, and William Demarest. As would be expected, Shirley Temple steals the show. The plot: a talented stage child who wins a broadcasting moppet contest.

The Birds’ Christmas Carol was never filmed; nevertheless it benefitted mightily from the two Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms films’ publicity and hype.

You may well ask. Why all the sentimentality in The Birds’ Christmas Carol? Why all the fuss about a girl dying young?

Frontispiece - 1888 Edition

Frontispiece – 1888 Edition

Here’s why: Up until the early 20th century, half of all children died during their childhood or teen years. Since medicine was still in its infancy, sanitation wasn’t even thought of, antibiotics didn’t exist, nostrums were taken seriously, doctors were poorly trained, and hospitals were little used—people tended to be born at home, and die at home. As a result, parents were terrified by any childhood ailment, no matter how minor it might seem. Reason being: there were back then no reliable cures for anything. Most any infliction could end your life. And most women died from childbirth complications because neither doctors nor midwives washed their hands between patients.

Case in point: How well I remember my paternal grandfather, Rollo Wheeler, who though he and Grandma Ruby had eleven children, two of them—little Eva and little Arthur—died young and in his arms at home. So just mention either to him, and he’d weep.

Plus, the 1880s was a most sentimental decade. The traditional family was strong, God and country were celebrated, Father earned the living, and Mother was the almost deified madonna of the home. Children were protected from adult realities and taboos (unlike today). So since death was such an unfathomable mystery, the gradual departure of a young life was both celebrated and sentimentalized.

Offsetting the trauma of Carol’s long decline, Wiggin wisely offset it by the rollicking comic relief represented by the large Ruggles family next door.

Frontispiece: 1929 Edition

Frontispiece: 1929 Edition

 

* * * * *

So, with all this as a preamble, search out an early text. But try to get the Houghton Mifflin original text with original illustrations by H.R.H. But the so-called “Popular Edition” (1929), with color and b/w illustrations by Helen Mason Grose is equally attractive. If at all possible, don’t settle for anything but top condition in this heirloom book. When you read it, block out 21st century realities from your mind and pretend you are a turn-of-the-century reader.

Will be most interested in your reactions.

 

Book Readers Weigh In

BLOG #3, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK READERS WEIGH IN
Part One
January 15, 2014

Ever since readers were asked to respond with their views of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club, responses have been rolling in. Most of the responders clearly want to see the series continue, beginning with this first responder:

I have been following your “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” I really enjoy it, and have read books that I didn’t know existed. I will have to admit that I am still in the process of reading Les Miserables. Since I haven’t seen either the musical or the movie, it is all new. I am sure that I would never have gotten into any of Zane Grey’s books without your suggestions on the blog. They are completely different from my preconceived notion.

I have read, or already own and have read, most of the books. I especially enjoyed the books by Grace Richmond–looked others up on line–The Master’s Violin, City of Bells, and My Friend the Chauffeur–also a couple of other books by the same authors.

What I think I appreciate most is having some guidance on what is worth spending time reading. I have always enjoyed reading, but in a bookstore or online it is pretty daunting to select something of value. I will have to admit to enjoying a bit of romance in the stories.
–Rosalind H.

A second responder wished more of the club members bothered to comment electronically so that there could be more give and take:

I love your book club, please, please, please don’t stop. I look forward to your selections every month. The three I did not read were Wanderer of the Wasteland (one Zane Grey was enough for me), Penrod (I tried, I really did, but I just could not get into it) and Les Miserables (I’d just seen the movie and felt that was enough. Maybe I will read it at a later time). I have read all the rest. I try to get all my books from the library so sometimes I lapse behind. I just got Lassie Come Home from the library. They purchased it for me so it took longer to get. I missed your December 4th posting for The Other Wise Man. I ordered it from the library this morning and they have it on the shelf! Hooray! Hmm, where was I on December 4th? If the library can’t locate a copy for me I then buy the book on-line.

You have introduced me to so many wonderful writings, just a few of my favorites are Anne of Green Gables (okay I’ve read that before and adored it), The Christmas Angel, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Home for Christmas. Grace S. Richmond is a new author for me and I have so enjoyed her books. My Friend the Chauffeur, how charming. In His Steps I so enjoyed. I’ve created a folder on my Goodreads account just for your recommendations.

A couple of times I’ve commented on your blog about the books, but so few folks comment, I guess I just didn’t make it a priority. I apologize for that because I do want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts. And, I don’t want you to stop….

I would love you to recommend some of the books for which you have written the Introduction and the Afterward; they are full of such interesting information as is the information you give in your blog about the author when you recommend a book for the month.

Thank you for your contribution to those of us who love to read and want to read quality, not quantity or fluff. I love to be stretched and find an author I would not have tried otherwise or have never encountered before.
–Kathryn H.

This third responder is typical of those who, while extremely busy, still find time to keep up.

I love the book club blog and faithfully have read most of the books. There are two that I have purchased, but not read yet. I am in school and work full time so these books have become my “fun vacation reading” time.

You have introduced me to several authors that I knew about for years, but had never actually read a full length book by any of them. The following are my favorite authors from the book list so far:

Zane Grey, Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, Myrtle Reed, Grace Richmond, Charles Sheldon.

I have read several books by Zane Grey and Harold Bell Wright beyond what was recommended in the book list. I enjoy your commentaries that include information about the authors as I am then able to search for other books by the same author. My copy of Freckles is the edition you did for Focus on the Family and I especially enjoyed your introduction in that book.

I like the format of the blog and look forward to your emails on Wednesday. I recommend books to my family based on your list. My boys have now read every book by Zane Grey in our library.

Thank you for the time and effort you put into the book club. You are appreciated.
–Michelle S.

This fourth responder is typical of those who list the books they like best but don’t say much about any of them:

I do not know exactly when I began to watch for your Wednesday blog, but have been a fan of yours ever since I bought my first “Christmas in My Heart” book. I have purchased Myrtle Reed’s “The Master’s Violin,” and also a copy of your book on Abraham Lincoln and enjoyed them both. Below is a list of the books I have read at one time or at the behest of your recommendation:

The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (every year at Christmas time)
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon
Foursquare, by Grace Richmond
The Man Without a Country, by Edward Everett Hale
The Master’s Violin, by Myrtle Reed
Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey
The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke (every Christmas)
* Books read per your suggestions.

Please keep up the good work. I enjoy the book club as well as your other blogs about your travels, etc. May the Christmas season be the time of blessing for you and your family.
–Lillian K.

The fifth is a sample of the many heartwarming encouragers who take the time to write me about the joy this club is bringing them.

First of all, I must apologize for never responding about the book club or to voice my deep appreciation. You have brought me untold joy in the discovery of so many new (to me) authors. I have found that your and my tastes are just about the same. I love anything that you recommend and run immediately to the internet to download the book via my Kindle or find a hard copy on Amazon. So please, Dr. Joe, keep it up! I will read your recommendation and then I usually find other books by the same author and devour those as well. Elizabeth Goudge is by far my favorite. I have purchased nearly all of her works and continue to enjoy every one. I love the spirit of her books as they tell a wonderful story but are uplifting at the same time.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing to bless us with your amazing knowledge and wisdom. I feel privileged to be the recipient and I promise to be better about responding to each recommendation so you know that there is someone out there.
–Julie S.

The sixth tells me that grandparents (those who pass on the traditions in their families), continue to see the value of books worth reading.

Thank you for being so faithful in selecting each book. Thank you for providing a synopsis of each book and its relevance within the world in which it was written. Thank you for giving perspective as to why it is relevant to us in today’s world.

I am a book club wanna be. I have managed to read two and have several more on my smartphone for future reading. I am curious what kind of feedback you get from other readers. I am guessing not a lot or you wouldn’t need to ask for feedback now. Is there a separate forum for the dialog on each selection? If so, I would like to be added. If not, may I suggest maybe a separate blog or Facebook page for the discussion? I would like to subscribe to it.

Your efforts have a lot of meaning to me even though I haven’t taken full advantage of the book club. I enjoy your weekly blogs and look forward to them every Wednesday morning. They have a way of lifting my spirit to a different place and time. They remind me of views and values I am trying to impart to my grandchildren. I enjoy your travel blogs. Some remind me of places I have been and some are places I am adding to my To-Go list. Smile!
–Linda F.

This seventh responder is delightfully candid about which selections and authors are favorites and which are not.

Pursued Zane Grey on your suggestion (and, sorry, wasn’t particularly impressed). Collected a bunch of Grace Richmond on my ibooks and love her stuff. Same for Myrtle Reed and Charles Sheldon; the Guttenberg Project is wonderful for allowing me to find and read many of those old books.

I already collect Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, and Grace Livingston Hill. I like Lloyd C. Douglas but couldn’t find the title you wrote about.

I already knew and love Lassie Come Home and The Other Wise Man, of course. And already know and cannot tolerate Les Miserables (yes, I’m sure that makes me a bad person).

So, a short answer would be, yes, I read the book club posts and follow-up when and as I can! And please continue!
–Elsi D.

I will share a second batch of responses with you next week. Then, the following blog will launch the first of our 2014 book selections.

Keep reading!

All Ye Book-Lovers

BLOG #51, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ALL YE BOOK-LOVERS
LOOKING BACKWARD; LOOKING FORWARD
December 18, 2013

It was a little over two years ago that we launched “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” Since it was voluntary, no-fee, and no one was required to respond, it has been most difficult to know just who has been faithfully (at least most of the time) keeping up. Before introducing Book #26 in 2014, I’d really like to hear back from all of you who have been following along. Let me know which authors, titles, you like best, and why. General reactions to the format too. Anything – just report in. Please? So I can be reassured that these monthly book blogs are meeting a need.

To refresh your memory – if you’ve been following along –, and to enable you to start back at the beginning, if you’ve a mind to, here is a list of our first 25 books of the month. Since I’m providing the dates those entries first appeared, it should be relatively easy for you to retrieve all those earlier entries. Here they are:

PROPOSAL FOR CLUB (October 26, 2011)

BOOKS

1. Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 19, 2011)
2. Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)
3. Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
4. Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
5. Grey, Zane, Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
6. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
7. Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
8. Grey, Zane, Wanderer of the Wasteland [ZG #2] (Mar. 28, 2012)
9. Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
10. Richmond, Grace, The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
11. Duncan, Dayton , and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
12. Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012)
13. Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
14. Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
15. Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
16. Richmond, Grace, Foursquare [GR #2] (Jan. 2, 2013)
17. Hale, Edward Everett, The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
18. Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (Apr. 3, 2013)
19. Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World, and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
20. Grey, Zane, Riders of the Purple Sage [ZG #3] (June 5, 2013)
21. Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
22. Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
23. Hugo, Vic tor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
24. Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
25. Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)

CONTACT INFORMATION

Please respond to this blog questionnaire [includes those who’d like to join the club right now] via one of the following:

P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433

email: mountainauthor@gmail.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

Nov. 23, 2011

SELECTION TWO

THE CHRISTMAS ANGEL

by

ABBIE FARWELL BROWN

 

 


 

 

DICKENS AND BROWN

 

If the truth must be told, I almost chose Dickens’ Christmas Carol as our December selection, but had second thoughts because Connie and I concluded that most of you would have already read it.  If it should turn out that you have not, I have a suggestion: In such a case, since both The Christmas Carol and The Christmas Angel are quick reads, I suggest that you read Dickens’ great classic first, for all modern Christmas stories graft on to Christmas Carol.

I was privileged to partner with Focus on the Family and Tyndale House in twelve classic books: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1997) and Little Men (1999); Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1997), and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1999); Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur (1997), Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis (2000); Grace Richmond’s The Twenty-fourth of June (1999); Gene Stratton Porter’s Freckles (1999); Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1999); Abbie Farwell Brown’s The Christmas Angel (1999); and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol 1997) and David Copperfield (1999).  For each of these I wrote a modest biography of the author (averaging 60 – 80 pages in length) as well as discussion questions placed at the back of the book for individual readers, parents, teachers, and homeschoolers.  And we featured the oldest or best set of illustrations we could find.

All these books have long since gone out of print, however, we still have sale copies available (new condition) for almost all of them should you be interested in purchasing them from us.  Since I’m hoping that you’ll either re-read or read for the first time The Christmas Carol, I’m featuring part of my introduction/biography: ‘Scrooge at the Crossroads.”

I cannot remember when I first heard it read . . . nor when I first read it . . . nor when I first experienced it on film . . . nor even when it first engulfed me as live drama. . . .  I only know that looking back through life, somehow — I know not how — Christmas Carol was always there.

In the annals of literature there is nothing like it.  Certainly there was nothing like it before Dickens wrote it in 1843 — since then, many have tried to imitate it.  But the great original still stands, alone and inviolate — the Rock.

Can Christmas possibly be Christmas without it?  Many there be who would answer in the negative: somehow, to conclude even one Christmas season without re-experiencing the story would be to leave that year incomplete.

In the century and a half since it was published, we have come to take it for granted: we just accept it as if it had always been with us: like Wise Men, creches, and holly.  What would the world, after all, be like without Scrooge, Marley, the Cratchits, the Three Ghosts, Bah! Humbug! and Tiny Tim?  Well, in the year of our Lord, 1842 — none of those yet existed.

So what was 1843 like for Charles Dickens?  Simply and succinctly put: not good.  It was about time for it to be “not good.”  Let’s step back in time — and I’ll explain.

As we can see in the bio, Dickens endured a tough childhood — a mighty tough childhood.  Then, at the age of 25, he was catapulted to the top of his world.  It is always dangerous to soar too high too young: it usually results in a strong case of King of the Mountain hubris — unless the 25-year-old is strong and wise beyond his years; unless he realizes, with Nebuchadnezzar, how quickly the God who giveth can become the God who taketh away; even more importantly, unless he realizes that, in life, nature ‑‑, and apparently, God ‑‑ abhors long plateaus.  In other words, today’s Success is already unrealizingly sowing the seeds of its own destruction.  This was true with Dickens.  He had assumed, as had that great Babylonian king before him, that he had become king and great all by himself ‑‑ by the sheer brilliance of his mind and force of his will.  Both of which he had an oversupply of.

Perhaps a baseball analogy would help.  In 1836, he stepped up to the plate, and hit Boz out of the park.  Next, he hit Pickwick out of the park.  Then Oliver Twist, then Nickelby, then The Old Curiosity Shop, then Barnaby Rudge, which just cleared the outer wall.  Then came his ill-fated trip to America, and when his bat made contact with American Notes, he only hit a bloop single, not even realizing that he now had a hairline crack in the bat.  That was followed by Martin Chuzzlewit ‑‑ and with it, he broke his bat.

For the first time in seven years, he was in trouble.  He had mistakenly assumed that, being King of the Hill, he could say anything he darn well pleased.  That he could travel to the late great colony of America and noblesse oblige himself all over the place.  Since Americans were too cheap to pay him his due royalties, he could just tell them where to go.  To put his condition in modern vernacular, he had an attitude problem.  Even his countrymen felt, this time, that he had gone too far.

The result: the golden faucet ‑‑ that had gushed its riches upon him for almost seven years ‑‑, now slowed its flow so much he wondered if perhaps his well was going dry.  Even worse, what if it was dry?  What if people would no longer buy his books?

Dickens was never much of a humble man: he knew to a penny the value of his gifts.  Or had known prior to 1842.  Now, he didn’t know any more.

Well, what could he write that would improve his fortunes, and help bring back his fickle audience?  Something he could write quickly, not just another two-year book serialization.  So the idea for Christmas Carol came to him (see bio).  For a month and a half he totally immersed himself in the world of Scrooge.  In the process, he gradually became aware that, somewhere along the way, he had become a Scrooge himself: had felt himself so secure in his gifts that he no longer needed other people, that he no longer needed to really care (not just abstractly, but one-on-one) about human need.

In the course of writing the story of Scrooge, Dickens was able to pull himself back from the brink, to realize his need of others.  He began to wonder if he any longer knew ‑‑ or if he ever had ‑‑ who he really was.  Could he even know without going backwards in time?

The answers to those questions were a long time in coming, but A Christmas Carol was the first step, the four other Christmas books represent additional steps, but the biggest steps were Dombey and Son, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Yet something else happened during the writing of the little book: he learned a great deal about the difference between writing a lean cohesive book (written all at once) and writing the usually episodic, rambly, serialization book.

As a result of this no man’s land between the hubris of his youth and the social conscience of his maturity, he was able to make it the rest of the way through his life without ever again seriously daring hubris.  He was able to find out things about himself that stripped away some of his teflonish pride.  And sorrow would rock him on his heels again and again.

So it came to pass that in the last quarter of his life, in his 450 public readings (for fifteen long years, having an average of one public reading performance every twelve days), the story of Scrooge became as indispensable as singing the national anthem at a big league baseball game ‑‑ unthinkable to close without it.  And as his life drew to a close, a higher and higher percentage of each evening performance was devoted to Christmas Carol and its lesson of agape love.

It is no hyperbole to say that without this one little book, the life of Charles Dickens most likely would have been a very different story.  In a very real sense, then, we may validly say that the characters ‑‑ children, if you will ‑‑ conceived by this author ended up by taking him on a long journey . . . that would take the rest of his life.

And it is our privilege to be invited along.

Welcome to the timeless world of Christmas Carol.

ABBIE FARWELL BROWN AND

THE CHRISTMAS ANGEL

I have always loved Christmas stories — especially the heart-tugging kind.  And, let’s face it, sentiment and Christmas belong together.  Of all the seasons of the year, the heart is openest to love, empathy, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, and change . . . at Christmas.

Thousands of authors have written stories about Christmas, but sadly, most of them are shallow, sterile, and un-moving.  These stories may be technically brilliant, but if they fail to engage the heart, I view them as failures.

Only a few have written “great” Christmas stories, and even fewer have written “great” Christmas books (usually novelette length rather than full book length, as Christmas books are rarely very long).  And of those few special Christmas books which percolate to the top, very very few manage to stay there, but gradually, over time, sink down into that vast subterranean sea of forgotten books.  To stay alive, season after season, generation after generation, presupposes a magical ingredient no critic-scientist has ever been able to isolate.  Just think about the ones that come to mind: The Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, Its a Wonderful Life, The Other Wise Man . . . , and, with these four, we begin to sputter and qualify.  There are many others that come to mind, but none of them has been able to stay in the top ranks of Christmas Best Sellers.  In recent years, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (1972) and Richard Paul Evans’ The Christmas Box (1993) have so far evidenced staying power, but only time will reveal whether they will stay there, for it is comparatively easy to stay alive for ten, twenty, even thirty years ‑‑, it is much much harder to remain vibrantly alive 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 years or more.

But, none of this precludes comebacks.  Literature and public taste are, after all, cyclical, thus even during authors’ lifetimes, reputations roll along on roller-coasters, undulating up and down as public tastes and demands change.  No one remains hot forever.  Along this serpentine track of survivors rumble authors such as Dickens, Dostoevsky, Hugo, Cooper, Scott, Stevenson, the Brontes, Twain, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Alcott, Shakespeare, Carroll, Chaucer, Defoe, Dante, Dumas, Eliot, Kipling, and Thoreau — these never go out of vogue.

Once past the immortals, we move into a much more fluid field.  Depending on many factors, recoveries and resurrections continue to take place.  Usually because certain works brazenly dig into our memories and impudently refuse to leave.   Which brings us to Abbie Farwell Brown.

It was some years ago when I first “met” her.  My wife and I were wandering around New England at the height of fall colors.  Ah, autumn in New England!  There are few experiences in life to match it.  Among those few are New England used bookstores.  Well, it was in one of these that Connie discovered an old book — and short — with the intriguing title of The Christmas Angel.  She brought it over to me and asked if I was familiar with it or with the author.  I was not, but on the strength of the wonderful woodcut illustrations, we bought it.  Upon our return home, I unpacked it, then sat down to read it — and LOVED it.  Such velcro sticking power does it have that it has pummeled me until I am black and blue from its demanding to be brought back to the top, where it keeps telling me it belongs!  It was there once, and liked it, but, through no fault of its own, readers who loved it died off, so it began its gradual descent into that ultimate oblivion.

So here it is, if for no other reason than to rescue my battered body from its continuous pummeling.  I don’t often creep out far enough on limbs to risk getting sawed off, but I shall make an exception for The Christmas Angel.  I shall be really surprised if it does not claw its way back to the top — and stay there, this time.  It has all the enduring qualities that has kept The Christmas Carol up there for over a century and a half — in fact, one manuscript reader told me, about a week ago, that she even prefers it over The Christmas Carol.  It is one of those rarities: a book that should be loved equally by all generations — from small children to senior citizens.  I can see it being filmed; and I can see it becoming a Christmas tradition: unthinkable to get through a Christmas season without reading it out loud to the family once again.

Since the story is divided into 15 short chapters, it would lend itself to being spread out during the Advent or the Twelve days of Christmas.  Having said that, I’ll prophesy that pressure to read on by the listeners might make a proposed time table difficult to stick with.

And, unquestionably, the Reginald Birch illustrations add a very special dimension to the book.

When Christ wished to hammer home a point, He told a story, a parable, an allegory — in fact, biblical writers tell us He never spoke without them.  This is just such a story.  But, coupled with that is something else: it is one of the most memorable and poignant Angel stories I have ever read.  And it is amazing how many people today are rediscovering Angel stories!

It has to do with Miss Terry — bitter, cold, bigoted, and unforgiving.  As was true with Dickens’ Scrooge, in her life virtually all sentiment, caring, and love had been discarded, then trampled on, in her morose journey through the years.  And now, at Christmas, but one tie to her past remains, one key that might unlock her cell block of isolation: her childhood box of toys.

She determines to burn them, — every last one.

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It is my personal conviction that reading both books this Christmas season will result in one of the richest Christmas seasons you have ever known.  And it will amaze me if you don’t end up loving The Christmas Angel at least as much as The Christmas Carol.

In my introduction/biography for The Christmas Angel I piece together Brown’s fascinating life story and list all her books and short stories.  I’m guessing many of you will wish to track down and purchase her other books as well as this one.

Be sure and journal each time you read from these books.

At the back of my edition are seven pages of questions to deepen your understanding.  Such as these:

Chapter One: “Alone on Christmas Eve” – What is the impact of that line?  Why is it harder to be alone on Christmas Eve than at other times?  Or is it?”

Chapter Four: “Why is it, do you think, that so few toys survive intact?  Are they deliberately mistreated, or does it just happen”

Chapter Six: “Why did Miss Terry rescue the Christmas angel from the muddy street, and why did she find it impossible to toss it into the fire as she had so many other toys?”

Chapter Nine: “Why is it, do you think, that toys have greater reality to children than they do to adults?  How is that borne out in this chapter?”

Chapter Fourteen: “How do Angelina’s Christmas angel and her guardian angel blur together?”

LAST SUGGESTIONS RE WRIGHT’S CALLING OF DAN MATTHEWS

More and more people keep expressing interest in The Book Club.  When you notify us that you wish to join, please email that information to us so we can add you to the roster.  If you feel uncomfortable posting your mailing address on the web, just drop it in the mail to me at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.  Send me your name, interests, reading preferences, and other items that will help me chart the direction of The Book Club.

After securing a copy of each month’s book, be sure and journal each time you read from the book.

Following are some observations and suggestions re your reading our November selection: Harold Bell Wright’s The Calling of Dan Matthews:

1.  I first read it when I was seventeen.  Why do you think it had such a powerful impact on me?  (On others as well?)

2.  How is it different from other religion-based novels you’ve read?

3.  Wright wrote three Social Gospel novels.  Look up the term, then respond in terms of how the book incorporates the movement’s key elements.  In other words, Christ, in His life on this earth, was not at all into doctrine or creeds, but rather into selfless service for others.  So, did Wright pull it off?

4.  Did reading this book have an impact on you personally?  In what way?

5.  Did reading the book make you want to read more Wright books?

            SECURING DECEMBER’S BOOKS

You will have no trouble finding a copy of Dickens The Christmas Carol, for it is one of the best-selling books of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  But if you’d like to order my Focus/Tyndale edition, just write me at Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433, or send me an email at “mountainauthor@gmail.com.”  Should you wish me to inscribe any copies, just let me know—there will be no charge for that.  The Christmas Angel is likely to be more difficult to secure, but again, I can supply you with a copy.

PRICE: $16.99 each.  However, if you alert me to your being a member of our book club, you can reduce it to $14.00 each.  If you purchase both books, I’ll reduce the price to $25.00 total.  Shipping will come to $6.00 extra.

I’ll need your full name and mailing address.  Checks are fine.  So is PAYPAL. For further information, access our website at

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Next Wednesday, we’ll journey to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.