BOOK REVIEW: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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There’s a famous quote that has been attributed to various individuals, including both Mark Twain and Blaise Pascal. The wording varies, but the gist is: “Sorry for writing you a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.” While it’s a witty comment, the humorous subversion of expectations doesn’t mean there’s not an underlying truth. It takes work and / or brilliance to convey an idea persuasively with few words. “A Christmas Carol” is an outstanding example of a tight story that powerfully conveys its theme.

Ebenezer Scrooge is a cranky banker who wants nothing to do Christmas. He won’t give his employee, Bob Cratchit, time off so that Cratchit can spend the holiday with his family—including his ailing son Tiny Tim. He chases off charities. He won’t even accept an invitation to attend the Christmas party thrown by his nephew, Fred. Then one night, he’s visited by the ghost of his recently deceased business partner—Jacob Marley. Marley, who was as cheap and crotchety as Scrooge, is burdened with horrifying chains, and the ghost warns Scrooge that if the old man doesn’t change his ways, he—too—will end up wandering through eternity in a similar set of chains. Before disappearing, Marley tells Scrooge to expect visits from three more ghosts.

The three subsequent visits with the famous ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future don’t require much discussion. First of all, the names of the ghosts (e.g. Ghost of Christmas Past) are self-explanatory. Secondly, this story is iconic in pop culture and it’s been remade in every medium in every way imaginable from modern adaptations (e.g. “Scrooged”) to “Simpsons” episodes. At any rate, the first ghost shows Scrooge that there was a time when he wasn’t such a curmudgeon while reminding him that he once had an employer, the beloved Mr. Fezziwig, who was a much better to Scrooge than Scrooge is to Bob Cratchit. The second ghost takes him to see the Cratchits and their meager but blissful Christmas festivities and then to his Nephew’s party as well. The final apparition, The Ghost of Christmas Future, takes Scrooge to the end of his own line. In the wake of the four ghost visits, Scrooge makes some changes to avoid the fate he’s been shown.

The Puffin Classics version that I read has an introduction by Anthony Horowitz and some artwork. That said, I don’t think it matters much what version one reads. It’s about the story.

I’d highly recommend this book for all readers.

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DAILY PHOTO: 2016 Christmas Markets: Budapest & Vienna

Taken in Budapest in December of 2016

Taken in Budapest in December of 2016

 

Budapest Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

 

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

 

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

DAILY PHOTO: Away in a Manger

Taken in December of 2014 in Budapest

Taken in December of 2014 in Budapest

 

This will likely be my last post of the year. Tonight we leave to holiday in Vietnam. So, I figured I’d make it Christmasy.

DAILY PHOTO: Vörösmarty tér Lepény Vendor

Taken in December of 2014 in Budapest

Taken in December of 2014 in Budapest

This is the finished product.

This is the finished product.

Lepény is a Hungarian street-food that some might call a folded over pizza and others might call a flat-bread sandwich. It’s bread (like pizza crust) topped with cheese and various vegetative and / or meaty toppings and cooked on a grill. (I just realized it could also be considered a fancy grilled cheese that starts from a ball of dough and not from pre-made bread.)

 

Anyway, there aren’t nearly as many lepény vendors as there are for say Kürtöskalács (the cylindrical sweet bread that is so very, very awesome), but the vendor at the Vörösmarty tér Christmas market always had a massive line. (We did discover that part of the long lines had to do with the temperamental nature of the wood-fired grills they used and the long time it took to cook one if they let the fire die down too much.) Still, people stayed in line, and that speaks somewhat to the tastiness of this treat.

DAILY PHOTO: Vörösmarty Tér Light Spheres

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Taken on December 23, 2014 in Vörösmarty tér in Budapest

Taken on December 23, 2014 in Vörösmarty tér in Budapest

These spheres of light, ostensibly designed to mimic glittery ornaments, were hung throughout the trees on Vörösmarty Tér during Christmas season in Budapest.

I have to say, I’ve never seen Budapest’s Christmas markets thriving like they were in 2014. Granted, my last holiday visit was in 2008 (bad times all around), and my first time was in the mid-90’s (Hungary was still trying to get its post-Cold War feet under it.) I have been a few times in between, but this year was clearly in a different league from previous years.

9 Reasons To Freeze Your Keister Off in Hungary

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I’m fully adjusted to life in the tropics. I’m used to days that are almost exactly half light and half dark year round, and annual temperatures that vary less than 10°C from the year’s low to its high. However, I just got back from Hungary, and was reminded of some of the redeeming features of the great, white, whitest-of-white north.

Fortunately, we were eased into the winter experience. When we arrived, it looked like this:

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By the end it looked more like this:

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So beyond visiting family, why travel into the arctic chill?


9.) Christmas markets: If you’re tired of this year’s mass-produced doodads and gizmos churned out of massive factories in China, you can see some new and interesting wares within these markets (though there’s no escaping mass-produced tsotchkes altogether.)  In Budapest’s markets, you can even find blacksmiths to custom make your metal needs.

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8.) Skating and winter sports / activities: In India one has three choices for viewing or participating in sports: cricket, soccer, or–did I mention–cricket. It was refreshing to see skiing, skating, etc. on TV and in practice.

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7.) Vivid sunsets: Something about the high latitude and proclivity for cloud cover made for brilliant colors, and you can’t miss the sunset because it happens at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

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6.) Street food: There are so many outstanding high-calorie food options too keep your internal furnace burning.

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5.) Color: There’s no place that outdoes India in the brilliant colors department, but villages like Szentendre are no strangers to vivid colors–though not necessarily ones that assault the eyes. Besides the warm yellow-orange that is ubiquitous throughout the region, there are a range of colors that one doesn’t see everyday and that I–as a straight man–have no idea of the names of.

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4.) Concerts: Music is big in Hungary, and there are bills for Christmas concerts all over the place. That said, we missed most of the Christmas music in favor of going to hear a popular Dixieland Jazz band and a New Years Concert that mostly rock-and-roll cover songs. Dixieland Jazz isn’t what one expects in Hungary,  but it’s nice to see American art forms other than Hollywood cinema and television programming that have a huge following abroad.

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3.) Finding your inner child: If you grew up in a wintery place–as I did–the cold, colors, and lights of the holiday season transport one back to the simple and energetic time of one’s youth.

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2.) Hot beverages: You develop a renewed appreciation for coffee, tea, mulled wine, and hot cocoa when it’s freezing.

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1.) Kürtőskalács: If you don’t know what this is, it’s worth the visit for it alone. It’s one of the best wintertime snacks anywhere in the world, and is hand’s down the best cylindrical food in existence.

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