Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Man Who Invented Christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford was not what I had expected. I did get some information I enjoyed from it, but I was disappointed overall. The subtitle is How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. I expected the whole book to be about that - what happened after A Christmas Carol came out and how it affected Dickens and our society. But the first third of the book was a general biography of Dickens. I understand giving some basic info as a background for the rest of the story, but a third of the book? That just seemed odd. Then, we finally get to A Christmas Carol, and get another third that's really more about publishing. It focused on how Dickens had to publish it himself, and had a lot of details about how that worked and his relationship with his publishers and how all of that worked back then. The the last third is when we finally get info on how people responded to it, the lasting impacts, and how it changed Dickens's career. That part was interesting, but it just took so long to get too. If you read this, check it out from the library (like I did) and then just start about two-thirds in, or just know what you'll be getting with the first part.
I did learn (or was reminded of) a few fun facts in the first part of the book. Oliver Twist can be considered the first Victorian novel and it's also the first novel with a child as the main character. Also, Dickens was selling his books to about 1/4 to 1/5 of the reading public! That's amazing. Issues of his serials sometimes sold 100,000 copies, which is what most of the NY Times best seller average.
Once we finally get to the Christmas section, Standiford tells us how Dickens created the tradition of turkey for Christmas dinner and ruined the goose industry. Prior to A Christmas Carol, most people had goose at Christmas dinner, but Scrooge buys a turkey for the Cratchits and it's been the most popular choice ever since. It was also interesting how prior to the Victorian age, Christmas wasn't widely celebrated. Easter was the big Christian holiday, since the day of Christ's birth wasn't (and still isn't) known. Christians took over the holiday in hopes of turning the pagan celebration of Saturnalia into something more pure. It grew during the Victorian times through both Dickens and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Albert was German, and made the tradition of the Christmas tree popular in England. So, I learned a few things, but overall was a little disappointed. It would have been better if it had a different title so you weren't expecting something else.

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