EPL’s Virtual Book Club says Bah! Humbug! to 2020!

Books with a general winter theme are the focus of discussion at our next meeting of the library’s virtual book club (Stay Home, Stay Reading) December 28 from 6-7pm. Read any title–fiction or nonfiction–of your choosing inspired by winter. Nary a sprig of new spring growth takes center stage this month! On Monday, Dec. 28, join us when you like, and leave when you like during our open discussion.  

If it’s possible to love and hate a season, then winter is it for me. I detest this dark season; yet, I enjoy hibernating and reading (or listening to) stories with a wintertime setting–the genre doesn’t matter. Still I grew up in Las Vegas, and grabbing a heavy sweater if you went out was about it for outside winter prep. The past years, starting around the Winter Solstice, even the cat knows now to look for me on the couch under a blanket, book in hand. In terms of daylight, Winter Solstice (December 21 this year) in Everett is 7 hours, 34 minutes shorter than on the longest day of the year, June Solstice. Las Vegas is a mere 4 hours, 55 minutes shorter than its longest day. I continue to adapt. 

A book with a chilly setting seems to be more haunting, or it can add a layer of mystery–which sends shivers down my spine. Maybe it’s the short days? If you’re looking for a great winter read, consider that much of Russian literature takes place where there is often snowfall, from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy to Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Back in America, check out the snowy scenes in Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell and an iceberg-cold lake in Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Also known to fill an icy wintery vibe and be slow to unfold are those Scandinavian crime novels from authors such as Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø. Snow muffles sound, I’ve noticed, and books set in snow settings are a bit quieter. Whenever it’s snowy, too quiet and I’m alone reading Stieg Larsson, I check to make sure the doors and windows are locked. 

This season it seems appropriate to read or re-read, watch or rewatch A Christmas Carol, the beloved 1843 novella by Charles Dickens. Since it’s Dickens, you can expect that living circumstances are squalid. With few exceptions, there is great difficulty getting by in life, including for Tiny Tim, a child who uses a crutch. He is seen as being symbolic of the consequences of the protagonist’s choices. Our protagonist and well-off miser, Ebenezer Scrooge of Bah! Humbug! fame, scorns openly those who have less:

Merry Christmas! What right have you for being merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.

It is Christmas Eve, and what happens to Scrooge that night is among the greatest stories set in winter. A Christmas Carol is not about a holiday as much as it is about redemption, being for the light and against darkness, and being a good person. It is an inner dialogue you can have with yourself at any time of year. 

This year has a lot in common with Scrooge, who is described by Dickens as:

….squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; a frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Scrooge and 2020 both give off a stench of sourpuss right up until the end when Scrooge has a reckoning, and one of 2020’s few bright spots is that a Covid vaccine has arrived or will soon. As I write this, today the first person in the Western world has received the vaccine–a 90-year-old British grandmother. In 2021, we can hope for a smooth, efficient roll out of the vaccine in the U.S. 

If you’re looking for A Christmas Carol, the library has a lot to offer. Whether you listen to the audiobook, read it digitally or in the physical book format; or watch one of its many adaptations for television and film over the years, it’s a delight to step away from 2020. Check out physical materials such as these television and film DVDs also.

Many versions have emerged as the story of saving Scrooge’s soul is re-imagined. For example: Scrooged starring Bill Murray, the 1938 film A Christmas Carol (100% on Rotten Tomatoes), the 1970 musical film Scrooge, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, the 1984 A Christmas Carol starring George C Scott, the 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol, and on Hoopla, the 1951 B&W classic A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim.

This season I plan to re-watch the 1951 film version of A Christmas Carol that I have enjoyed many times, and I’ll read A Christmas Carol using, for the first time, a book I recently came across on a shelf at my apartment. It belonged to my mother, who died 25 years ago this Thanksgiving. The title was long gone from the spine, it was so worn. Her signature was on the inside page in pencil, Erna Mae Lueder. For the season, these two will be a good winter combo for me. What special title–winter or not–will you be reading or watching? 

If you need a few more December books to choose from, perhaps consider these titles: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, We Met in December by Rosie Curtis, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy, The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

At the book club meeting, we will discuss whatever winter books you’ve been reading or read in the past: Dec. 28 at 6pm. 

To join the meeting, you’ll need a phone or a computer with internet access and a browser. No special software is required. Use this link: https://tinyurl.com/y5mhq3bk or call 425-616-3920 and use conference ID 919 910 778#