Last December 24, we published a list of the best books to read on Christmas Eve. First on the list, to the surprise of no one, was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Just like certain adaptations (namely Scrooged and The Muppet Christmas Carol) are must-watches every holiday season, the novella makes for joyous reading and re-reading by the fire.
This year, I’d like to add to the list the fascinating story of how A Christmas Carol came to be in the first place. Les Standiford’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, which inspired a little-seen 2017 film of the same title, is certain to get you in the Christmas spirit.
The main reason A Christmas Carol has become a timeless classic is its optimistic view of human nature. Even Ebeneezer Scrooge, the tight-fisted old miser who hates everything, can change and in doing so come to see the value of virtues like charity and good will toward all mankind. Look around you in the real world and you will find unspeakable cruelty and indifference, but there is a magic surrounding Christmastime that offers hope for a kinder, gentler society.
In a sense, The Man Who Invented Christmas is similarly inspiring. The provocative title (which the author admits he does not claim to be entirely true) is meant to credit Charles Dickens with the revival of holiday traditions, specifically with the merrymaking described in the scene of Mr. Fezziwig’s party. Before the publication of A Christmas Carol, the Feast of the Nativity had become a relatively minor holiday in England. This was due to the influence of the priggish Puritans, whose role in society was outsized even after Oliver Cromwell’s reign of terror. After the Protestant Reformation, the new sects attempted to recreate their own version of Christianity shorn of 17 centuries of tradition. Since the Bible only mentions the first Christmas and does not feature an annual gift exchange of the apostles during the dark of winter, celebrating the holy day was criminalized.
Even if things were bleak, England was full of people yearning for tradition. This longing is what Charles Dickens capitalized on when he was in dire need of cash and quickly wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 over his publishers’ objections. His celebration of life and of humanity appealed directly to those who knew there was something special about the time of year set aside to recognize the incarnation of the savior but did not feel they had any way to challenge the prevailing culture of the time.
In telling this story, The Man Who Invented Christmas is especially relevant to our current era. In 2021, we have the opposite problem of those in Victorian England. Christmas isn’t banned—it is everywhere. For a quarter of the year, we are bombarded with Christmas ads. On our secular calendar, we have added Christmas-related feast days that replace worship of Christ with devotion to Mammon: Not only Black Friday, but also Cyber Monday and apparently Green Monday too. The Advent calendar, invented in the 1800s to teach children about the liturgical lead-up to the Nativity, has become commercialized beyond recognition.
What we need is a modern-day Dickens not to “invent” Christmas but to restore it. It may be cliché to complain that the true meaning of Christmas has become lost in the hubbub of the shopping season, but that does not make the concern any less valid. Not when we live in a very sick age in which the most admired virtue is the ability to make a lot of money so that we can buy more things. Many people feel intrinsically that something is amiss, but few have the cultural capital to do something about it. This is where The Man Who Invented Christmas provides hope. The “true meaning of Christmas” has been stifled by society’s elites before only to be rescued by a talented storyteller. What we need is for it to happen again. What we need is a Christmas miracle.
Book Review: ‘The Final Girl Support Group’
Release Date: July 2021
Cozy up on your next snow day and read Gary Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group.
Author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (2020), Grady Hendrix succeeds again in tapping into our favorite horror films to deliver this mystery. Six young women make up the “Final Girl Support Group.” Each survived horrific massacres that have been turned into successful film franchises. Movies such as Friday The 13th and Halloween actually happened in this version of America. Twenty years later the spotlight has moved on and society has found new monsters and victims. Still, these women sit in a circle of chairs in a church basement trying to figure out how to live their lives. Paranoid Lynnette Tarkington reluctantly participates in group therapy sessions with Dr. Carol Elliot along with fellow survivors Marilyn Torres, who has buried her emotions in wealth; Dani Shipman, who might have killed the wrong person; Julia Campbell, whose encounter left her in a wheelchair; and Heather DeLuca, who is succumbing to addiction. Some of them are in denial about what happened. Some still live in terror, always looking over their shoulders, imprisoned by their own fears.
After one member of this vigilant sisterhood is murdered and a series of persistent attacks threaten the rest, Lynnette becomes increasingly suspicious that the attacks are originating way too close to their inner circle. “Does this ever end?” Lynnette asks. “Will there always be someone out there turning little boys into monsters? Will we always be final girls? Will there always be monsters killing us? How do we stop the snake from eating its own tail?” The book is creepy enough on its face, but Hendrix’s use of narrative tools heightens the unease.
The Final Girl Support Group isn’t necessarily scary, but the plot is action-packed and delivers its share of gore. The novel is an ultimately entertaining and inspiring take on horror movies, trauma, and self-determination. Available on Amazon!
Book Review: ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’
I first read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo this past month after my friend and I swapped our favorite summer books. I opened the book one Saturday morning and couldn’t put it down. Despite the fact that it was published nearly five years ago, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo continues to captivate readers’ interest on BookTok, Bookstagram, and Goodreads.
This story is about renowned Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo who, after decades of blockbuster hits, is now 79 and ready to give an exclusive interview after years of dodging the press. But the only one granted access is a little-known journalist named Monique Grant. Though she can’t understand why she’s been chosen, Monique goes to Evelyn’s home and finds out Evelyn doesn’t just want to do an interview — she wants to lay out every piece of her truth for Monique to write and sell her biography.
Though Evelyn won’t answer why she picked Monique to do the job, Monique agrees and Evelyn’s story begins to unfold from her calculated beginnings in Hollywood to the millions she enjoys in the present, each section of her life titled by each of her seven husbands and her reasons for marrying (and divorcing) them. As you journey through Evelyn’s life, it feels as if you’re being granted exclusive access to something you shouldn’t be seeing. It’s hard to believe the characters and events in this book aren’t real celebrities.
To me, a great book is one that makes you forget you’re reading in the first place, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo does exactly that. It’s an instantly captivating book, thanks in part to the story, but mostly to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing. Her stories flow smoothly, her characters are complex and realistically flawed, and I happily got lost in the pages until the very end. This is the perfect cozy fall read!
Book Review: ‘Verity’ By Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover is all the rage this summer. The author’s 2016 romance novel It Ends With Us gained fame due to the viral nature of #BookTok (the book lover’s community on TikTok). I’ve always loved reading, especially during the summer months by the beach and pool. Surely because of this, my “For You Page” has been flooding with recommendations and reviews as to what to read next. I can without a doubt say that Verity is worth the hype.
Verity was first published in 2018 and has only just become available worldwide in paperback. I started reading Colleen Hoover last summer when I first discovered It Ends With Us on #BookTok and have read four of her other books since. Given that I finished this one in a day, I would say it is extremely readable!
Verity is different from Hoover’s usual style and genre of romance. This novel is twisting, unsettling, creepy, and psychologically mind-bending. From the beginning, I could not put it down. The plot follows protagonist, Lowen Ashleigh, a struggling writer who accepts a job offer to complete the remaining books of an unfinished, successful series. Jeremy Crawford, the husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen due to his wife’s serious injuries. Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. With shades of Gillian Flynn blending in with Hoover’s classic take on romance, our protagonist finds herself uncovering a story so horrifying, and all the while, falling for a grieving man. There is a thrilling twist at the end, which I am happy to debate, but I’m not giving any spoilers until you read it for yourself! Overall, I highly recommend the purchase. Find it on Amazon.