Paperback Riders: And the top Christmas book in the USA is…

Good Reads is a great place to talk about books. And as everyone loves a list, they have one for Christmas books. When we talked about the great American novel a few months back, we found that the US is still very much in awe of Victorian English Lit. Their interpretation of this very English book does have a very American slant to it.

Published in December 1843 ‘A Christmas Carol’ was Dickens’ best commercial success for some time. It captured the zeitgeist of the early Victorian revival of the Christmas holiday.

Dickens had criticised the US in his travelogue ‘American Notes‘ and in ‘Martin Chuzzlewit‘, and it took nearly 20 years for this book to get wide recognition in American households. In 1863 The New York Times published a glowing review, saying that the author brought the “old Christmas … of bygone centuries and remote manor houses, into the living rooms of the poor of today.”

From there it took off and thanks to films and plays is now ingrained in the American Christmas. Scrooge’s transformation from a miserly, cold-hearted man to a kind and generous individual serves as a powerful reminder that it is never too late to change one’s ways and find redemption. It is a useful comparison for how Americans often see themselves, as a nation of individuals who can change for the better with Scrooge’s journey as inspiration.

In December 2022 Fox News published an opinion piece claiming ‘A Christmas Carol’ could be taken as a rallying point for the USA which is “in sore need of reconnecting with our national purpose. We may not all agree on what that purpose is, or on how to accomplish it. But we do know the road we’re on – of social division, political dysfunction, anger, and vitriol – can only end in tragedy”.

While that is one American interpretation, other views retain some of the story’s original social message, criticising economic inequality and advocating for social justice. The plight of the impoverished Cratchit family continues to resonate with Americans who are concerned about issues of poverty and social welfare.

A Christmas Carol‘ is deeply embedded in American culture, with its characters, imagery, and themes constantly referenced in films, television shows, plays, and musicals, from the Muppets, to ‘Scrooged‘, to the six stage versions playing in New York alone for the 2023 festive season.

While ‘A Christmas Carol‘ tops nearly every American list of favourite seasonal books in the US, the next book on the Good Reads list is almost as universally popular. Dr Seuss’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’, is another platform for criticising economic materialism and consumerism of the Christmas season. Number three however is ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ Clement C. Moore’s poem was originally titled ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’, and its blend of childhood wonder, Christian symbolism, and American folklore and consumer culture clearly still resonates for much of the country.

If you want a version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for young children then I can recommend Tony Mitton’s verse picture book, other than that stick to the original text…

Back in 2019 AUK asked Roseanne Reid about her top ten Americana Christmas tracks. You can read the whole list here.’ One she missed however was Corb Lund’s rather fine ‘Just Me And These Ponies (For Christmas This Year)’…

About Tim Martin 241 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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Paul Higham

On holiday in NYC at the moment, and we got tickets for Neil Gaiman’s reading of the ‘performance text’ of “A Christmas Carol” that Dickens created for use in public appearances. NY Public Library has an original copy, which eliminates some of the scene setting text, rearranges some of the scenes, drops a few others but includes elements of stage direction.

it made for a gripping two hours, and the audience whooped mightily when the line about “Tiny Tim, who did *not* die”.

Paul Higham

It was made special by the fact that we saw the performance 180 years to the day since “A Christmas Carol” was first published.
A recording of Neil Gaiman’s reading can be found here.