Winter’s Bookshelf

02 Dec 2022

A biography, an autobiography, and illustrated poetry that captures a snowy evening in the woods

By Lewis Bowling

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits
by Les Standiford
In 1843 Charles Dickens was in debt. The beloved author wrote A Christmas Carol in just six weeks, and the book became a bestseller, and has had a huge impact on the public’s perception of Christmas. In mid-19thcentury England Christmas was not a widely celebrated holiday like it is today, and the publication of A Christmas Carol helped change all that.

Les Standiford’s The Man Who Invented Christmas has all the details of how A Christmas Carol changed the way people all over the world, especially in England and the United States, celebrated Christmas. People instilled more gaiety and looked to virtues such as charity and goodwill toward everyone, wanting to be the opposite of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, a grouchy, tight-fisted old miser, who through the course of the story turns into a man who sees the goodness in others and wants to help others less fortunate. The Man Who Invented Christmas makes for joyous reading, and can be a stocking stuffer for book lovers, Dickens’ fans, and those of us who simply love the Christmas season.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost, and one of my favorite poems by Frost is “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” By the time you read this, we will be close to wintertime and Christmas here in North Carolina, and who knows, perhaps we will have a snowy holiday season. In the children’s book, called Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, there is snow, winter, a bond between a horse and its rider, the beautiful poetry of the iconic poem of Frost, and stunning wintry and snowy scenes illustrated
by P.J. Lynch.

As the book opens, the rider of a gray horse, in this case a young lady, stops on a path to look at the edge of woods filled with trees as heavy crystalline snowflakes fall from the overcast, dark skies above. The rider looks and ponders, “Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though.” The horse, after quite a pause, snorts and moves his head up and down, in his own way asking his rider if they should not be going on their way. But the rider is in no hurry, still gazing at the woods filling up with snow. “My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near. He gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake.” But after some moments spent looking at the deep, dark woods and the cascading snow, the rider lets her horse know it is time to go. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

Lynch’s illustrations, snow-filled and wintry, bring a coziness to scenes that depict cold, desolate landscapes. The illustrations blend so beautifully with the words on each page from the poem by Frost, and this all combines to make this book one all ages will enjoy.

Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall
“In my eighties, the days have narrowed as they must. I live on one floor eating frozen dinners. Louise the postwoman brings letters to my porch, opens the door, and tosses the mail on a chair. I get around — bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, new chair by the window, electrical reclining chair for baseball   — by spasming from one place to another pushing a four-wheeled roller. I try not to break my neck. I write letters, I take naps, I write essays.”

Now I know at first reading this it makes one dread getting older, but most of this book by former United States Poet Laureate Donald Hall is uplifting. Hall writes about the advantages of being older, how he adapted to life after he turned eighty and still enjoyed life, such as reading, writing, visits from family and friends, watching his beloved Boston Red Sox play baseball on television, and good food. Hall admits writing after eighty “slows down my access to the right word,” but he does get it, and he has time on his hands to take his time.

Hall’s prose is as good as his poetry. When sitting in his “new chair by the window” one day, he observed “two wild turkeys gobble as they strut stiffly up the slope toward the barn. Flowers by turn rise and fall all summer, foxglove, sweet alyssum, bee balm. Indian paintbrush raise late flags. Cornflowers bloom, and leaves of swamp maples flare the first reds of autumn.”

Essays After Eighty is a book for all of us — Hall gives us all hope to meet our later years with hope and resilience.  

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