Pairs Well With:
This one is two fold. Begin with a hearty mug of warmed Evan Williams Egg Nog; a creamy, spiced beverage that warms the spirit with its Kentucky bourbon and holiday scents, and is sure to catch you up in the cheer of Christmas. Then—maintaining that spirit of generosity—pour yourself a Beefeaters Bramble; the dark berry notes of the blackberry liqueur dance eloquently with the bright juniper bite of the gin, maintaining the glow of the Christmas season, and dampening the drudgery of anti-temporal historical accounts.
Author: Les Standiford
Rating: 2 Out Of 5 Shots
The author of historical biographies Meet You In Hell and Last Train to Paradise, returns with his 2008 Dickens centered work, The Man Who Invented Christmas. Detailing the events surrounding the creation of one of the most recognizable Christmas stories ever conceived, Standiford shows that Dickens’ character, the miserly Scrooge, was not the only one in need of a Christmas miracle. With bank accounts overdrawn, familial relations invading his home (and wallet), and his marriage beginning to fray, Charles Dickens put everything on the line to self-publish a book that, not only saved his family and reputation, but utterly transformed the way the Western world celebrates Christmas to this day.
This book was the literary equivalent of myself when faced with climbing a skyscraper’s worth of stairs: strong and enthusiastic at the beginning; full of promise and the confidence to push on quickly, but then the unavoidable exhaustion falls upon me. I curl up into a ball—somewhere around the ninth floor—and bawl while cursing myself for getting out of bed that day.
The initial excitement at reading about the creation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is sure to get the audience through the first forty pages without issue. But that fervor wanes quickly thereafter, and I found myself with an unconscious grimace on my face while attempting to navigate vast swaths of uninteresting back story and supposition.
I wanted to love this book, but I do not.
It is clear, from the chipper nature of the creative assumptions placarded after each documented account, that Les Standiford knows how to tell a good story. In fact, upon researching the author, I was unsurprised to discover he has penned a series of crime novels. There is a flourish in his writing that can be found throughout the wonderful anecdotes that proliferate the pages of this book. While some may look down on such a liberal use of creative speculation in a historical biography, I found this to be one of the more charming aspects of my reading experience.
This is not to say that mere speculation is all there is. Far from it! The author is generous in his inclusion of direct quotes from cited letters passed between Mr. Dickens and his associates, as well as including many articles from the periodicals of the time. From cover to cover, there is a bevy of factoidal evidence presented that allows Standiford’s assumptions to pass with at least a degree of palitabilty, if not outright merit.
However, the inclusion of so much information, while it bolsters the author’s credibility, makes for some arduous reading at times.
In my experience, there have been many biographers and historical writers whose inclusion of quotes and accounts passed almost unnoticed. The story presented, the lives described were so aptly rendered that one could easily believe they were reading a fictional story by a gifted modern novelist, such as Stephen King. Alas, I learned firsthand what a historical biography written by King would entail: endless name dropping, rabbit trails that branch off without cease like fractals spinning ever down into a void, and a sense of vertigo inducing directionlessness that leaves the reader rubbing their temples and asking the book, “What’s the point of this?”
Dates and names barrage the reader like a foghorn of noise blasted into one’s eardrum, seeming to serve only as a herald of the deluge of pointless quotes to follow. Accounts of accounts of accounts of testimonies all follow one another, branching off in rather unneeded directions, and adding little if anything to the reader’s knowledge and appreciation for the creation of A Christmas Carol. All of this occurs, while jumping back and forth in time, in jarring spurts that pull the reader from the book and lend to the inevitable headache that is sure to brew from the lack of chronological storytelling.
Corking The Bottle:
In short, while the creation of the world’s favourite Christmas story is full of drama, emotion, and miracles, The Man Who Invented Christmas fails to capture much of that awe. Chock full of side-stories and a rather frustrating amount of unrelated exposition, Standiford’s account of the novella Dickens wrote in only six weeks may take you twice as long to power through.
While this review may be less than stellar, I would highly recommend viewing the film based on this book, which shares the same name. It succeeds in depicting the world of Charles Dickens, his mannerisms and inexhaustible energy, as well as many of the daemons that plagued him and threatened to pull him down during the course of writing this book.