Originally published on December 19, 1843, A Christmas Carol is one of Dickens’ most popular works. This novella tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable old man who hates everyone and everything. He is miserly with his money and does not show kindness or mercy to anyone. That is until he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner and this visitation triggers a series of fantastical events that cause Scrooge to reevaluate his life. A Christmas Carol debuted at a time when Christmas traditions were sharply declining in England. Dickens’ novella is widely regarded as a turning point in the resurgence of popular Christmas traditions and sentiments. And Dickens’ used the poverty-stricken Cratchit’s family dependence on Scrooge to highlight the daily struggle of the working class in Victorian England. Christmas of 1852 Dickens did public readings of the novella to both educated and working-class audiences. The overwhelming success of these readings became a major part of Dickens’ later career. Within six weeks of publication, the novella was adapted for the London stage by Edward Stirling. This particular adaption ran for more than forty nights before transferring to New York’s park Theatre. Ever since, A Christmas Carol has been adapted numerous times for the stage and the silver screen.
A Christmas Carol, Dover Publications, 1991, 9780486268651
Robert Louis Stevenson was intrigued by the idea of how personality can affect human behavior and how this can play into the struggle between good and evil. This fascination led Stevenson to pen The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it was originally published in 1886. It is about a London Lawyer named Gabriel John Utterson and his investigation into the strange occurrences that happen between Dr. Henry Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde. This novella is commonly considered one of the best literary depictions of the mental condition known as “split personality”, which is where one or more distinct personality inhabiting one body. In this case, Dr. Jekyll developed a potion that causes him to unleash his inner persona, the twisted Mr. Hyde. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde comes with several myths about its wrting, which is appropriate considering the strangeness of the narrative. Two popular myths are 1) the story came to Stevenson in a nightmare and 2) he burned the first draft after a negative review from his wife. Regardless of these myths, Stevenson crafted one of the best literary representations of the darkness hidden within the depths of the subconsciousness. This eerie tale will haunt you long after finishing the last page.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Signet Classics, 2003, 9780451528957
The Call of the Wild was first published as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post in 1903 and became an instant hit. This short narrative is about a sled dog named Buck, a cross between a St. Bernard and a Scottish collie, and his adventures. Buck was born into a life of luxury in a sheltered home in California. One day he is kidnapped and sold to be a sled dog in the frozen Yukon Territory. As he is passed from master to master, Buck discovers an untapped well of strength and refuses to let his circumstances break his spirit. This novella is widely considered to be Jack London’s masterpiece and was based upon his experience as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness. He also explores the struggle between nature, nurture, and the meaning behind existence. The Call of the Wild is a fast paced drama that is written in an almost poetic, if slightly macho, prose. As Buck adapts to the savage landscape, his latent instincts and wolf like behavior emerge. However, London does not sugar coat the savagery of the Yukon. There are several graphic depictions of canine brutality and neglect. However, it is an excellent piece of literature that explores the concept of the survival of the fittest.
The Call of the Wild, Scholastic, 2001, 9780439227148
Written in 1958 and published in April of 1959, Flowers for Algernon won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. Keyes later expanded the story into a full length novel in 1966 and it was a joint winner of that years Nebula Award for Best Novel. It tied with Samuel Delany’s Babel-17. Algernon is a science fiction novella that is told from the perspective of Charlie Gordon, who is the first human to undergo surgery to artificially increase his intelligence. The title refers to a laboratory mouse named Algernon who was the first subject to undergo the intelligence surgery. In this story, Keyes explores the ethics and morals behind the treatment of the mentally disabled. Over the course of the novella, Charlie details his experiences in increasingly poignant diary entries. Charlie’s intelligence eventually surpasses the doctor’s wildest expectations and the medical community is poised to make a major scientific breakthrough. However, Algernon soon experiences a rapid decline and everyone wonders if Charlie will face a similar fate. Throughout the story, Keyes shows that everyone is worthy of respect, even people with mental disabilities or awkward social skills. I consider Flowers of Algernon to be a heartbreaking, thought provoking, and brilliant novella. Apparently a lot of people agree since over 5 million copies have been sold and the novella has never gone out of print.
Flowers for Algernon, Mariner Books, 2005, 9780156030304
What happens when a crime novelist decides to take a break and write something else? The result is Skipping Christmas, a light hearted tale about the monumental stress of modern holiday traditions. This is not a groundbreaking novella or particularly deep, but it is a hilarious read and a good literary palate cleanser. Unlike other Grisham novels, this one does not include all the legal twists, drama, and complexity normally found in his stories. Instead, the novella is hilarious, airy, and pokes fun at the materialistic nature of modern holidays. Imagine a year without Christmas: no crowded shop, no parties, no tangled Christmas light, and no slaving away in the kitchen. That is what Luther and Nora Krank have this in mind when they decide to skip the holiday and go on a Caribbean cruise instead. Except, the neighborhood will not let them drop everything and leave. Thus ensures an epic battle of wills between the Kranks and their neighbors. The dialogue is witty and the narrative moves quickly. Overall, Grisham explores the importance of family without becoming nauseatingly sentimental. I also recommend the 2004 movie adaption, Christmas with the Kranks.
Skipping Christmas, Arrow, 2004, 9780099481683