Thursday, 23 December 2010

More Seasonal Reading

I can't believe that it took me sooo long to get around to reading this book. I have always loved Dr Seuss, and this is one of his most famous works. I don't remember it at all from my own childhood, although it was released in 1957 so it is possible that I could have read it, but somehow it seems I didn't. I've never seen a movie version either I believe.

But I've been won over by it's considerable charms. It is of course a rather engaging book. Dr Seuss rarely writes a dud. Ok, there are a few. But he was a rhyming genius. And The Grinch is a great creation. I wasn't all that fond of Horton Hears a Who, and the whole Who-ville thing, but it works much better here.

The Grinch is a grumpy old curmudgeon who lives just north of Who-ville. The Grinch quite naturally hates Christmas, the whole Christmas season!

Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was too sizes too small. 

The Grinch of course does his darnedest to stop Christmas from coming, to ruin it for everyone, and along the way he bring some great Seuss tongue-twisting rhymes. My favourite line by far is

And he puzzled three hours, til his puzzler was sore. 

Great stuff. 

A near complete change of style is David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice. This is one of the many purchases that I made at the fabulous $5 book sale in town. Oh, I wonder if I can sneak in another visit before Christmas? I've made 4 major hits so far..... and there's new books each time. This is the first of the bargain books that I've read. 

I've admired David Sedaris from a distance for a while. I've long to read Me Talk Pretty One Day for some time. My sister gave me When You are Engulfed in Flames for Christmas a few years ago, and to my shame I haven't finished it yet! I think I've half read it, and enjoyed it. So Holidays on Ice was too good to pass up for 5 bucks. 

An interesting compilation of 6 short stories in a lovely little coaster sized book. The first SantaLand Diaries recounts Davids time working as an Elf at Macy's in New York, before his considerable fame presumably. It is a depressing account of how people behave in crowds, and it's not a pleasing view of humanity:

All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are uinque, but I'm afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints. 

In a little known but quite interesting fact (and one that I learnt on QI, and is not covered in SantaLand Diaries) koalas have fingerprints that distinguish individuals, just like humans do.

Of course there are wry and witty observations along the way: Standing in a two-hour line makes people worry that they're not living in a democratic nation. 

Season's Greetings is a fictional end-of-year Christmas letter written by Mrs Dunbar and detailing all the happenings with her family over the last year. It has that train wreck fell about it from early on, and this feeling only amplifies along the way despite Mrs Dunbars optimistic and upbeat turn of phrase. I didn't particularly find it funny. Sadly, the tragic events in the fake Christmas letter have become all too real in recent years to be even slightly funny and it just seems to be in bad taste to me. There is a certain irony to the character named Khe Sanh for any Australian reader of a certain age- of course it was a famous battle in Vietnam, but perhaps even more famously a song by an iconic Aussie band, Cold Chisel, often the last song of the night played in a pub, and the beer ravaged hordes would sing loudly. I'm sure that Mr Sedaris wasn't aware of these associations at the time, but it's still an "oh" sort of moment. There are still the occasional funny, snarky moment. 

Most of the rest of the stories I found more bizarre than evocative of Christmas. The promising title of Dinah The Christmas Whore didn't bear all that much fruit I thought. Front Row Centre is odd. So a gay adult man with no children goes to Christmas plays at primary schools  is bored and astonished at the poor level of acting? No great surprise there. Whilst I must agree with the opening sentence:

The approach of Christmas signifies three things: bad movies, unforgivable television and even worse theatre. 

He puts his derision across in a funny way, and as a parent who has sat through a school concert quite recently I certainly understand some of his points about the validity of such a theatre experience. Some of it is cringeworthy indeed, but it's our little darlings, or our friends little darlings up there on stage, and we parents need to be supportive. 

I did take great exception when he started taking a swipe at Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Sure, a version acted out by preteens may not have quite the dramatic impact that Dickens imagined, but to call this well-loved, classic tale (that I'm reading right now) a "Dickensian stinker"  and rail against it's "dime store mentality" is taking things a bit far I suspect.

Based Upon a True Story is a really interesting piece. A TV producer is delivering a sermon in a small town back water church trying to get access to a parishioner to get her "story". It has a lot of interesting things to say about modern media, what constitutes "entertainment", and the ongoing role of class in our society. It's possibly my favourite piece in the book. 

Christmas Means Giving is a farcical story depicting ridiculous levels of neighbourly rivalry. It is trying to make a point I'm sure, but I found it just silly. 

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