Being an avid reader, I face the same problem of all who love to read. Just which books should I read? The problem has changed over the centuries. In the not-so-distant past, the problem was finding anything to read. Very few books were published, those that did find their way into print were incredibly expensive, and many people had no access to books at any price.
Today the problem is just the opposite. So many books are out there, it is like trying to drink from a firehose. We are drowning in a literary sea.
Well, what a way to go.
One of the ways I manage book selection is by reading something holiday-related in the fall and winter. During Halloween, I pick at least one book that is a bit spooky. Thanksgiving is tougher as the pickings are leaner. Advent/Christmas, on the other hand is, ironically, a veritable cornucopia.
This year, I am re-reading “A Christmas Carol,” which I do, without apology, every few years. Without apology because I believe it to be the greatest Christmas book ever written, other than those two by Matthew and Luke. This year, I am reading it with a Mitchell student, which is even more enjoyable because talking about books is second only to reading books.
Like all great books, it yields something new every time you read it. And not just an “I don’t remember that part.” Rather, it yields some new absolute gem, some revelation, that, oddly, even alarmingly, you missed last time.
Here’s this year’s discovery. Every time in the past that I’ve read the book and, frankly, in every movie version, I’ve always found Ebenezer Scrooge’s singular character flaw to be stinginess, miserliness, i.e. Scrooge-iness. (What a coup Dickens made in Carol that his character’s name found its way into the lexicon. When you call someone a “Scrooge,” everyone knows precisely what you mean). He is a covetous old cheapskate.
But, while that still rings true no matter how many times you read the book, this time I noticed that Scrooge lamented, even more than his stinginess, his lack of kindness in his relationship with others, his tendency toward harsh words.
During the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the two companions visit the Christmas parties put on by his old master, Fezziwig. Seeing the joy his younger self — and so many others — found in such celebrations, Scrooge offered of his beloved former boss, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words….” As Scrooge is lost in this reverie, the Spirit asks him if something is the matter and he responds, “No, no. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”
Notice that he doesn’t instantly fly to the notion of increasing Bob Cratchit’s pay or providing a bit more coal for his office stove, but to making him happy in the “power (that) lies in words….” This is not because he is a miser and words are cheaper than higher wages but that he recognizes words, through his experience as a young apprentice under Fezziwig, as even more powerful.
Having noticed this example, dozens more quickly presented themselves as I continued my reading even though they had all slipped quietly past me in previous years, like Marley’s ghost silently sitting next to Scrooge year after year until that fateful Christmas Eve when he came a knocking.
How could I have missed it? Especially since this same truth is known by every sound educator. It may have once been true that a good teacher never cracked a smile before Christmas, but purely authoritarian classroom management is largely ineffective today, though there is and must still be some point where compliance takes over when relationship fails. I liken this to what my brother said about our parents: “I was always afraid of disappointing Mom. I was afraid of Dad.” A slight exaggeration.
When I first became a principal, my superintendent, Mr. Sextro, explained it to me. I was supervising the foyer outside of a basketball game when a student, on the other end of long hallway, began misbehaving. I shouted to him in rather harsh words to “knock it off.” In doing so, I embarrassed him in front of his friends. Sextro walked over to me and quietly offered that doing what I had just done might bring obedience today but “he’ll hate you forever.”
You try to teach someone who hates you.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from Scrooge. When he awakes that Christmas morning after the salutary visits of all three spirits, he rushes to his window and notes a street urchin below, someone in the past he would have paid as much attention as to the paving stones beneath his feet. This time he calls to him and, when the boy responds, Scrooge repents from his old behavior and calls back, “An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy!” The shilling would come later. The kindness, the gracious words would come first.
Not a bad lesson at Christmas … or any time of year.