Christmas and Lit Are a Lyrical Fit

Yesterday was December 25, so I’m offering Christmas-time song snippets with silly revised lyrics about literature. 🙂

Sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”:

On the first day of Christmas
My book love sent to me
The Thorn Birds in a…trade paperback

Sung to the tune of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”:

I’ll be Sherlock Holmes for Christmas
Because I have multiple personalities
Please leave clues and booze by the tree
And money to pay my therapy fees

Sung to the tune of “Frosty the Snowman”:

There must have been some magic (realism)
In that Isabel Allende book they found
For when they put it on their sled
They were House of the Spirits-bound

Sung to the tune of “The Christmas Song”:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Herm Hesse nipping at some prose
The Steppenwolf in his character choir
Was not a wolf who hung with Eskimos 

Sung to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Co-starred in The Red and the Black
And if you ever read it
Stendhal was clearly not a hack

Sung to the tune of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”:

I saw Mommy kissing Outlander book nine
Underneath the mistletoe last night.
She didn’t see me creep
Through time-travel stones so steep
She thought I was watching reruns of Veep

Sung to the tune of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”:

All I want for Christmas is Zadie Smith’s White Teeth
Her novel White Teeth

Sung to the tune of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:

Hark! The Los Angeles Angels sing
Their player Mike Trout has a better swing
Than Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout…d’oh
And John Grisham’s Calico Joe

Sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”:

Dashing through the shelves
In your local library palace
The Lord of the Rings has elves
And hobbits with no malice

Sung to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock”:

What a bright time, it’s the right time
To read more Reacher novels
Reacher book time, getting hooked time
As in left hook, right hook, villain grovels 

Sung to the tune of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With must-read-book gifts
You shouldn’t drop in snow drifts 
Because if you try to retrieve them
Your hands will be The Color Purple, I fear

Sung to the tune of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your Middlemarch paperback be light
From now on
The hardcover version’s out of sight

Sung to the tune of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Tolstoy
Everywhere you go
There’s war and there’s peace
And a train that didn’t cease
Anna Karenina…NO! 

Sung to the tune of “Christmas Wrapping”:

So deck those halls, trim those trees
Raise a cup of Christmas cheer
Just don’t spill it on your Kindle
Dousing To Eternity, From Here

Sung to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”:

Later on, we’ll perspire
As we dream of the fires
In Fahrenheit 451
Burning books isn’t fun
Squawking in a quite asunder land

Sung to the tune of “White Christmas”:

I’m dreaming of a Woman in White Christmas
Reading the best book Wilkie Collins would write
May your novels be classic and long
And better than this badly revised song

Sung to the tune of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”:

Making a TBR list
And checking it twice,
No one can read enough in their lives
Before The Grim Reaper is coming to town 

Sung to the tune of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”:

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?
Another year over, a new book just begun…

Any lyrics you’d like to offer? 🙂

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about my town’s new mask mandate and more — is here.

Reimagining Characters in Literature

Lindsay Pearce as Elphaba in the current Broadway production of Wicked. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

After seeing Wicked on Broadway last Sunday, I thought about how interesting it can be when characters in literature are reimagined.

The long-running musical — inspired by Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel — features the Wicked Witch from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and 1939’s iconic movie The Wizard of Oz. In Maguire’s novel and the Wicked play, the allegedly evil Elphaba is given a back story that shows why she turned “bad.” In fact, Elphaba/the Wicked Witch is depicted as not evil at all. 

It definitely makes one ponder things when a one-dimensional character is reimagined as three-dimensional.

While watching the excellent musical, I immediately thought of how the mostly not-nuanced “madwoman in the attic” of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) is given quite a psychological makeover in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). That Jane Eyre prequel is much more sympathetic to Bronte’s “madwoman,” giving her a fuller personality and explaining how she became what she became.

Speaking of Jane Eyre-related books, Jasper Fforde’s 2001 novel The Eyre Affair features a “prose portal” in which literary detective Thursday Next enters Bronte’s novel and meets characters such as Edward Rochester, who’s portrayed somewhat differently than he was in 1847. 

Then there’s Zorro, the 1919 character creation from writer Johnston McCulley. In Isabel Allende’s 2005 novel Zorro, she fleshes out the swashbuckler’s personality and gives him a fascinating origin story. 

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (also 2005) gives Penelope a more prominent — and more feminist — role than she had in Homer’s Odyssey, the ancient epic poem. 

I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 take on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. I imagine (and reimagine) I never will. 🙂

Do you have any literary reimaginings you’d like to mention? What do you think of the concept?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about my town’s township attorney getting an ill-deserved continuation of pay after resigning over a racist remark — is here.

An Anniversary Appreciation of Emile Zola

Emile Zola, as painted by Edouard Manet in 1868.

The almost-over 2021 is the 150th anniversary of the first of the 20 novels in Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle. So, I’m writing this appreciation of the French author just in time. 🙂

Zola is nowhere near the best-known novelist of the 19th-century, but he’s in the top couple dozen — and I’m a big fan. 

While Zola had some writing success before 1871, notably with the 1868 potboiler Therese Raquin, it’s the Rougon-Macquart cycle for which he’s most remembered. Those vivid novels are considered “naturalist” and realistic, with each heavily researched book focusing on a specific theme — art, trains, laborers, retailing, alcoholism, prostitution, etc., in 19th-century France — while also offering gripping plots and compelling three-dimensional characters. The Rougons and Macquarts are two family branches, the first more upper class and the second more working class, whose members share various hereditary tendencies that tend to be on the negative side. In a number of cases, each of those women and men are secondary characters in some of the 20 books and get a star turn in others.

A major inspiration for Zola was earlier French novelist Honore de Balzac, whose “The Human Comedy” cycle also took a societal approach and also included characters who turned up more than once.

Zola’s 20-book series began with The Fortune of the Rougons in 1871, started to hit its stride with the third novel — The Belly of Paris (1873) — and then entered masterful mode with the seventh entry: The Drinking Den (1877), about an admirable, hardworking woman slammed by circumstances. The mature, riveting works that followed included Nana (1880), about a prostitute; The Ladies’ Paradise (1883), about a big department store that, a la Walmart, overwhelms mom-and-pop shops; Germinal (1885), which depicts a mining strike and is almost universally considered Zola’s crowning achievement; The Masterpiece (1886), about a struggling painter; and The Beast in Man (1890), featuring a breathtaking railroad theme. 

Interestingly, Zola might be best-known to some readers as the writer of the newspaper-published “J’Accuse” open letter defending Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer wrongly accused of treason by the French army. Zola’s courageous 1898 public stand against anti-Semitism resulted in plenty of critical and legal pushback — even forcing him to flee France for a time. So much pushback, in fact, that Zola’s 1902 death at age 62 by asphyxiation from a blocked chimney is considered a possible murder.

Yet many people admired Zola for his principles and his writing, and he would eventually be honored with burial in France’s Pantheon building, where I took this photo of his crypt during a 2018 visit to Paris:

I have one other slight connection with the author, having heard a talk by his scholar great-granddaughter 14 years ago in Aix-en-Provence, the city in the south of France where my French professor wife Laurel was also giving a paper at an Emile Zola-themed academic conference. One memorable part of the 2007 Aix visit was a long conference-attendee hike up beautiful Mont Saint-Victoire to see the dam Zola’s father was involved in building.

If you’ve read any of Zola’s work, any thoughts about it?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about my town’s township attorney belatedly resigning after making a racist remark — is here.

Why Mark Twain and L.M. Montgomery Belong in the Same Blog Post

Two renowned authors born on the same day were very different writers yet had a connection of sorts, and some similarities.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) and L.M. Montgomery (1874-1942) each came into the world on a November 30 — so their birthdays were last week.

The connection? Twain was a big fan of Montgomery’s 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, which Twain obviously read late in life. He said Anne Shirley “is the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice” of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.

Similarities between the American and Canadian authors? Both created what are among literature’s most memorable early-teen/pre-teen characters — Montgomery with Anne, and Twain with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Those protagonists are not only beloved and/or admired by young readers, but by adults as well. And the novels they appear in are highly entertaining, even as they’re also periodically depressing in subtle or overt ways.

While it’s not what they’re most famous for, both authors wrote compellingly about the horrors of war, too.

Twain did this most memorably in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court — his hilarious time-travel novel that’s also scathingly antiwar, something Hollywood pretty much sanitized in the 1949 movie version starring Bing Crosby.

And Montgomery wrote movingly about “The Great War” (now known as World War I) via the characters in Rilla of Ingleside — one of her best Anne of Green Gables sequels.

WWI is on my mind this week as I’ve been reading Pat Barker’s powerful novel Regeneration. Her historical-fiction work grippingly depicts the harrowing mental and physical effects of that brutal, bloody, almost totally senseless war on traumatized men who had been soldiers on the front and are now in a psychiatric hospital. Some of the characters are based on real people.

Regeneration author Pat Barker in 2001. (Photo by Suki Dhanda.)

While reading Regeneration, I saw it expertly reviewed on Robbie Cheadle’s blog:

And, speaking of skilled bloggers, Rebecca Budd mentioned Twain’s birthday and posted a great Twain quote the day I began writing this piece:

Also worth mentioning is that Twain and Montgomery shared the attribute of being VERY funny in their writing when they wanted to be. This is well-known with Twain, but perhaps not as well-known with Montgomery. Her novel The Blue Castle, for instance, expertly mixes hilarity with poignancy.

Here’s the only known film footage of Twain, from 1909. (Complete with typo in the clip’s headline. 😦 ) I couldn’t find any footage of Montgomery.

Anything you’d like to say about Twain and/or Montgomery?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which laments increasingly higher rents in my town — is here.