Sunday, September 18, 2005

'Tisn't quite the season, but...

I'm in the process of reading Stephen Nissenbaum's book "The Battle for Christmas." Actually, I've been reading it on and off since last Christmas, though my episodic reading shouldn't be taken as an indictment of its quality. It is, rather, the kind of book that's so richly detailed, textured, and layered that you can read it in one pass or in bits and pieces and benefit either way. More than anything, what's striking about "Battle" is the way in which Nissenbaum reads the 18th and 19th centuries through changes in the Christmas holiday. It's as much a history of those centuries, then, and of the dramatic political-economic and social transformations that took place, as it is a history of Christmas per se. His reading of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is exemplary in this regard, and perhaps the most astute interpretation of the story I've encountered. I may use Nissenbaum's book next time around in my graduate seminar on the theory and history of mass culture in the US. By all means, check it out. It's a lively read and fiercely smart--and did I mention that it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist?

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