After all the freedom and joy associated with a school holiday, we are already back into the throes of the school day, lessons, activities and even exams for some.
If you celebrated Christmas, I wonder how many gave or received a book as a gift? I received 5 this year, which is far more than in a long while. And I have been a recent convert to a Kindle as well!
Books have the power to disappoint, inspire, frustrate or excite. You may enjoy a particular genre of fiction – romance, comedy, horror, adventure or science fiction perhaps. Some of us enjoy factual books (the Guinness Book of World Records has been a regular stocking filler for decades) or especially popular as gifts, more recently the autobiography. Celebrity biographies and autobiographies are top sellers nowadays whether ghost written or not, with leading sports stars, media personalities and politicians topping the sales charts at Christmas.
I began the holiday re-reading Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ having heard so many Year 11’s talk about it as their set text for their English Literature GCSE. I am currently part way through Michelle Obama’s autobiography but progress will slow down now that the holiday is over and term has re-started.
The theme of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is that we bless both ourselves and the world when we live in a generous, compassionate and openhearted way. As the novel opens, we meet Scrooge, who has shut down his positive emotions. He experiences no joy and no empathy towards his fellow man.
Although Scrooge doesn’t get along with anybody around him, the main conflict he faces is within himself. The different ‘visitations’ of Jacob Marley, the Christmas spirits of the past, present and finally the ghost of Christmas future, where Scrooge visits the site of his own grave, shake his very core. He begins a new life of charity rather than greed, and the story ends happily, as Scrooge becomes a benefactor rather than a miser. Truly, a timeless story of self-realisation that is as relatable in our new 2020 decade as it was in the early 19th century – to me it still resonated and had impact, even though I know the story so well.
And as for the 21st century autobiography…. iconic Michelle Obama is undoubtedly a true modern role model. She grew up on the south side of Chicago with high levels of deprivation, crime and racial discrimination. She became the manifestation of the American Dream – where anyone can make it regardless of their background, if they work hard. Her motivation, resilience and drive are impressive. However, I am also drawn by her own self-awareness of her own failings and weaknesses – such qualities lay the foundations of a successful, fulfilled and balanced person. Being able to recognise your foibles helps to ensure careful thought about your actions and enables us to learn from our mistakes.
So as we embark on the new term, New Year and new decade we can reflect upon the challenges we face and decide how we will confront them best. We may not be visited by ghostly apparitions nor confront open discrimination but the attributes we use to succeed, to thrive and to grow are just as important. We need resilience, empathy, humility, drive, compassion and tenacity to help us overcome all obstacles in our way and to help us become better human beings.
Lynne M Horner