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Our first book club kicks off today with the BerkeleyX Book Club A Christmas Carol. To celebrate the start of the book club and the holiday season, we sat down with course professor Dr. Maggie Sokolik to learn more about the course, how a book group differs from a literature course and her favorite film version of A Christmas Carol (Fans of The Muppets will be pleased!).

Why did you decide to kick off the BerkeleyX Book Club with A Christmas Carol?

Maggie Sokolik: There are two reasons for this. The first, and most important, is that in many parts of the world, December is a major holiday season, and this is a classic holiday tale. Whether or not one celebrates Christmas, the themes of this novella are relevant to our understanding of the ways the holiday are celebrated in modern times. In addition, the idea of changing one’s attitude, and therefore, changing one’s life, go beyond the holiday season. The second, slightly less important reason, is that it’s short! I’m hoping even with this time of year being busy for many, there will still be time to read and discuss the story.

Why a book club and not a literature course?

MS: A book club is a group of friends who get together and talk about the same book. The nice thing about book clubs is that no one’s opinion is more important than anyone else’s. That is the kind of atmosphere we will foster in this MOOC—an opportunity for participants to talk about their understanding of the story, rather than listen to lectures about the story. Both types of experiences are important, but I am hoping for an approach that is fun and where everyone can learn from each other.

Will the Book Club also discuss Dickens from a historical aspect? What do you find most interesting about Dickens as an author?

MS: Although we won’t spend a lot of time on history, it’s nearly impossible to understand Dickens without some historical framework. This was an enormously important historical period—Victorian England during the Industrial Revolution—these facts shape the story. Of course, this background also affects the language of the story. There will be a lot of information to help the modern reader understand the cultural references and language of the era.

Which is your favorite TV or movie adaptation of A Christmas Carol?

MS: With over 100 television, theater, and film adaptations, it’s hard to choose just one! These adaptations began in 1901 and continue to today. From among those I’ve seen, I’d choose three: the classic 1951 version with Alistair Sim, Scrooge (1970), with Alec Guinness and Albert Finney, and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992).

Why is this book such a fan favorite? What contributes to its staying power?

MS: Beyond the themes of redemption and forgiveness, I think the image of ghosts or spirits reviewing your behavior and asking you to relive parts of your life to reflect on your behavior is intriguing to a lot of us. We see this theme appear in other holiday classics, such as the film It’s a Wonderful Life.

The idea of the Christmas ghost story might seem odd, but we can find other examples in the works of Henry James (The Turn of the Screw), H.P. Lovecraft (The Festival), and even in the Andy Williams’ Christmas song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year:”

There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories 
of
Christmases long, long ago…

Who is your favorite character? And, what is your favorite scene?

MS: The ghost of Jacob Marley gets the whole party started, so to speak. When he appears to Scrooge and says, “I wear the chain I forged in life, … I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it,” he reminds us all that often we make our own chains. While this may seem like a less cheerful message than that of Tiny Tim’s, “God bless Us, Every One,” I think it provides the moment for reflection that many of us hope for in the holiday season.

To continue the conversation with Dr. Sokolik, sign up for A Christmas Carol today. Happy reading!

By Rachel Lapal, edX Communications Manager