A brand new holiday tradition may have been born, thanks to Cathleen Rivera and Peter Wynne
Peter Wynne took up his position at the podium and surveyed the crowd.
It was a typical December night. However, while the wintry wind blew and temperatures outside plummeted, those of us inside Loose Leaf Pages were warm and snug.
A small, diverse crowd had braved the cold to enjoy a rare experience: the dramatic reading of Charles Dickens' holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
We sat facing the podium, attentive and expectant. Some cradled cups of tea or hot chocolate, while others silenced their cells in anticipation.
Peter's demeanor was that of a college professor.
Clad in tweed jacket and khaki pants, twinkling eyes peered out at us from behind black-rimmed glasses and beneath an unruly shock of thick, grey hair.
“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail...” Peter began in the steady, sonorous voice many have come to know from a quarter century on public radio.
“Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did! How could it be otherwise?”
And so, we settled in to enjoy this timeless tale … one that's become inseparable from the holiday it celebrates.
First published in the winter of 1843, the work Dickens himself called “My little Christmas book,” was an instant hit.
A Christmas Carol was conceived to help the author climb out of debt, which it did in short order. In fact, the novella remains one of the most popular stories in history and has never once gone out of print.
Generations of wide-eyed readers have thrilled to the description of Ebenezer Scrooge, the ultimate miser, and his Christmas transformation. This is a life-altering change orchestrated by four spirits: Jacob Marley, The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.
It's a story Peter Wynne has read dozens of times during his 77 years on this planet. And, it never seems to get old.
“Dickens is such a fine writer,” he said. “Honestly, it's just such a pleasure to speak his words.
Judging from my own reaction and those of fellow audience members, it was a pleasure listening to Peter speak them. He's honed his skills via a lifetime love affair with words, from public radio to big city newspapers and smalltown weeklies.
The performance lasted just over an hour, including a five-minute intermission. A reading of the entire work takes more than three hours, so the abridged version is perfect for this setting.
Peter is intimately acquainted with Christmas stories since he's written and published several of his own. However, he has a particular fondness for Dickens.
While Peter's favorite passage changes from year-to-year, he's always been struck by Dickens' power of portrayal. He is especially inspired by the description of a bustling London marketplace through which Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present stroll:
“'The onions as fat as Spanish Monks.' That's just marvelous stuff!” Peter said with a sad smile, his voice trailing off. “We don't write like that anymore.”
Island of Serenity
Loose Leaf Pages, Inc. has been a wonderful addition to Honesdale's Main Street line-up.
Under the inspired direction of owner and proprietor Cathleen Rivera, the small business has already begun carving out a devoted following.
Its is described on Facebook as “an independent bookstore promoting local authors and small publishing houses with a loose leaf tea bar featuring single origin and house blend teas.”
While that's an apt and concise description, in my humble opinion Loose Leaf Pages is much more.
It's an island of peace in a sea of chaos. While the craziness of the workaday world swirls just outside, inside serenity reigns.
It's a big, open space … and yet somehow still intimate. Chairs, love seats and sofas are scattered all about, bathed in clean light that's perfect for reading.
Holiday music plays softly in the background, punctuated occasionally by the hiss of an espresso maker. There is friendly banter at the counter, easy laughter and genuine smiles abound.
In short, it's a great place to while away an hour or two with a new book and a delicious beverage.
“I thought about this for a couple of years,” Cathleen said of her vibrant little bookstore/tea room.
“With Honesdale kind of undergoing a renaissance lately … and with it being my hometown … I figured this was the perfect time and place to give it a shot.”
She was right. And, already opportunities for n expanded presence are revealing themselves.
Plans are in the offing for more public readings, ones which will give local writers a chance to showcase their skills.
“I'm very excited,” Cathleen said. “It's a lot of work, but it's so much fun, too. I love it.”
Charles Dickens gained inspiration for A Christmas Carol while walking the streets of London.
The man now remembered as one of Europe’s greatest writers logged 10-15 miles almost daily. And, he thought as he walked ... filed away the sights and sounds of “The Old City.”
The story underwent radical changes along the way. For example, Tiny Tim was originally Tiny Fred, based on an actual boy Dickens knew who’d died in childhood.
Dickens wrote four other holiday-themed stories that were well-received. However, none of them approached the popularity of “A Christmas Carol.”
And so, by 1852, he decided to capitalize by booking a hall and doing a public reading. That first performance was delivered just before Christmas.
It was a resounding success. However, he also realized that reading the entire story was exhausting both for him and his audience.
One expert refers to Dickens as a “literary rock star.” There are documented cases of fans sleeping outside on blankets while waiting for a chance to buy $2 tickets.
While Peter Wynne doesn't think of himself as a celebrity, he was pleased to see such a nice crowd assembled on such short notice Thursday night.
Both Peter and Cathleen are optimistic that readings like this one can become a tradition.
And, who knows?
Perhaps the next “literary rock star” will rise up right here at the Loose Leaf Pages podium!