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Happy Christmas

The book tree at the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library.

Robert Gray: The Ghost of Book Christmas Yet to Come (From Shelf Awareness)

Marley was virtually dead: to begin with…

On the third night, as Scrooge lay in bed, double-checking accounts on his iPad, once again the Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached from deep within the dimly backlit touch screen. When it came, Scrooge tapped furiously, hoping to delete the specter, but to no avail, for in the very pixels through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Book Christmas Yet to Come?” Scrooge asked. The Spirit answered not, but crooked its finger in a ghastly invitation that thrilled Scrooge with a vague uncertain horror, to know that in that dusky screen, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him.

The Phantom moved away as it had come toward him. Scrooge followed in the shadow of its dress, which somehow bore him into this virtual world and carried him along.

The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of businessmen. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.

“No,” said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, “I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know the printed version of A Christmas Carol is dead.”
“Why, what was the matter with it?” asked one of the gentlemen. “I thought it’d never die.”
“God knows,” said the first, with a yawn. “Though it’s likely to be a very cheap funeral, for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it.”

The Phantom glided onto a crowded street and stopped before a shop’s holiday window display. Scrooge looked about in that very place for his own image, but there was no likeness of himself there, nor any sign of Mr. Dickens’s books. Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand, which made him shudder, and feel very cold. Was he as dead as Marley now, a mere digital specter himself?

They left the busy scene, and ventured into an obscure part of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, though he recognized its situation. Far in this den of infamous resort, there was an obscure used bookshop. Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of the bookseller, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop.

“Who’s the worse for the loss of a few books like these?” cried the woman as she threw her bundle on the floor. “Not a dead man, I suppose.”

Scrooge listened in horror. “Spirit!” he said, shuddering from head to foot. “I see, I see. My life tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this?” He recoiled in terror, for the scene had suddenly changed, and now he almost touched a bare bookcase, dusty and shrouded in cobwebs. Scrooge glanced toward the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the empty space.

“Spirit!” he said. “This is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go!” The Spirit was immovable as ever. In his agony, Scrooge caught the spectral hand. The Spirit repulsed him. But then, holding up his own hands in a reader’s pose, Scrooge saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed and dwindled down into the iPad’s screen, from which Scrooge had somehow emerged.

Opening his Twitter account, he called outward to @bobcratchit.

“WHAT’S TODAY?” Scrooge cried.
“Eh?” returned @bobcratchit, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” typed Scrooge.
“To-day? Why, Christmas Day.”
“OMG! It’s Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night.”
“LOL!!!!!” replied @bobcratchit
“Do you know the Bookseller, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I do,” wrote @bobcratchit.
“Tomorrow go and buy every copy of A Christmas Carol they have and give them away in the streets!”
“Great idea IMHO! Merry Xmas!”

Then Scrooge went to his shelves and found his own leather-bound volume of Mr. Dickens’s fine story, which had been too long neglected after the introduction of an enhanced digital edition.

“I shall love it, as long as I live!” he cried, patting the book with his hand. “I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its cover! It’s a wonderful book!” —Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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