"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd

Which came first the movie or the book?  I pondered this question as I picked up A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd the other day. I hate it when a book isn't any different than the movie. Why should I even bother reading it if they are the same? Fortunately that is not the case with this book which has just catapulted itself near the top of my Favorite Christmas books list.  Let me explain.

Apparently Jean Shepherd, a humorist and radio monologist, wrote several semi-autobiographical essays about his early years during the Depression.  He had these essays published in a book called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash in 1966.  Later he used four of these essays (and one from another volume) to co-write the screenplay for the 1983 A Christmas Story movie, which has become standard fare during the holiday season in America today. This book, published in 2003, contains the five essays that "Shep" drew material from for his screenplay. (From the Publisher's notes.)

The essays, like the movie, are funny.  Really funny. They are also read aloud good.  I found myself taking the book around with me wherever I went, reading passages aloud to whomever would listen.  I carried it to the lunchroom at school and regaled teachers with excerpts from this little gem of a book.

Shep's essays are not only funny they are superbly written. The essay Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Kid was the only Christmas story. It contained the bits in the movie about Ralphie pining for the Red Ryder BB gun and the visit to Santa at the department store.  I was most familiar with the material in this essay.  The other four contained the stories about the Ovaltine decoder ring, the leg lamp, the school bully, and the Bumpus dog caper. All were a delight. Here is just a tiny, teaser excerpt from the essay Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil:
The male human animal, skulking through the impenetrable fetid jungle of Kidhood, learns early in the game just what sort of animal he is. The jungle he stalks is a howling, tangled wilderness, infested with crawling, flying, leaping, nameless dangers...He daily does battle with horrors and emotions that he will spend the rest of his life trying to forget or suppress. Or recapture. (81)
Now I need to run out and rent the DVD so I can watch the movie from the beginning-something I've never done before-and you need to get yourself to the bookstore or library and pick up this book.  Do it today.  You won't be disappointed.  I promise.


  1. Sounds like a good book to read :D

    Love your blog. Very neat and informative

  2. I admire your desire to have a movie be different from a book. Jean Shepherd's fictional stories (not essays) were first improvised on his radio shows in the early 1960s and at the suggestion of his best friend, Shel Silverstein, written down and submitted to Playboy. Playboy published 23 of Shepherd's stories and also sent him to The Brisith Isles to travel with The Beatles for a week. His interview with them appeared in Playboy, February 1965.

    The A CHRISTMAS STORY book's blurb distorts the issue of the chicken (Shepherd's improvised radio stories/published versions) and the egg--the movie almost two decades later).

    There's a lot more about Jean Shepherd's many and varid works at flicklives.com, and in my 500-page book about him and his art.

  3. Thanks for the analysis! I’ve always wanted to read this book, due to my fondness for the movie. You’ve just tipped the scales... I’m heading to the library first thing on Monday!

  4. Eugene, thanks for setting the record straight. I confess that I didn't spend a lot of time looking up information on Jean Shepherd before I wrote my book review. Though, in my defense, the publisher's notes in the front of the book do call the stories "autobiographical essays." I also recognize that stories which include some kernal of truth from one's own life often play up some aspect that we want to highlight, be it funny, poignant, stange, etc. and now I see that there is a note in the front of the book from Mr. Shepherd stating that all the charcters are fictional. Let the record stand corrected. Thank you, most humbly.

  5. What age level is this book appropriate for?

  6. Dear Anonymous- I actually think that this book would work for older teenagers who like to read, but generally I'd consider this an adult book. The print is small and the text is tense. I had another teacher ask me if I thought it would be OK for his 12 year old son. The subject matter would be fine for that age but I'm guessing that the reading level is much higher than that.

  7. This sounds wonderful, Anne! I really love this style of essay and memoir - it sounds right up my alley.

    I had no idea the movie was based on essays. Thanks for the great review -



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