Sunday, November 12, 2017

Christmas Reading: "The Triple Dog Dare" by Joanna Wilson

Each year when Halloween passes and November 1 comes, several things happen in the Bingle house.  I start playing Christmas music on the record player when the rest of the family is around (instead of listening privately, as I do every year in the months of January-October).  I more diligently begin detailed planning for my annual Christmas compilation CD (yes, I still burn CDs).  I start looking for the necessary fixins for the annual fruitcake baking later in November.  And I start my Christmas reading.

I love Christmas reading as much as anything during the holidays. Novels, stories, poetry, and works of non-fiction all make my reading list in a given year.  There are a few annual traditions I've settled into, such as reading Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" every year on Thanksgiving morning, accompanied by the peace of the sleeping household and a cup of freshly brewed coffee with a touch of cream.

Most of my reading, though, is new to me, be it a classic Christmas story or a new work.  This year, I chose "The Triple Dog Dare: Watching - & Surviving - the 24-House Marathon of A Christmas Story" by Christmas TV journalist extraordinaire Joanna Wilson to kick off my holiday reading season.

In "The Triple Dog Dare", author Joanna tells her account of watching the modern classic film A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight, simulating the annual broadcast on TBS that has become a part of so many of our Christmas Eves and Days.  Twelve straight viewings.  Twelve showdowns with Scut Farkus.  Twelve times Flick stuck his tongue on the pole.  Twelve "Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra"s at the Chop Suey Palace.  Twelve "Oh Fuuuuuuudge"s (but he didn't say "fudge").  What would happen after the marathon?  Would she love the movie even more?  Would she never want to see it ever again?  Would she still be sane? 

These questions and many more are answered in this delightful and completely engaging book. Joanna explores the reasons why this movie has become so beloved, and why it is uniquely suitable for the 24 hour marathon broadcast year after year, which plays in to the reason so many major advertisers buy commercial time during the event.  She gives us many details about the cast, including connections beyond the film and some "where are they now" info.  We are treated to a cornucopia of tidbits about the film, production, location, and other miscellany.  Perhaps I knew, but had forgotten, that Bob Clark also directed "Black Christmas" the 1974 film.  I did not know until reading this book that Mr. Clark has a cameo in the film.  It's things like this, the details surrounding the film, that make the book such a joy.

But that's not all.  Joanna tells about her staging of the marathon - a re-creation done in February with a VHS tape of the movie recorded from television in 1989.  (We understand that viewing the entire marathon as it's broadcast live would be a serious detriment to enjoying the holiday, and really just not feasible for a Christmas lover).  An unexpected bonus of traveling back in time to television circa 1989 was the neo-vintage commercials that were fortunately not excised from the recording.  Joanna's accounts of these commercials, many for products and services that have ceased to exist, added significant joy to the reading experience.

Christmas Television History Expert Joanna Wilson
There is no unnecessary play-by-play of the movie.  Many scenes are referenced and used as inertia to explore an angle, a nook, or a cranny about the film, the viewing experience, the social and collective tradition that has developed since the marathon began, or other tangents and fascinating offshoots.  If you, like me, love the movie, you'll find much to love in Joanna's book.  It's a guarantee that you'll relate to some or many of Joanna's observations and experiences, and you will assuredly learn something new about A Christmas Story.  

While I'm at it, let me give a thumbs-up to Joanna's other Christmas-related books, "The Christmas TV Companion", "Tis the Season TV", and "Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1".  The first two of these have suddenly become enablers for me to spend way too much time in front of the TV, looking up previously unknown (to me) TV episodes, film shorts, cartoons, and so on.  Thanks to Joanna I'm discovering Christmas entertainment that I didn't know existed, and it's wonderful.  Thanks Joanna!

Joanna Wilson, in addition to publishing books about Christmas visual entertainment, also runs the excellent blog Christmas TV History and keeps an active social media presence via Tis the Season TV and Triple Dog Dare on Facebook, as well as on other social media platforms.

1701 Press website
The Triple Dog Dare on 1701 Press
Christmas TV History

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