November 2022 Leisure Learning

by Melissa Haas
published in Reading

Happy holidays and solstice celebrations to all! As the year comes to an end, I hope that you take the time to look over those moments which made 2022 special for you in terms of literature. Whether they are of the reading, writing, or researching variety – anything that inspires linguistic love counts as a “win” here at DIY MFA. November 2022’s Leisure Learning list is pretty light, given how busy everyone is going to be now that gatherings are back and, for the most part, we will have to don actual and appropriate clothing this year. In the spirit of togetherness, several of the selections below were chosen so they could be watched with family and viewed with good cheer.

5 over 50 

Poets & Writers

“The twenty-five-year-old me would have written a different Khabaar than what a fifty-one-year-old me wrote. Don’t compare oranges with tandoori shrimp…look, what joy! We create worlds. How lucky are we? Why complicate it with lists, ‘expiry’ dates, and the pressure to look a certain way? Fill yourself with joy that you get to write magic.” 

-Madhushree Ghosh, 2022 awardee

We’ve all seen lists of the brilliant young people creating the future. Forbes has their 30 Under 30 list. The Thiel Fellowship used to be called the 20 Under 20 list, though the program has been expanded to be more like 25-30 Under 22 (i.e., time for a new name).

Lists like these often suffice for business and tech, but writing is different. Writing takes life experience. Writing requires synthesis, which may take years in and of itself. The best authors have seen human themes play out in the real world, over a number of years, within a society’s unique dynamics.

Poets & Writers recognizes that one’s writing career may only begin in mid to late life. As such, they’ve come up with a 5 over 50 list: 5 authors over the age of 50 making spectacular debuts. Check out these emerging writers who know of what they write.


(BBC series, US viewers can watch via BritBox, Vudu or AppleTV+)

In the same way that Edgar Allan Poe cannot be separated from October, Charles Dickens bears a similar association with December. In fact, this is only the first entry attributed to the author on this list alone.

If you have a few days of downtime, I highly recommend getting vicariously snowed in with a good handful of Dickens’ most memorable characters, one of whom has ended Jacob Marley’s life in a most unsavory manner. Dickensian is a mash-up TV series featuring several of Dickens’ characters, as if they all lived within walking distance of each other. Scrooge and Bob Cratchit keep track of debts down the street from The Old Curiosity Shop, with the Havisham’s brewery around the corner. Peek in the back and you’re likely to find Fagin’s gang lurking about.

The interesting thing about this collage of sorts is that audiences will be familiar with a good half of the characters via pop culture: Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, The Artful Dodger, Fagin, and Oliver Twist, who hold prominent places. This element, along with the strong storyline for the series on its own (just who did kill Jacob Marley?), makes what could easily be inaccessible quite enjoyable. You don’t have to be well versed in Bleak House or Great Expectations to enjoy this 1-season series, but I’m willing to bet, you’re going to find one classic worth picking up because of it.  

(Disclaimer: One of literature’s most beloved characters, Pip, does not make an appearance, as the story takes place before his time. However, insight into how Ms. Havisham became Ms. Havisham is worth the trade-off.)


This is a lovely Icelandic tradition that is catching on internationally. Throughout early December, people exchange books, and then spend Christmas Eve or another night cozied up with chocolate, reading their new books. It’s a beautiful night of everyone introverting together and makes up for all of those books on hygge you’ve been meaning to get around to.

The tradition is a relatively new one, as it grew out of paper scarcity in post WWII Europe; the 2019 pandemic served only to popularize this charming holiday.

I shall leave you to your own book recommendations, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include these hot chocolate recipes based on fictional characters or literary inspired chocolate links: NomNom Old Books flavored chocolate, Li-Lac Chocolate Books, and book covers that turn Hershey’s miniatures into classics.

Little Women 

(Greta Gerwig adaptation, 2019)

Louise May Alcott’s coming of age book is one of the most popular literary works ever to be adapted for stage, screen and even anime. The largely autobiographical work that was written in under three months (though decades of experience) captures the vitriol sisters can have for each other, as well as the equally profound love, and documents the values of the March family while they are just making ends meet.

The story starts out on Christmas, with the March family foregoing some of their breakfast feast for a family in much greater need. As such, Little Women makes for nice seasonal fare. However, I am intentionally recommending Greta Gerwig’s 2019 movie adaptation to the DIY MFA audience. Not only was it nominated for the 2020 Academy Awards in all major categories (sadly, winning only Best Costume) and named one of the top 10 films by the American Film Institute that same year, this adaptation is a great example of how to update a classic in a way that revitalizes the material.

So many other adaptations have been done, and done well, yet there remains a disconnect. Emotions are kept at an arm’s length away. The audience finds the characters affable, poignant and politely humorous in all of the right spots, whereas Gerwig’s treatment is brimming with life. Her versions of Jo, Beth, Meg, and Amy are palpably spirited; they embody the young women we see running out of high school, working on the weekends, sneaking both in and out of windows, all in that mad rush of vibrant, young life, all in stunning period costumes. If you’ve found prior versions of Little Women too sedate, I recommend giving this one at least a shot. Besides, it’s worth watching even if just for the moment of comic relief when Saul (Bob Odenkirk) from Better Call Saul makes his entrance. 

The Man Who Invented Christmas 


While it’s difficult to imagine December without Dickens, rarely do we take the time to consider the conditions under which A Christmas Carol was actually written. In the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, a creatively blocked, down-on-his-luck Charles Dickens desperately searches for source material that will help his young family continue to manage comfortably while his elderly father continues to demand more of an allowance. This is a great movie to watch with your kids, their grandparents, and any in-laws who might be having an extended holiday stay at your own house. Why? Because this movie captures the heart and spirit of being a creator. The internal processes of character creation and arguing with them editing are portrayed with the light-heartedness writing has bestowed upon most of us at one time or another. Despite the overwhelming success of A Christmas Carol, few realize that Dickens needed to come up with some work; not only did he have to write it in a short time, he also had to illustrate and self-publish it. In short, it’s a fantastic way to explain to your family what you’re doing all of those hours locked away in a room.

Now, here it must be said that the movie is based upon the book of the same name, written by Les Standiford, a prestigious academic writer who specializes in classic Industrial Age subjects (e.g., Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie, the spectacle of the Big Top Circus). However, the movie is largely divorced from the book. The book gives a much more factual, socioeconomic account of how Dickens’ work, by including the underprivileged, along with his personal idea of charity, gave rise to how the holiday is celebrated today – as a season of fellowship towards each other. Prior to this, Christmas was a holiday celebrated about as much as Jolabokaflod has been here in the States. With the rise of machines, things weren’t getting any better.

Both the book and movie are highly worthwhile. It simply helps to know that the title for the movie is more of a misnomer, and that despite having the same title, the subject matter found in each presentation of this work is radically different. 

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at

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