How any Scrooge can find joy in Dickens.

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The book was not treated well. The fabric on the back cover seems to have been eaten away by some dreaded pestilence, probably one long-ago summer. This book was not made for summer, I suppose. At some point, it was left out in the rain. The ink has run, but I can still make out the words. It has an odd beginning, for a book about joy.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…dead as a door-nail…I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade…

You, no doubt, have traditions you return to every Christmas. This is mine. I bought it for $3 at a thrift store, but it was the best $3 I ever spent. In A Christmas Carol, I've found a time machine in which I can move, not just across decades and even oceans but spirit. It makes me feel good. It makes me hopeful in an age when it sometimes seems like we've lost our hearts.

I am not saying it transforms me, as the spirits of Christmases past, present, and yet to come do to miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. But in a way that's hard to put into words, I find wisdom in it, and in the confusing whirl of my 21st-century life, a little peace…maybe even cheer.

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The truest lines might be those of Jacob Marley's first ghostly manifestation in Scrooge's bedchamber, as he wafts in dragging a great chain of lockboxes and timepieces.

"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?"

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"

I swear, some days, I hear a faint clinking myself.

"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?"

I've tried to be generous, but there is more to this book than that. It is, of course, a warning not to waste your years, as Marley did, but to discover that cheer that sent old Fezziwig cavorting about the dance floor.

Well, I don't dance. But there are many things about this time of year that just lift me, somehow, that make my tread less heavy, even if the closest I get to a Christmas tree is seeing one in a commercial on a hotel television.

I don't go to many parties and have missed a lifetime of Christmas services. I hear the bells toll, usually from a distance. But even in this solitude, Dickens—and Scrooge—found joy.

His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.