Tuesday, December 7, 2010

They're the wrong Dickens

You've heard the news that Oprah has picked a combo of Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations as what may be her final book club selections. As a rabid fan of Dickens, I wish she had picked something else. Tale is possibly the least representative of all of his novels, and as such, is far from the best. I like a Dickens who takes his time, who paints on a vast canvas. I get the impression that TOTC is recommended in high schools not because it's the best but because it's the shortest. I can understand that, but you can't make a Dickens fan out of a sow's ear, so why not go long and hope for the best? Expectations has the virtue of being long, and it is a better book, but it's so...obvious. In fact, it's the other book high schools make kids read (and I speak to this as a part time high school debate coach in my off hours, where I hear kids bemoan their assignments). If it were me, I would have given them David Copperfield, which I've always maintained is the most honest of the books, being so much based on the author's own life. After that, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are triumphs of literature and, of course, ridiculously readable. (Nowadays the author would never get the title Bleak House past an editor: too depressing, especially because the book is anything but.) No doubt people will as a result of this read some Dickens that they wouldn't otherwise read, and that's not a bad thing, but I don't think anyone will be turned into a Dickens fanatic because the gateway drug isn't potent enough. Oh, well. What can you do?

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