18 August 2009

Weekly Geeks: Second Chances

Weekly Geeks

There have been times in my life where I reread a book (or author) I hated - or thought I hated - but the second time around ended up loving. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever changed your mind about a book or author the second time around? Have you ever given a book or author a second chance?
The only example that spring to mind is Charles Dickens. Once upon a time, I tried to read Oliver Twist, and barely made it past the first page. (Which hardly counts as a reading attempt, really.) Later I dragged myself through a few chapters of A Tale of Two Cities, and most of Great Expectations. After years of thinking I’d never be able to finish anything he’d written I did manage to get to the end of A Christmas Carol, which changed my opinion somewhat - I then thought I’d never be able to finish anything long he’d written.

But I felt absurdly guilty. This was Charles Dickens - one of the absolute greats of English literature. I read the classics, so shouldn’t I be reading him? Not the most logical of statements, I know; there’s no code of literary law forbidding you to dislike an author venerated by the critics. But I still thought I should give him one last chance.

So I bought a copy of Bleak House on the grounds that if I really couldn’t finish it, I’d know how it ended because I’d seen the miniseries. And I loved it. All 800+ pages of it. I want to reacquaint myself with A Tale of Two Cities (though perhaps not Great Expectations, at least until my memories of much-disliked high school English classes have faded). I want to go hunting for his other works. I can foresee a lifelong literary love ... proving that stubbornness pays off.

4 comments:

  1. I have yet to experience my Charles Dickens breakthrough. I read Oliver Twist when I was nine or ten, and it put me off Dickens for life. I've tried with other books a few times, though not Bleak House! Maybe it's time to give him another try.

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  2. I've got a few Dickens sitting on my shelf downstairs with little more than a few pages read in each...time to try again I think

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  3. Umbagollah10:50 AM

    I disliked Patrick White until I picked up the Twyborn Affair and realised that the finicky prissiness that had irritated me in some of his other work could be regarded as a link between his style and that of the later books of Henry James (The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl) which I love. After that I began to see it as a voice, rather than an affectation, and we began to get on together.

    I don't mean that White and James are identical, only that it seems to me that there's a connection there, and the connection helped me to see through the priss to to the author behind it. "If I like James," I thought, "then I can like White."

    As for Dickens, what did you love about him? If it was the effervescence of his language then I wouldn't recommend Tale of Two Cities. This is subjective, I know, but Cities has always felt to me like an unusually dry Dickens, author-voice-wise. How about David Copperfield instead? Very bright, very funny book, with plenty of drama and vivid characters.

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  4. Jenny: I love it when I successfully lure somebody into literary temptation!

    Kristen: I wonder if Dickens holds some sort of record for the number of people who've failed to finish his books?

    Umbagollah: Thanks for the suggestion. I might try David Copperfield and perhaps The Pickwick Papers before making another attempt at A Tale of Two Cities.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776