Yes, I own the whole set.
No, I didn’t re-read them all yesterday. Never mind what I said on Facebook. I lie a lot on Facebook. I lie on Twitter too. Come to think of it, I lie here as well. I’m the Mitt Romney of bloggers. Every other word I type is a lie. Heck, every other letter. So maybe I did re-read them all and the rest of the novels and collections on my bookshelf along with them.
Probably I didn’t. You know how you’d know? If you knew that it was February. I can’t read Dickens in February. I can’t read Dickens in any months that don’t end in an r and begin with an N or a D. Almost all the Dickens I’ve read I’ve read between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve of any given year since my junior year in high school when I was given a copy of Great Expectations for Christmas. The exception was Hard Times. I read that one May, back in college, on a bus ride to New York City and I didn’t like it. The bus ride, I mean. But Hard Times too. Which convinced me that one should never read Dickens in May. You’d think it would have convinced me never to read Dickens on a bus. It almost did. But in grad school I forgot about the hard time I had reading Hard Times and re-read David Copperfield on a bus ride from Iowa City to Chicago. The bus was taking me to catch the train home for…Christmas. Whenever I looked up from the book it was to look out the windows at snow-covered fields and houses decorated for Christmas. I think that was the third time I read David Copperfield. Maybe it was the fourth. Whichever, I loved it as much as ever.
I’ve read all the novels at least once. Three I’ve read only once. Hard Times, The Old Curiosity Shop, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Some day I may re-read the first two. Probably not on a bus though. Drood? There’s no point, unless it turns out that Dickens did finish it and put the manuscript away in a desk drawer and forgot about it and the desk was sold and then lost in somebody’s attic until…You get the point.
The others I’ve re-read and re-read. Some just a couple times. Several several and one, David Copperfield, seven. Or eight. I’ve lost count.
I’ve probably re-read A Christmas Carol twenty times, but that’s a special case, too special for me to list as my favorite, even though the evidence suggests that it is. When people ask me, though, I always say David Copperfield, because it’s my favorite too.
Obviously, if you didn’t already know, Dickens is my favorite writer.
No other writer comes close. Not Chekhov, not Twain, not Vonnegut, not Austen, not Trollope, not even Terry Pratchett. I could go on and on about what makes Dickens special. I could probably write a book. If you really want to know, invite me to your class or to your club. I’ll put on a show. Most of the show would be me reading my favorite passages from my favorite books. I can read the stuffing out of Dickens.
So, you might think that yesterday, Dickens’ 200th birthday, would have been extra-special to me. Not a bit of it. It was just another day in a near lifetime of days of loving celebrating Dickens. But I was glad to see that it was special to so many people around the web.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpts I posted. I had half a mind to post many more. One every for every waking hour. What stopped me was indecision. Too many choices. I had five passages I wanted to post from Dombey and Son alone! My brain just seized up.
Dombey and Son is another one of my favorites, although when people ask I usually don’t mention it. I tend to stop at five.
People do ask, you know. They asked yesterday. All over Facebook my Facebook friends were demanding to know. “Lance Mannion, what’s your favorite Dickens novel?”
Ok, maybe not all over Facebook.
I didn’t answer.
I was saving it up for here.
Lance’s five favorite novels by Charles Dickens.
The Pickwick Papers.
Our Mutual Friend.
Ok, that’s six. Oliver Twist is seventh. Then Little Dorrit. Then Dombey. Then Barnaby Rudge.
Why stop now?
Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, and The Old Curiosity Shop.
The last two I don’t really like.
Dickens wasn’t perfect.
Don’t get me started on Master Humphrey’s Clock.
And if I’d made the list my favorite books by Dickens, Sketches by Boz and The Uncommercial Traveler would have been high up on the list, Sketches by Boz in the top five.
That’s it for now. In April, PBS is airing a new adaptation of Great Expectations. I expect I’ll have a few things to say. And a few excerpts to post.
There’s also a movie on the way, with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch. And, if you can’t wait for either, the great David Lean version is streaming on Netflix.
Meanwhile. What are your favorites? Which ones haven’t you read if any?
And, oh what the Dickens. One more. From Dombey and Son. Describing the effects of a lugubrious and unimaginative teacher’s instruction upon his young pupils:
As to Mr Feeder, B.A., Doctor Blimber's assistant, he was a kind of human barrel-organ, with a little list of tunes at which he was continually working, over and over again, without any variation. He might have been fitted up with a change of barrels, perhaps, in early life, if his destiny had been favourable; but it had not been; and he had only one, with which, in a monotonous round, it was his occupation to bewilder the young ideas of Doctor Blimber's young gentlemen. The young gentlemen were prematurely full of carking anxieties. They knew no rest from the pursuit of stony-hearted verbs, savage noun-substantives, inflexible syntactic passages, and ghosts of exercises that appeared to them in their dreams. Under the forcing system, a young gentleman usually took leave of his spirits in three weeks. He had all the cares of the world on his head in three months. He conceived bitter sentiments against his parents or guardians in four; he was an old misanthrope, in five; envied Curtius that blessed refuge in the earth, in six; and at the end of the first twelvemonth had arrived at the conclusion, from which he never afterwards departed, that all the fancies of the poets, and lessons of the sages, were a mere collection of words and grammar, and had no other meaning in the world.
All Dickens, all the time: The only Dickens site on the web you’ll ever need, David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.