Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dickens and Me: Literature from an Alien Homeland

I have just requested my copy of Hard Times from the public library.  One of my friends at work was reading A Tale of Two Cities and loving it.  She talked about how she wished I was reading it too so that we could discuss it.  I suggested doing that with a different book, and that's how I have come to be putting a hold on the book at the website of the public library.

It may or may not surprise you to learn that I am first in the hold queue.  What?  You mean that no one else wants this book? 

I was surprised at how many different copies the library has.  I chose the Norton critical edition.  I want something that will be easy on my eyes, with the luxurious paper that Norton uses.

I first read Hard Times in undergraduate school--probably for a Victorian Literature class.  I remember writing a paper about it--or do I?  Once I would have been able to tell you exactly what I wrote, the thesis and the main points and the outside works I used.  Of course, that's 30 years ago now that I first read the book and wrote about it.

My first Dickens text was A Christmas Carol in the 8th grade.  We had to read it for class, but I was happy to do it because I loved the TV versions.  I remember loving that text and trying to read Great Expectations, which was on my parents' bookshelf.  I couldn't get through it as an 8th grader.

Hard Times was the next book, in undergraduate school, and then I read Bleak House and Oliver Twist in grad school.  When I first taught the second half of the British survey class, I assigned Hard Times.  I thought that students might relate to the education issues in the book.  When Norton included the complete text of Frankenstein in the anthology, I switched to it, and students liked it better.  When I taught an undergraduate section of Victorian Lit, I assigned Oliver Twist.  One class loved it, and one class was indifferent.

I haven't read Hard Times since 1993 or so, and I haven't read any Dickens at all since 2001.  I'm looking forward to returning to Dickens, and I'm thrilled that my friend will be reading it too.  She'll do the audio book, and I'll read the paper copy.

I miss many aspects of grad school, but what I miss most is the reading community.  If I read a book for class, there would be at least 12 other people reading it too.  I sought that kind of community by forming a book group a few years ago, but it was frustrating because we all liked such different books.  I have so little reading time that I don't want to read books that aren't important to me.

And yet, I remember the group fondly, and I don't really regret the books that didn't appeal.  They were important in their way too.  Maybe it's time to form a new group.

Or maybe it's good to proceed with a simpler plan, a reading partner who loves British Lit as much as I do.  If I didn't have my friend at work, it would be a lonelier place.  She's the one who understands this strange passion for literature from a homeland that isn't mine, literature from an alien homeland.

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