a tale of two cities

As much as I love to read, I can be a little cynical when it comes to books. I tend to be skeptical when it comes to classics and bestsellers (as well as anything outside of my usual genres). Classics, I fear, are outdated or too moralistic; bestsellers too trendy or overly hyped. I read them in the same way I eat my vegetables; sparingly, and only because I know I should.

And so I picked up Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities because it’s one of those Great Books I probably should have read by now.  I’ve been skeptical of Dickens ever since I tried Great Expectations for the first time and found the first chapter to be terribly slow and plodding.  I recently finished Great Expectations on audio, and although I enjoyed it immensely, it wasn’t enough to convince me to give Dickens a free pass.

But A Tale of Two Cities has sold me on Dickens, once and for all.  It was an uphill battle, at first, for several reasons.  The beginning is slow as the various pieces of the puzzle are established; the characters take quite some time to fully develop; and my knowledge of the time period (in Europe, at least) is dismally limited, making some references difficult to grasp. 

None of this matters once Charles Darnay and his family are plunged into the tumult and violence of Paris.  At this point, Dickens was able to pull me so entirely into his novel that I’ve gone from feeling ignorant about the French Revolution to feeling as though I’ve witnessed it. 

But just as impressive is Dickens’s ability to essentially set a story of love, romance, and hope in this bloody and hateful time.  The final chapters are easily among the most beautiful pieces of prose I’ve ever read.  Add in a few key plot twists and well-timed insertions of humorous elements, and it’s easy to see why this classic has held up so well over time.

So I have learned my lesson — at least when it comes to Mr. Dickens.  I will no longer approach his books with any trepidation; rather, I will know that a little bit of patience might be necessary, but in all likelihood, the overall reading experience will be a highly satisfactory one.   

Now, if I can just try to keep this in mind when approaching other classic works as well…

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~ by Molly on May 8, 2009.

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