Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Opinions

Not so very long ago, I would tell you I detested Charles Dickens' writing. But the reading syllabus I adapted for myself, based on teaching I heralded, included A Tale of Two Cities and I was determined to read it. I fully expected to grit my teeth the whole way through. Boy, was I surprised!

A Tale of Two Cities is hereby added to my "all-time favorites" book list. Plus, I think I got a lesson in good writing. Before reading this book, I realized I was struggling to explain what constitutes good writing and bad writing. I wanted to understand. I thought maybe my brain was dull because I couldn't participate in conversations about good writing, or even good acting. I think I get it now (the writing... I still don't think I'm a good critic of acting).

Take the Twilight series. I thought it was a good story, which kept me reading. But I realized part way through how little I cared about the characters. Crazy things would happen to them, that should have evoked some feeling - but wouldn't. That's the writing! Ta-da! (Now imagine if Dickens tackled the story that Meyer came up with! Or don't. That's probably literature sacrilege.)

I certainly cared about the characters in A Tale of Two Cities. They, and the story, affected my life. THAT'S good writing! Plus, the words were just so flavorful! Even when I had to read and re-read a paragraph (whether from being interrupted or because I didn't understand something), I didn't mind. I love how Dickens writes! Heck, I love how he thinks! I'm realizing those two go hand in hand. You can be one or the other and get by quite well. But if you are both (excellent writer and thinker) - you're going to influence the world with your books.

Speaking of which, Oprah will be reading A Tale of Two Cities in her book club. I think I'll tune in to that discussion for sure. Meanwhile, if the mainstream gets you motivated, you can buy her book club edition which includes Great Expectations and even follow her schedule. I think I'll peruse the website to find out what questions and character backgrounds the club came up with. (About an hour later: I highly recommend the materials on Oprah's site. I just looked it over. There are far better descriptions of the book than I can give, and lots of insight to motivate you to read this book! I was moved to tears reading some of the information. What a joy to share the reading experience with others - even strangers! even OPRAH!)

Later today, in case you've joined my book club, I begin reading Walden, by Thoreau.

I'll end with Sydney Carton's words in A Tale of Two Cities, which are haunting me in a way. I can hear them in a man's voice, deep and resonant. Makes me wonder if I've seen the movie, or just overheard my dad watching it. Whatever the case, they're memorable words from an amazing character in a must-read book: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done..."
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