"I've never read any Dickens." ... Really, Oprah? ...
Last December I was a little shocked to discover that Oprah Winfrey had selected two Charles Dickens novels for her book club. She chose Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities as "great Christmas reading," or "hot cocoa reading," even though neither book has anything at all to do with Christmas or hot effing cocoa. Ever heard of A Christmas Carol or The Chimes? She also said in the same breath that she's never even read any Dickens. Wait a minute. What? I was immediately put off by this and spoke about it to several people, in real-time and online, and was semi-castigated in both instances. The response I got back from both parties was essentially this:
"Why are you upset that Oprah would promote Charles Dickens? All it does is bring new readers to great literature. Sounds like Sour grapes to me."
My response was this:
"No, it's not sour grapes as I do not ever expect Oprah Winfrey to ever utter my name. But instead of promoting a well-deserving unknown author and giving that person a shot, she selects a writer that most people either have little interest in or should be reading in school. And what does it say to people to promote something that you've admittedly never even read?"
Again, I don't have any mixed feelings about this because I have no expectation whatsoever about Oprah and anything I've written, and I didn't even bother to send her a copy of Greyhound either, because as is evinced by the news that SHE NEVER EVEN READ ANY DICKENS, I was suspecting this to be the case much of the time with the majority of her suggested reading. And let's be honest, after reading a handful of the titles, most of them are just insipid, lazy and forgettable -- and thus it becomes clear that she was just another marketing tool for the Big 6 publishing houses and I get the feeling that she only chose Great Expectations because she liked the movie version with Gwyenth Paltrow. Groan. As if we didn't already have enough outlets pushing the same 20 books all over the place. Please, people. You folks should be finding better scouts for your reading material. That much is abundantly clear.
But back to our man Dickens.
I've read Dickens. I've read almost everything the man every wrote and I love Dickens. And despite what you may have heard: "Oh, Charles Dickens is difficult reading!" That notion is about as far away from reality as is possible. Dickens is actually very easy reading because if you understand that he wrote most of his stories as segments in newspapers, then you can better get through them when reading it. Just about every chapter reads in a very compartmentalized fashion and the work of reading Dickens isn't work at all, it's just something that takes time because he wrote a lot and it's far from tedious. Most of what he wrote still resonates today too, especially Oliver Twist. Twist is a book I read every winter, without fail, and have done so for about the last fifteen of them. Any reader with any wherewithal can quickly grasp that Charles Dickens is:
1. social commentary above all else.
2. solid, enjoyable reading.
3. relevant and educational.
4. forces you to makes comparisons with his world and yours.
5. always leaves you with a desire to read more.
In 2010, I read a total of four Charles Dickens's books and I hope to read an equal or greater number this year, which is much more than I can say for whatever Oprah is reading. Unfortunately, I get the feeling the bulk of her reading will likely be consisting of material in her own magazine. She should have her reading suggested to her for awhile instead of the other way around.
And if you're still reading the paperback versions and not the eBook versions, I thoroughly recommend reading the Norton Anthology versions, or a version that has critical essays accompanying in the back of the book. Dickens wrote several different introductions to most of his books through the years and reading some of his essays and what others have had to say over the vasty milieu is equally fascinating.
Labels: Charles Dickens great Expectations Greyhound never read dickens Oliver Twist Oprah Winfrey Oprah's book club steffan piper Tale of Two Cities