Monday, December 10, 2007

A Christmas Carol

Book: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Like/Don't Like: Like

Dear High School English Teachers of the World:

Do NOT make your students read Dickens. I'm serious about this. Dickens is not for kids. If you want your students to hate Dickens and curse your name forever then go ahead. But I'd advise you to back away from it and give them Lord of the Flies instead. It's a much better story for 15 year olds.

I know what I'm talking about. I loved to read when I was 15, just like I do now. I was one of those kids who read every book assigned in school, not just because I had to but because I actually enjoyed it. I read every book - even Moby Dick - every book but A Tale of Two Cities. Why? Because the year before I had to read Great Expectations and it did me in. It was too dark and there were too many foot notes and too many characters and the crazy old lady in the wedding dress and gosh it was confusing for my young mind. Dickens and I were through.

I harbored bad feelings for him for years. I had a teacher in college* who was OBSESSED with Dickens. He was PASSIONATE about him. He dreamed about consumption and debtors prison. I wasn't actually taking a Dickens class from him but not a lecture went by without some obscure reference from the Pickwick Papers. And every reference made me say “Bleh! Dickens. I’m not going to do that again!”

Which was a big shame because Dickens is actually fantastic. Last year, thanks to Katie, I redeemed myself and read A Tale of Two Cities and I loved it. Seriously. It's such an amazing, beautiful book. In fact, it was my number one book of 2007. (Yeah, I keep track of the books I read in a little notebook. I'm a dork. So what?) And I felt like I had wasted all of these years when I could have been reading his stuff.

So I vowed to be friends with him again. I’ve had a copy of A Christmas Carol in my bookshelf for years. It may have been a gift. I can’t remember. Every Christmas I would think, “Maybe I should read A Christmas Carol.” And it would take me about 30 seconds to remind myself that I didn’t like Dickens. But since we’ve been reunited I didn’t talk myself out of it this time

Who doesn’t know this story? Everyone knows this story. I’ve seen A Muppet’s Christmas Carol enough to know it (Incidentally, only 15 more sleeps ‘til Christmas. Fa la la.) So I thought that it would be a little dull reading something that I already knew so well. But Dickens charmed me again. I was lovely. And short. It love a book I can read in a couple of hours.

So, in conclusion, I found my way to Dickens, even after hating him. But I could have read him a lot earlier. I would have found my way to him years ago and would have had the joy of Tiny Tim every Christmas. If only you people wouldn’t insist on forcing us to be best friends.

Best at this festive time of year,

PS. Another author who is terrific that kids shouldn’t read because they just won’t get it is John Steinbeck. Don’t give them Steinbeck! Let the readers find him on their own. East of Eden was my favorite book of 2006 but that was after years of not liking him after I had to read The Pearl in the 7th grade.

*Interesting side note: This professor actually had a very Dickensian experience the year before I took his class. He almost died from a flesh eating bacteria. He had scars all over his neck and face and gaping, oozing sores on his arms. I bet it was like a dream come true for him.


Laura said...

Given my Jane Austen aversion, how do you think I'd do with Dickens? I tried Great Expectations a few years ago in my quest to read "the classics", but didn't get very far. Now Steinbeck on the other hand, I actually like - and liked in school. I think The Pearl should be saved for a littler later than 7th grade, but I remember being a big fan of Steinbeck. I should read more.

Rac said...

Thank you, Rachel. I read Grapes of Wrath in 10th grade, and I think my mom had to sit me down and explain the ending (I was a little sheltered, I admit), and I was horrified. And I have yet to read anything of Dickens except A Christmas Carol, which I actually really enjoyed. By the way, I think watching the miniseries of Bleak House inspired me to read some Dickens. After I finish the Jane Austen mysteries.

Liz said...

Hmm... I'll have to give Dicken's a try again (aside from A Christmas Carol which I've always loved) and Steinbeck. Oh, my painful memories of Steinbeck...

jessi said...

I think there are a lot of authors like this - would this explain my dislike of so many authors. I think so. I had a junior high teacher who was in love with Dickens. I haven't read Dickens since - maybe I should give him another try.