Beginning Oliver Twist

Mention the title Oliver Twist and even people who've never read the book will instantly begin to reenact this scene: the young orphan boy, approaching with an empty bowl in hand, to ask for more gruel with a polite, "Please sir, I want some more?" 
When I first read Dickens' second published novel years ago. orphans and orphanages were an abstraction. I knew they existed but they did not really enter into my daily thoughts or concerns. As I am re-reading this novel now, I come with the experience of being a father to an adopted child and having hosted an orphan in our home with the hopes of adopting her. I've seen orphanages first-hand and have become far more aware of the neglect and abuse that goes on within their walls. The reality can be far darker and grimmer than what even Charles Dickens imagined. 
Outside it was cold, rainy and dark. I sat in bed, under the covers, with the book on my lap. As I read about the birth of Oliver, I found my heart broken by …

Mothers, Daughters, & The Bigfoot Files

I love when a book unexpectedly surprises you and you discover an author you've never read before and knew little about, but find that you give yourself over to their writing with such trust because they are wonderful at weaving their tale. One does not see the cover and title of a book The Bigfoot Files and think: Mother-daughter relationships.

As a boy, like many kids, I was fascinated by all manner of legendary creatures: Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, the Lizard Man (a South Carolina creature that I learned about at summer camp and cost me many sleepless nights that week I was there). My friends and I spent every moment that wasn't an activity required of us by the camp, searching for clues and any trace of the Lizard Man, but to no avail. My friends and I could find no proof that this Lizard Man even existed in anything but our overactive imaginations and tales told by campfires at night. Now, over forty years later, I look back on that time with nostalgia and fondness.

It …

If You Liked This Book . . . Tag

I was recently tagged to create a post for the "If you like this book . . ." tag, whereby you take five to ten books from your shelves that are well-known and then, for each of these books, recommend another book that is not as well-known. Then you end by mentioning one of your favorite books and allow readers to comment with suggestions of books they think you would like in relation to that book.

The first book I will begin with is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice or any Austen novel for that matter. If you adore Austen then I would highly suggest you read my first suggestion: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  Cassandra Mortmain remains one of my favorite heroines and narrators of all time. It's all about the Mortmain family who are living in a dilapidated English castle, where the novelist father is struggling to write his second work but is rattled by a severe case of writer's block. Cassandra is narrating their tale in her journal and it's filled wi…

No, I Haven't Given Up On The Pickwick Papers (Yet)

The Pickwick Papers is like a dish where I love all of the ingredients that go into the making of a dish but, when combined together, I do not care for the dish at all. It is a series of loosely related adventures and presents a satiric and nostalgic view of pre-Industrialized pre-Victorian England. It is a leisurely novel (and I use this term loosely, as it's more just a series of slightly linked vignettes) that take place in coaches and inns. Many love and cherish this book and refer to it as one of the most Dickensian of his works, but I find I can only nibble on it in small bite sizes (a chapter or two at a time) than in eating it as a full meal. It is plotless and contains very little tension and is merely humorous sketches thinly tied together.  I also found Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy to be tiresome in this way; in that novel, Sterne plays on the notion of someone telling their story, filled with side stories and diversions and interruptio…

G. K. Chesterton & My Initial Thoughts Upon Beginning The Pickwick Papers

In writing about Dickens, G.K. Chesterton says, " . . . ... the fault of Pickwick (if it be a fault) is a change, not in the hero but in the whole atmosphere. The point is not that Pickwick turns into a different kind of man; it is that "The Pickwick Papers" turns into a different kind of book. And however artistic both parts may be, this combination must, in strict art, be called inartistic. A man is quite artistically justified in writing a tale in which a man as cowardly as Bob Acres becomes a man as brave as Hector. But a man is not artistically justified in writing a tale which begins in the style of "The Rivals" and ends in the style of the Iliad. In other words, we do not mind the hero changing in the course of a book; but we are not prepared for the author changing in the course of the book."

The book changed because not only did its author change, but the focus changed when the suicide of its illustrator caused Charles Dickens to suggest to the pu…

How To Fracture A Fairy Tale

Why do fairy tales continue to have such power and continue to draw readers into their often forest-dark narratives?  Storytellers are magicians who weave their art through words and imagery. They delve deep into the subconscious of what it means to be human and draws for both the dark and the light. Who does not respond to a story that begins, "Once upon a time . . . " or "Once there was . . ." or "In a far off land there was . . ." These tales are populated with princes, princesses, witches, wizards, step-mothers, forests dark, mythical creatures that burn in our memory like firebirds across the sky. Fairy tales inspire wonder because they do delve deep into our psyches and echo our dreams and nightmares, it projects our inner selves into the outer world. The darkness of the forest that we fear is that which we fear in ourselves: the unknown. And there is a violence and brutality that the original tales contained that tapped into a reality that we all …

Dickens, The Illustrator's Suicide, & The Runaway Success Of The Pickwick Papers

There is something quite magical about beginning a book by a beloved author, especially when the writer is Charles Dickens and the book is one you've never read before. I searched my bookshelves and located my copy of The Pickwick Papers. It's a Great Illustrated Classics edition that I purchased at a library book sale (yet another reason to love libraries). I knew very little about this work. Dickens wrote it after the huge success of his Sketches by Boz, a collection of columns and essays he had written for various London newspapers. 

Like all of Dickens' novels, The Pickwick Papers was published as serials with the first installment coming out on March 30, 1836. The series was built around the illustrations of Robert Seymour. Seymour had already established himself as one the great English illustrators by producing over 300 humorous drawings and political caricatures. There is a controversy as to who actually originated the idea for The Pickwick Papers: Seymour or Dick…