Of course, I’m behind in my reading already. I had an idea this would be a tough project to complete, but I thought I would at least be able to keep up a good reading pace in the first few months. My initial plan was to read the 21 volumes of the Oxford Illustrated Dickens. I worked out the number of pages in all the books (12,519 pp) and over 365 days that worked out to only 35 pp per day. No problem. Then I figured I would make it tough and add a few biographies and some critical works, not to mention the few things of Dickens that aren’t in the Oxford set (mostly journalism). And then I also want to read some of the derivative works, like Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens and Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs. I’ve already figured that to read all of the letters would be an impossibility (12 thick volumes in the Pilgrim edition), but I’ll at least read as many as I can. Considering all this, I figure if I read 100 pages a day, I’ll make the goal with ease, especially as Dickens’ own works will always be the priority. That should leave me time to watch lots of Dickens movie and TV adaptations.
Now I’m even having trouble just reading enough Dickens every day. As you can see on my reading log, my daily page average is plummeting. In the first two weeks (Sept), I averaged 38 pp/day and 47 pp/day if you count only the days that I actually cracked a book. In my first full month (Oct), I read only 14 pp/day and 27 on reading days. So far, November isn’t getting much better. So I need to really pick up the pace.
Just reading Dickens with no other commitments in my life would be easy. Hell, if I had 8-10 hours a day just to read, I’d finish this project in six months. I’ll be devoting a lot of my time to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Year with Dickens Bicentenary celebration (here’s a preview in pdf of the FLP’s plans). Since last Spring I’ve been meeting with their Rare Books Department to plan events. So far, I’ll be leading a literary salon that will meet once a month and cover 12 Dickens novels. I’m also leading a bus or trolley tour of the sites Dickens himself visited in Philadelphia in 1842. And there are lots of lectures and featured speakers throughout the year, including a Drinking with Dickens bar tour. (I’m also putting together a Steampunk Dickens project, but more on that later.) So lots to do, but as it’s all Dickens related, it should almost make the reading easier.
And I really did try to clear my schedule to have more time. I’m an adjunct professor at La Salle University and I told them I would not be available this semester (imagine my wife’s surprise when I told her there would be no paychecks this Fall). Alas, when the university offered me a Lit class anyway, and I would get to design my own course (I’m teaching Monster books: Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Poe, Island of Dr Moreau), how could I say no? It’s only one course, but it takes up a good amount of time in reading, prepping lectures and grading papers.
But wait there’s more.
I also do lots of Edgar Allan Poe work (I’ll always be the Philly Poe Guy) and have now started doing Shakespeare events. I’m the President of the Oak Lane Shakespeare Club, which meets twice a month to read a Shakesplay aloud. The club was formed in 1908 and has met continually since . But that’s not enough Shakespeare for me, so I started a Shakespeare Book Club at my local library that meets once a month to discuss a play. And when Roland Emmerich’s ridiculous Oxfordian movie came out, I started giving lectures at local libraries on Shakespeare authorship. I even had a debate with an Oxfordian planned at the FLP, but my opponent backed out before we could start publicizing it.
Teaching, book clubs, Shakespeare. What more can I do? Well, now I’ve been asked by a publisher to write a book on Poe’s life and work in Philadelphia (Did you know that Poe and Dickens met when Dickens visited the city?). I’m still negotiating the contract, but if it all works out, I’ll also have a book to write (manuscript due in June!), as well.
Man, I get exhausted just writing about all this stuff. But, like most parents, the most time consuming part of my life is the domestic side. My wife owns a toy store, so I am the one at home with the kids. They’re all school age and older now (five daughters, oldest just married and the youngest in first grade), but I feel like most of my energy is spent on taking care of children. And my wife and I don’t get nearly enough time with each other, as it is.
So that’s my life in nutshell. And that’s why this reading project is such a crazy task for me. But you know what? I still can’t wait to read Dickens every morning when I wake. And every night before bed, I just want to keep reading. Tomorrow I’ll read more pages.