Eight months into my Dickens Reading Project and I’m still plodding along. Some weeks I read a lot, some not so much. There are days when my mind seems to relax, sitting in my study, reading by the sunlight shining in the window, and the pages just breeze by. But there are also nights when I can barely read two sentences in a row (and with Dickens, sometimes a sentence can last for an entire paragraph) and I am constantly going back to reread because I can’t settle my brain into any kind of productive reading rhythm.
I did need to take a break for about a month from Dickens, but this was because I had so many other books that I needed to read. I was reviewing for a newspaper a new David Goodis anthology of noir novels from the Library of America (add five short novels to my reading table). I was also teaching a course this semester (Literature and Novels), so I had to finish up the assigned books: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Down There (another Goodis novel), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Watchmen (that’s four more novels). I also belong to a couple Shakespeare groups that meet every month: a Shakespeare Book Club that meets at a local library to discuss a play and I am the president of the Oak Lane Shakespeare Club (founded 1908) which meets twice a month to read a Shakesplay aloud (that’s two plays). I also felt the need to cleanse my reading palate, so to speak, and read a couple crime novellas by Anthony Neil Smith and The Curiosities of Literature by John Sutherland (that’s three more books).
I’ve left out the rest of the work I do in teaching, leading another book club, taking care of my kids as the at-home parent, planning and leading Dickens’ events at the Free Library of Philadelphia, reviewing movies and, of course, writing my book about Edgar Allan Poe’s life in Philadelphia (manuscript due next month, so it can be published in the Fall). So where, oh where, do I fit reading Dickens into my life? The short answer is that I don’t. Nothing fits. I just manically try to do everything and hope nothing important gets left in the dust (and I rely on lots of reminders from others about my due dates).
So a break seemed in order. I had just finished Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens, a historical thriller about the fate of Dickens last unfinished mystery, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Pearl spoke at the FLP in March) and had started Barnaby Rudge, but was having trouble getting into the flow of things, so with all the other books needing my attention, I put Dickens down for a month and read some other books that couldn’t be postponed any longer (well, except for the Sutherland and the crime novellas). When April rolled around, I plunged headlong into the Dickens pages once again, but started with an appetizer: The Disappearance of Edwin Drood by Peter Rowland, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in which the detective solves the mystery. I really wish I had time to read some of the other Drood adaptations like The D Case by Fruttero and Lucentini or Drood by Dan Simmons, but after a month it was time to get back to Dickens proper. I began reading David Copperfield (our FLP literary salon is on Copperfield in May), but had to stop halfway to read A Tale of Two Cities because I had been invited to lead another local book club on Tale at the beginning of May. Now I’m back into Copperfield, which I hope to finish today.
A crazy life, this reading life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.