It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...and for the millions of readers who religiously follow Oprah Winfrey's book club recommendations, it is now the scariest of times. Her latest selection is not something expected like Jonathan Franzen's Freedom; this time she's gone double retro, picking Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities AND Great Expectations. All across America, readers are breaking out in cold sweats, flashing back to their 10th grade English class.
Sure, everyone says they've read Dickens. In reality, most people only know him through the various film versions of A Christmas Carol and the Cliff Notes of Oliver Twist that helped them squeak by with a C in English Lit 101. My advice to those who are hesitant to take this challenge: stop worrying and just do it. Rather than having a feeling of dread, we should all applaud this choice of two of Dickens' finest novels.
Charles Dickens is one of the greatest writers who ever lived, and although some of the language and customs in his books can be hard to follow at times, his humor, social commentary, and amazing characters are all timeless. Dickens was also the first true entertainment superstar; his novels were serialized in newspapers and magazines, causing circulation to skyrocket by their presence alone, and then still sold in huge quantities when later bound in book form. People lined up outside his publisher's office waiting for the latest installment of his most current novel, and thousands on both sides of the Atlantic attended the readings he gave from his books. That's right...people paid to listen to him read.
So while I often don't agree with Oprah's picks (the Eckhart Tolle period was particularly tragic), this time I believe she hit a home run. And if, as has been the case with her other picks, millions of people end up reading Charles Dickens because of her recommendation, lovers of great literature everywhere owe the lady a debt of gratitude.
Dickens for the holidays...truly the best of times.