It was the Summer before eighth grade. Or was it the Summer after seventh grade? It’s a little hazy now, Modern Philosophers.
What I know for certain was that my Evil Step Mother was hell bent on getting me into high school on a scholarship. As part of her plan, she decided that I should read some of the classics over my Summer vacation. Her reasoning being that I could talk about the books when I interviewed at the one school she really wanted me to attend.
I had something much different in mind for my Summer vacation, though…
Reading was okay with me, but reading “The Classics”? No thanks.
For some reason, she selected Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
I got through the Verne quickly enough because it was old school science fiction, and I was a Star Wars nerd boy. I didn’t love the book, but I didn’t hate it, either.
A Tale of Two Cities was a whole other beast.
It was not the best of times, Modern Philosophers, it was just the worst of times.
I’ve never hated a book more than I hated this particular piece of literature. I cannot tell you one thing about the book other than the open line that everyone knows and that it was set during the French Revolution.
I honestly don’t remember a single character’s name or any events contained within. I’m pretty sure the two cities were Paris and London, but that’s a guess based on the fact that Dickens loved to write about London, and the story is about the damn French Revolution.
It’s not that I don’t like Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol was a wonderful read.
Maybe A Tale of Two Cities was Dickens’ clunker. Every author has one, right? Heck, I publish a clunker or two on this blog every week.
Sometimes, I feel like Pip and hope a mysterious benefactor will save me from my mundane life.
Other times, I feel like Miss Havisham, stuck in my wedding dress with all the clocks in The House on the Hill having stopped at the exact moment that The Girl Who Moved Away walked out the door to leave for school.
At times, I’ll daydream about Estella, as played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1998 movie based on the novel.
I’ve never daydreamed about or related to a single character from A Tale of Two Cities. Quite possibly because I don’t remember any of them.
What I do remember is my Evil Step Mother constantly asking me if I had finished the book. I’d read it everywhere I could think of, in hopes of finding that one magical place that made Dickens’ bore fest a little more exciting.
That strategy worked out something like this…
I finished the book eventually, but it almost turned me off reading completely. Do you think it’s possible for a novel to render someone illiterate?
A Tale of Two Cities certainly tried. As much as I love to read, anytime I think back to my forced reading of that book, I curl up into a ball and rock myself to sleep by thinking of the Summer I could have spent on the beach with that delightful family of strangers…
Luckily, my inner bookworm won out and I rediscovered my love of reading. Then I was assigned Great Expectations in high school, and that got me to take Charles Dickens off of my Do Not Read list.
I don’t think you understand how close I came, though, to hating Dickens forever.
Bah Humbug! Let’s simply never speak of that other book again!