That Summer I Almost Hated Charles Dickens

dickensWith tomorrow being Bastille Day, Modern Philosophers, my mind can’t help but drift  back to that Summer when I started to hate Charles Dickens.

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…

beachThat’s right, Modern Philosophers, I planned on having a young couple adopt me and take me to the beach so I could build sand castles until it was time to go back to school.

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.

French RevolutionThe book bored me to tears right from the very beginning.

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.

ScroogeI can tell you every detail of that plot, list characters’ names, and go on for days about how it’s one of the coolest Ghost stories ever written.

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.

GreatIronically, one of my favorite books of all time is Great Expectations.  I’ve read that Dickens gem several times.

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 know the exciting part has to be here somewhere!

I know the exciting part has to be here somewhere!

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…

What kind of monster forces a kid to read A Tale of Two Cities over Summer vacation?

What kind of monster forces a kid to read A Tale of Two Cities over Summer vacation?

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!

About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
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30 Responses to That Summer I Almost Hated Charles Dickens

  1. holley4734 says:

    Oh yeah. Dickens ruined my spring break during college. Bleak House. It’s a monster.

  2. Christie says:

    I somehow managed to make it through my entire life without reading a single book by Dickens. I have read quite a few of the classics though. My nemesis was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden my senior year of high school. Yuck!

  3. Ocean Bream says:

    That is funny, I read all of Dickens’ books EXCEPT for A Tale of Two Cities for the very reason that it appeared boring, and I am not one to judge a book by its cover! Well it appears I have had quite a lucky escape because I do value old Dickens.

  4. jan says:

    I like Tale of Two Cities – which I also read over the summer in about eighth grade. But before I read Tale I’d read The Scarlett Pimpernel so I guess you could say I was totally into the French revolution!

  5. Julie says:

    I hated A Tale of Two Cities too. I was supposed to read it for honors English before my freshman year of high school. I have never finished it and I’ve tried a few times.

  6. Noirfifre says:

    I have intentions to do a Dickens Challenge to read and reread all his work, it should have been 2014- 2014 but I had to get rid of my To Read Kindle List, so that did not happen. We share the same sentiments for Great Expectations, Pip is a dear, however we part ways for A Christmas Carol, I find it over rated. I do not remember anything about the Tale of Two Cities but I know I read it because it was part of the Penguin square short books the family had several years ago. When I reread , hopefully in the near future, I hope it is not boring ;).

  7. ofopinions says:

    I had hard times reading Hard Times in school and frankly, I never finished it or remember anything from it. Always found A Tale of Two Cities intimidating too. However, I think it was last year that I read it slowly and carefully, and I have to say, it is a very modern novel. I could almost see it in movie form from the second or third chapter and it is very intense and dramatic. The ending isn’t plausible. I suppose Dickens ran out of interest, which is why he came up with something so ridiculous. The whole hero and anti-hero “look alike” is the most ridiculous trope to resolve a conflict that was ever invented (and no,this is not a spoiler because it is that bad!) but the actual chapters on the revolution are astonishing. I suppose because of that ‘lookalike’ resolution there has never been a decent film or television adaptation. But, for the majority of the novel, as well as the last very touching scene, I would love to watch it on film.
    Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native was the book that tortured me in college because of the awful first chapter. However, years later I managed to read the whole thing and I loved it! You should give A Tale another try, Austin. I have a feeling your cinematic brain will like it this time!

  8. I had a high school English teacher who managed to turn me off literature. Took years to recover…

  9. Hannah G says:

    Tale of Two Cities was incredibly long and tedious right up until the end, and then it was genius. I wonder how Dickens ever coped as a serial novelist…

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