Tag Archives: Dickens

4 Books to Take to (Insert Your Dream Vacation)

By the time you read this post I will probably be on my way to my summer vacation… I know, I know… you are pretty envious right now. You are imagining me lounging around, slacking off and reading to my little heart’s content on some far away beach…but alas, don’t get too worked up because in reality my summer vacation is going to take place in the labor and delivery ward. I am currently (as I am writing this on June 12th) 37 weeks pregnant  and, as you may know, that translates into street talk as, “lady you’re about to pop…are you sure you should be walking around out here in public like that?” But having already done this whole ‘bring a new life into the world thing’  before, well… to be honest, the novelty has kind of warn off.

How To be a Villain

My eldest daughter circa 2009

I am looking forward to my stay at the hospital, not just because it will end with me bringing home a cute little newborn to mold into an evil genius, but also (actually mostly) because it means I am going to get a couple days off! While in labor and then for a few days afterwards I will get treated like a princess…nurses will do my bidding, people will bring me food, no one will ask me, for the zillionth time, to watch Frozen or clean up something sticky they spilled (and if they do, so help me, I am having them forcibly removed from the premises). I seriously cannot wait for my little mini-vacation and like all good bookworms looking forward to a vacation I have picked out a few titles to take with me to the spa…er, I mean hospital. Let’s face it, there will be a lot of downtime in between contractions and all that other stuff, and all moms know that you grab those few precious ‘me’ moments whenever and whereever you can, even if it means you have to get yourself admitted to do so. If you are searching for some titles to take on your own vacation this summer, whether it be to a tropical island or to the 7th floor of your nearest hospital, look no further:

bookcoverCAYX5D8LAmerican Spring: Lexington, Concord and the Road to Revolution by Walter Borneman: I am student of history, it has always been my favorite subject and I love a good story. This book focuses on, in my opinion, one of the best stories of American history; the spring of 1775 and the events leading up to the American Revolution. But it gets us there in an interesting way. Borneman asks you to step back from history and remember that, while the outcome may seem preordained to us, that for the men and women living through the spring of 1775 – much like our contemporaries all over the world today – the events of that season held only uncertainty and confusion. I cannot wait to finish this book even though I already know the story; it is interesting to look at it from a fresh perspective.

bookcoverCAYB3DD4The Library Lovers Mystery Series by Jenn McKinlay: Recently I was looking around for a fun mystery series and stumbled on to Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers Series. I sped through the first three books and am now moving on to the 4th in the series, Read it and Weep. These books are great little mysteries. They are current, which I love because sometimes it can be hard to read a mystery written 25 years ago before the wide spread use of cellphones and google. They also do a great job of balancing the love we library workers have for our jobs with a healthy dose of humor about the not-so-pleasant aspects of our duties. If you love your local library, love books, or just love a fun little mystery. this series will give you something to do on your down time during your vacation, or before the IV drip kicks in.

bookcoverCATHWUU4You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements by David McCullough, Jr.: I am really looking forward to reading this book, which is based on a Boston area high school commencement speech from 2012. Being in my early 30’s I grew up at the beginning of the “you are so awesome” movement but my default slacker personality meant that I never really took those sentiments to heart, I would much rather just be than excel at anything. I do, however, know lots of friends and family members who are struggling in a world that doesn’t automatically give them a trophy for just showing up (“You want me to, like, work overtime? Because it’s part of my job responsibilities? What? I don’t understand”).


Dodger by Terry Pratchett: I love me some Terry Pratchett and I love re-imaginings of classic characters and stories so this is right up my alley. Here we have the story of 17-year old Artful Dodger who sees a girl jump from a carriage in an attempt to escape her captors and ends up on a wild ride that introduces him to Sweeney Todd, Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one since it includes other well-known characters and some real-life people from history.

At some point I also might also pack clothes and my camera and stuff like for the hospital, but let’s be honest, the books are the most important part.

-Natalie (a/k/a baby mama)





1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


I recently read Donna Tartt’s most recent novel, The Goldfinch, which I absolutely loved.  Reviews had referred to The Goldfinch as “Dickensian,” and I enjoyed it so much that it led me to read my first Dickens novel.  My father has urged me to read Dickens for years; one of his favorite authors, he just has never been able to believe that I didn’t have any interest in the author.  Now that I’ve finally crossed that bridge and read my first Dickens novel, I have to admit that my dad was right, and Charles Dickens is right up my alley.  I just finished Great Expectations, and thought I’d share a few of my thoughts:

  1. I had an idea that reading Dickens would be time-consuming, and I just don’t have a lot of time.  That turned out to not be the case at all.  Because Great Expectations was originally written as a serial, it was incredibly easy to read a chapter at a time here and there, and I wound up finishing it pretty quickly after all.
  2. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t exactly call this a humorous book, there were some really funny passages.  One of my favorites describes the owner of a seed shop and his colleague: “I discovered a singular affinity between seeds and corduroys.  Mr. Pumblechook wore corduroys, and so did his shopman; and somehow, there was a general air and flavor about the corduroys, so much in the nature of seeds, and a general air and flavor about the seeds, so much in the nature of corduroys, that I hardly knew which was which.”
  3. Humorous bits aside, wow- talk about melodrama!  Between Miss Havisham’s hysterics and Pip’s constant anxiety over absolutely everything (except for his mounting debts, for some reason), Dickens barely needed to come up with drama in the plot: his characters provided enough on their own!  And of course, there is plenty of drama in the plot.  Each time things start to become a bit too neatly wrapped up, somebody is arrested, or falls ill, or is in a fire, or a fight, or getting married.  There’s no shortage of Big Events in this novel.
  4. I once read that people who read a lot are inclined to have a big vocabulary, but don’t always know the proper pronunciation of words because some words are used so infrequently that they’ve only read them in books.  This book was full of those kind of vocabulary gems, if you like that kind of thing: farinaceous, peppercorny, farthingale, slime-washed, and purblind were among the words that jumped out at me (just don’t ask me to pronounce them).
I got a little discouraged when, after pages and pages of description I reached this note.  The action kicked in just pages later.

I got a little discouraged when, after pages and pages of description I reached this note. The action kicked in just pages later.

Have you ever read a book that turned out to be entirely different than you expected (in a good way)?



Filed under Uncategorized

Loads of Lovely Love

I’m a sucker for a good love story, most likely thanks to my parents. Forty years ago this weekend they tied the knot after a long and spirited courtship that nobody really believed would end in marriage, given how independent both parties were (think Beatrice and Benedick). To this day they remain devoted, affectionate sparring partners in the game of life; it’s inspirational, really, the kind of long-term success story about which epic poems and great novels are written. 

I’ve noticed, though, that in fiction and literature so many of the “great” love stories end badly, be it by death, betrayal, or temporal dislocation. That’s not exactly encouraging, now, is it? Luckily, there are also many wonderful novels with happy endings that can reaffirm your faith in true love without going overboard on the treacle factor. Observe.

PossessionPossession, A.S. Byatt. This is the best kind of love story, the kind where all the obstacles the characters encounter turn out to be worth it in the end. Getting there is half the fun, however, and there’s quite a lot to get through in this long, literary tale of two sets of lovers:  a pair of Victorian poets and the scholars who study them after their deaths. The passion and angst quotients are high, but that just makes the resolution all the better. Read the book, then pick up the film for date night with your favorite lit crit wit. 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen. No offense to Colin Firth or the entire Sense and SensibilityMr. Darcy franchise, but I’ve always preferred this tale of lessons learned and love won (and the presence of Alan Rickman in the film certainly doesn’t hurt). Flighty Marianne Dashwood learns the hard way that a handsome physiognomy doesn’t necessarily house a gentlemanly heart; meanwhile, sister Elinor discovers that while reserve is admirable, it is occasionally possible to keep one’s feelings too much a secret. After much confusion and mayhem, the sisters’ double happiness is secured. Hurray!

Our Mutual FriendOur Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. In typical Dickensian fashion, his final novel is jam-packed with enough characters and plotlines to render all but the most careful readers dizzy. These include two romantic storylines in which wealth and social class play pivotal roles. Determined to help her family by marrying for money, proud young Bella Wilfer grows to care for John Harmon, a man she thinks is a pauper. Meanwhile, Lizzie Hexam, a waterman’s daughter, finds herself embroiled in a love triangle with two gentlemen far above her station, one of whom she loves, but fears she can never hope to marry. Dickens definitely turns on the brooding and despair for this episode of his London chronicles, but brings both romances to tender, satisfying endings that will melt even the most hard-hearted reader.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Three out of four March sisters find Little Women romantic happiness against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods (I suppose there has to be a little tragedy to keep a novel interesting, but, still, poor Beth!). Conventional Meg and coquettish Amy are paired off easily enough, but the highlight of the book, for me, is when tomboyish, career-minded Jo manages to pursue her own dreams and find true love, without compromsing on either aspect. A pretty nifty writing feat, that, considering the limited range of acceptable paths for women in Alcott’s era. This is the most sentimental of the lot, so you might want to opt for the most recent film version, and fast-forward through the mushy parts (at least until Gabriel Byrne shows up).

Dared and DoneOf course, one of the best love stories ever was the real-life romance and marriage of the Brownings, poets Elizabeth and Robert. An attraction sparked by poetic skill, a disapproving papa, a miraculous recovery from long-term illness, and a dashing elopement are just the beginning of what was definitely a marriage of true minds. You can read all about it in Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, which describes in intimate detail how the couple weathered both the sunny and shadowy elements of their relationship, and helped each other grow as poets and people. 

Scoff if you like, but if life hasn’t beaten faith in true love out of me by now, it probably never will. Do you have a great romance to share, either fictional or biographical? Do you like your love stories sunny or star-crossed? 

Leigh Anne
who is more like Marianne than Elinor, despite her best intentions

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Man Who Invented Christmas

I don’t read the newspaper very carefully in December. I’m short on time to complete holiday projects, and I do what I can to conserve hours. As I race and skim through the national, regional, business and arts news, one recurring theme catches my attention. Articles that mention Charles Dickens and his holiday story A Christmas Carol seem to appear daily.

Federal Theatre Marionettes present “A Christmas Carol.” Works Progress Administration. From the Library of Congress’s collection: “By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943”

I’ve heard a lot of conversation about a leaner (and perhaps more meaningful) Christmas this year. Newspapers are filled with tales of the uncertain economic climate, and the connections between the economy and the nature of family, community, and national celebrations. A recurring message in the media is that our holiday traditions and expectations require revision in light of the reality of banking disasters, unemployment, rising prices. Whatever the reason, Dickens and the notorious Scrooge are receiving a lot of press.


Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0001069. 1902 photo, courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society, included in Library Of Congress American Memory, online historical collections.

Dickens suffered humiliation at age twelve, when his father was sent to debtors prison. He wrote A Christmas Carol to raise public awareness of England’s poor, especially children. One recent article I read stated, “And today, in the midst of the worst economy in more than 50 years, his story gains new resonance.”

Dickens deserves credit for popularizing the elements that define a traditional Christmas, like roast turkey and mulled wine, and as one article put it, A Christmas Carol “set the tone for Christmas as we know it today: a season of generosity, feasting, and merriment.” Dickens’ legacy also includes an awareness and focus on sharing with people in need. Scrooge embraces the spirit of generosity, and has been an example since 1843. Les Standiford, author of The Man Who Invented Christmas was quoted as saying, “When you walk out of a store at Christmastime this year and see someone standing there beside an iron pot and clanging a bell, make no mistake about it. That is really Charles Dickens standing there, reminding you of the right thing to do.”

For further reading:

xmasInventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be




battlechristmasThe Battle for Christmas







Filed under Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Teams

Meme Retort


Novel readers, listen up! Better yet, divide up into two teams – Pro-Dickens vs. What-the-Dickens. (Anti-Dickens, I’m not inviting you to play.) If you were recruited for the Pro-Dickens team in lit class, but said no thanks, I’ll give you a second chance. Consider me your Post-School, Pro-Dickens Librarian Recruiter.

You probably feel like you know Dickens’ work. You’ve seen a film or stage version of A Christmas Carol. Your high school performed the musical Oliver. But perhaps you haven’t actually read Dickens.

As your Pro-Dickens recruiter, I recommend beginning with Hard Times. The full title is Hard Times – For These Times. I’m not the only book scout who believes this is the best place to start. George Bernard Shaw observed that in Hard Times, readers are likely to find Dickens worth reading for the first time.

Beginning Points: Modest Expectations About Hard Times

• It’s Dickens shortest novel (around 300 pages, depending on the edition).
• Because it’s short, the cast of characters is (for Dickens) small, and the plot is relatively simple.
• One critic wrote that Hard Times is an abstract of Dickens’ other novels. This is helpful for the first time Dickens reader. You’ll get a sense of his common themes without going into overtime.
• The story is set in England’s industrial north, in mythical Coketown. Throughout his life Dickens was indignant about industrial conditions. He was also passionately against a new, government sanctioned method of teaching, the Utilitarian educational system. Dickens felt that this system, which valued facts and statistics and allowed no place for the imagination, was as gloomy and hopeless as Coketown itself. (Read Dickens’ description of industrial Coketown and picture pre-cleaned up Pittsburgh.) Coketown was the product of Utilitarian theory, which allowed the rich and powerful to exert their will upon their employees and nature herself.
• The main characters are a school master and his family (the Gradgrinds), a circus owner (Mr. Sleary) and his daughter (Sissy Jupe), and a factory owner (Mr. Bounderby).
• Freedom, humor, and creativity flourish in the lives of the circus performers. Their lives of imagination are contrasted with the Gradgrind’s lives of facts. Dickens pleads for “a little more fancy among children and a little less fact.”

If reading Hard Times entices you to join the Pro-Dickens team, you’ll look forward to taking on the big bullies. Among my recommendations are Great Expectations (550 pages), and, weighing in at 900 pages each, Little Dorrit and Dombey and Son.

– Julie


Filed under Uncategorized