Friday, October 20, 2006

Autumn Reading Challenge Re-Visited

I glanced over my "autumn reading list" to see how I was doing so far. As I sort of suspected, I've wandered far afield of the original list. Hey, it happens!

My late summer/early autumn James Herriot kick seems to have worn off for now. I really couldn't seem to get into Jim Wight's biography of his famous father, though I read (and liked) the first chapter or so. I have a feeling both that book and James Herriot's Yorkshire will be books to go back to when it gets colder. I thoroughly enjoyed the first hundred pages or so of Yorkshire, with Herriot's beautiful ramblings alongside some excellent photographs. But I seemed to need a break from it. Wait till the snow flies, and I will likely curl up with it again.

Incidentally, one of the places in Yorkshire I was most intrigued with was the town of Richmond. It's gorgeous, complete with Norman-era castle and a flowing river. I would really like to find out more about it, not least because I grew up in a Richmond (the one in Virginia, which doesn't have any castles, at least as far as I know!).

I'm on the third chapter of Oliver Twist. I actually tried signing up for a section of the book a day at the DailyLit website. It's a clever online service, where you can sign up to receive a portion of a literary classic (it has to be in the public domain) in your email inbox. The service works really well, but I've discovered a truth I already suspected about myself -- when it comes to reading fiction, I don't do it well online. Give me a real book any day, preferably a stout hardback with slightly creamy colored (even yellowed is all right) pages. If the pages are a bit unevenly cut, so much the better. I like the feel and even the smell of a book in my hand; I like being able to curl up on a couch or in a bathtub to read; I love the physical act of turning pages. The internet is a wonderful resource for so many things, and I enjoy reading articles and blogs there, but when I want to follow a written story, I don't want to do it on a screen.

I'm struggling a bit with Oliver Twist, even though I found a nice, old hardback copy at the public library. That's probably because (true confessions) I only know the story as a musical. Don't laugh! My fifth grade music teacher, bless her (I wish I could remember her name) thought nine and ten year olds were up to the task of performing a musical, and I was in the chorus. It was an amazing experience, and 28 years later I still remember a lot of the lyrics to songs we sang, or that were sung as solos on stage by our more talented fellow students. It's almost bizarre what gets into your head and stays there.

So I'm reading along, following Dickens' nearly-immortal prose, and when I get to the scene where Oliver creeps forward, egged on by other hungry orphans, and dares to ask for more gruel, what do I have playing in my head? A mental soundtrack of dozens of fourth and fifth graders, myself included, doing our best to sound British as we chirp out: "Oli-ver! Oli-ver! Never before has a boy wanted more!"

What's really struck me as difficult, besides the mental soundtrack, is how depressing this book is. Perhaps because I first learned of the story so young, and because it has a child as a protaganist, I'd somehow gotten the mistaken notion that this story might be appropriate for children. But this is Dickens, who isn't afraid to write about the dark and oppressive underbelly of industrial society. As a mother, I honestly had a hard time getting through the early scenes, when Oliver was an infant and young child in a workhouse. Could even a fraction of this be true? Have there been children in the world who have been treated like this? It breaks my heart that the answer is yes.

As for the other books on my autumn reading list, we'll see. I think I'm going to forego the Marva Dawn title for now, in favor of finishing up Cornelius Plantinga's Engaging God's World. Also unexpectedly decided to read David Wells' God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. More on that last title soon.


Erin said...

I'm definitely in agreement when it comes to reading actual books rather than the computer screen. I read the screen all the time, but reading a novel just works so much better with a physical book in hand.

I read an adaptation of Oliver Twist when I was younger but I don't think I ever got through the original book. Dickens can be a bit much to take... But I have a copy of the book. I should give it another go one of these days...

Beth said...

Amen to having a novel in hand! I was intrigued enough to try the Dickens in my email box, but soon realized it was not going to work for me at all!