Charles Dickens, Serial Reader, and me

First things first, yo:

I FINISHED GREAT EXPECTATIONS!

And as expected, it was great!

For years now, I’ve been saying “one of these days”, I want to read Great Expectations. And it never happened. But why wait for “one of these days”? In the words of Rent:

I finally buckled down a little over a week ago, and decided to use my handy-dandy Serial Reader app. Serial Reader, in case you don’t know, is an awesome app that delivers public domain reading material via daily installments, usually taking no longer than 10 – 15 minutes each to read. (I wrote first wrote about it here, if you want to know more.)

But as it turns out, I’m a pretty impatient reader, and if I’m hooked, I’m hooked, and it’s impossible to put the brakes on. So yes, I started Great Expectations via Serial Reader, and within two days I was reading ahead, getting through 3 – 4 installments each day instead of just one. Still, there are 74 installments in all, and I figured I’d take my leisurely time and enjoy Great Expectations in little bite-sized pieces over the next couple of months.

Wrong.

Apparently, I suck at Serial Reader. I got into the story, and once I was into the story, I abandoned everything else I was reading so I could just keep reading more and more. And while I have a paperback edition of Great Expectations and a Kindle edition, I ended up sticking with Serial Reader all the way through to the end.

(Could it be because of the little words of encouragement and the praise every time I finished an installment? Yes, you’ve got me. I’m a sucker for badges and affirmations.)

In terms of the book itself, there really isn’t any reason for me to write a review of Great Expectations, is there? The plot summary:

Dickens’s magnificent novel of guilt, desire, and redemption: The orphan Pip’s terrifying encounter with an escaped convict on the Kent marshes, and his mysterious summons to the house of Miss Havisham and her cold, beautiful ward Estella, form the prelude to his “great expectations.” How Pip comes into a fortune, what he does with it, and what he discovers through his secret benefactor are the ingredients of his struggle for moral redemption.

I  loved the characters and the setting, and I loved seeing Pip’s development from boyhood to manhood, and his ethical and emotional growth as he understands the wrongs he’s done and seeks ways to improve himself, ultimately realizing that it’s more important to be honest and fair and appreciative than to be a monied gentleman.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Dickens (my only previous Dickens being A Tale of Two Cities), and I’d forgotten how delightful his writing is. When we think of classics, we tend to think stuffy and dry and old-fashioned. I was not at all prepared for how funny Charles Dickens is! His writing is so clever, and the way he uses metaphors, physical descriptions of characters, and characters names as tools for making the people and events feel fully-fleshed is pretty amazing.

Oh, those names! The best (as in, more ridiculous) here is Mr. Pumblechook — can’t you just tell from that name that he’s a pretentious fool? Joe is as sweet and simple as his name, and of course a character named Estella is glamorous and unreachable. I couldn’t help loving Mr. Wemmick, who cares for his elderly father and refers to him as “the Aged”. Just fabulous.

In any case, while I didn’t stick with the serial approach, I’m sure I’ll continue to give it a shot for future reading. Now that I’ve read Great Expectations, I really want to expand my Dickens knowledge! A goal might be to read one of his novels per year… admitting now that I’m terrible at sticking to reading goals, but this feels doable and realistic and FUN, so who knows?

 

Meanwhile, I’d really love to check out the 2012 movie vesion of Great Expectations, with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. How perfect does that sound? Has anyone seen it? Any thoughts to share?

As for my progress with the Serial Reader app, here’s what I’ve used it for so far, in the year since I first gave it a try:

And despite my inability to still to just one installment per day, as the gods of Serial Reader intended, I still find it a really easy and motivating way to get around to reading those big, intimidating books that feel like too big a commitment to start.

Shelf Control #93: Great Expectations

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 1860
Length: 571 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

When Philip Pirrip–nicknamed Pip–is forced by an escaped convict to steal food and supplies from his meager home, he doesn’t know that this event will transform his life. One of Dickens’s most popular novels, Great Expectations follows the orphaned Pip as he grows from poverty into a gentleman, becoming entangled with the strange Miss Havisham and her beautiful but coldhearted ward, Estella, and coming into a fortune from an unknown benefactor. This engrossing work, which recently celebrated its 150th birthday, remains one of Dickens’s best.

How and when I got it:

I treated myself to this book, plus two others in the Classic Lines series from Splinter, in 2015.

Why I want to read it:

I feel like Great Expectations is one of those glaring holes in my reading career. I’ve only read one Dickens novel (A Tale of Two Cities), and have always intended to read more. A few years ago, while browsing in our local used book store, I saw the Classic Lines editions of Great Expectations, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice on the remainder table, and they were all just so pretty that I had to have them! Besides my hard copy of GE, I have a free Kindle edition, and I’ve also toyed with the idea of reading it via Serial Reader. So many options! Now I just have to buckle down and actually start.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: Marly’s Ghost

Marly's GhostIf you ask me, David Levithan can pretty much do no wrong. I’ve now read at least a handful of books either written or co-written by this author, and I’ve love just about all of them.

I recently came across a review of Marly’s Ghost over at Chrissi Reads, and my curiosity was immediately piqued.

Marly’s Ghost was originally published in 2005, but it looks like a new edition is being published in the UK by Egmont Publishing.

This slim novel is a retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and it’s a retelling in the truest sense of the word. The original story doesn’t just provide a launching pad for a new idea; instead, Marly’s Ghost faithfully follows the original, practically scene by scene, but transposes it into a modern love story that’s both incredibly sad and unexpectedly uplifting.

In Marly’s Ghost, Ben is bitterly mourning the death of his beloved girlfriend Marly, who died four months earlier after a long and painful battle with cancer. Marly was the center of Ben’s world, and without her, he sees no point in anything. He pushes away his friends, sees only bleakness in everything around him, and has a special sort of derision for Valentine’s Day. Marly’s death, to Ben, is proof that love is a crock. It can’t last, it only breaks you when it’s gone, and it can’t be worth pursuing if it only leads to pain.

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, when Ben has once again cruelly rebuffed his best friend’s attempts to connect and has needlessly lashed out at a couple in the early stages of love, he retreats to his room to surround himself with his loss and seek isolation. But his isolation is shattered when Marly’s ghost appears, weighed down by chains forged from a charm bracelet containing every memento of their time together. Ben’s grief is holding her and not letting her find peace. Marly warns Ben that he will be visited by three spirits… and, well, if you’ve ever read or seen a production of A Christmas Carol, you have a pretty good idea of what’s to come.

Ben is visited by the spirits of Valentine’s Day past, present, and future, and each shows Ben a piece of himself and illuminates his effect on those around him. Above all else, Marly wanted Ben to promise not to give up, and the spirits have come to hold him to his promise.

This slim novel brought me to tears at various points. It’s a terribly sad story of loss and suffering, made worse by the characters’ young ages, and yet it’s a pleasure to read as well. David Levithan refers to this book as a “remix” of A Christmas Carol, and that’s an apt description. He sticks to the basics of the original story, but turns it into something new and emotionally rich. The modern-day characters fit easily into the framework of the classic story, and Ben’s transformation from bitterness to hope is believable and lovely.

The book is further enhanced by black and white illustrations by the masterful Brian Selznick, who models his drawings on the illustrations found in the original edition of A Christmas Carol.

I recommend this book highly, for fans of the author and illustrator, for those who love A Christmas Carol, or for anyone who enjoys a well-written, honest look at love and loss. I borrowed this book from the library, but I think I need to own a copy for myself! Marly’s Ghost, along with David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary, proves that in the hands of a gifted author, good things really do come in small packages.

With thanks to Chrissi for inspiring me to track down a copy of this book!

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The details:

Title: Marly’s Ghost
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: Originally published 2005
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library