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.

Thursday Quotables: Far From the Madding Crowd

quotation-marks4

Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
(first published 1874)

Well, this caught me by surprise! I decided to start another book via the Serial Reader app, and picked Far From the Madding Crowd, a book I’ve always meant to read. With Serial Reader, you can read all sorts of classics via 10 minute installments each day… but I found myself immediately drawn into the story, so I’ve read about 10 days worth of installments in the first 2 days. I may have to give up on the incremental reading and just read the damn novel all at once!

So far, I’m especially enjoying some of the funnier descriptions, which I really didn’t expect. Here’s a small bit that I thought was pretty cute, about a young man falling in love:

His dog waited for his meals in a way so like that in which Oak waited for the girl’s presence, that the farmer was quite struck with the resemblance, felt it lowering, and would not look at the dog.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1

Save

Save

Save

Save

A whale, an app, and me; or, how I finished reading Moby Dick in 79 easy pieces

Hast seen the white whale?

moby-dick-3I have!

I conquered that whale, and good.

Yes, after spending all of my reading life up to now saying, “I should probably read Moby Dick one of these days” but knowing in my heart that I never actually would… I DID IT!

Thanks to the glory of the Serial Reader app (read about it here), I have finally conquered the American classic that I never expected to read.

moby-dick_fe_title_pageSerial Reader is an app that lets you pick a public domain book to “subscribe” to. Each day, a new installment is ready to go. I got kind of used to waking up in the morning and seeing the friendly “Ahoy!” messages (I kid you not) letting me know that the new daily reading chunk was ready and waiting. Each day’s reading was typically short enough to read in 10 – 15 minutes.

Is 10 – 15 minutes something I could spare? Absolutely.

Let’s face it — the idea of reading Moby Dick or certain other massive classics is just way too daunting. I’m not afraid of the content, but I do know myself well enough to know that I’ll push my way through while constantly aching to go back to something that doesn’t feel like I’ve given myself an assignment.

But 10 – 15 minutes? Heck, I could do that over my morning coffee (which is exactly what I did most days).

I did read ahead at least a few days per week, so rather than taking 79 days to read, I finished the book in more like 60, I think.

whales-1472984_1280You probably want to know – how was it? I mean, was the book actually good?

The answer is YES. Surprise, surprise — it’s even funny at parts. Herman Melville can tell a tale, I tell you.

Of course, there are huge chunks in the middle where we have chapter after chapter about whale anatomy, the parts of whaling ships, descriptions of the jobs of every person on board a whaling ship… on and on and on. The early chapters are about our narrator Ishmael, and there are some delightful moments when he befriends the “cannibal” Queequeg, although I was sorry to see their bromance fade from the storyline as the book progresses. Really, if you took out all the parts about categorizing and labeling whale parts, the story of the Pequod and its mad captain Ahab would probably only be about a third as long as Moby Dick is in its entirety.

As to the method of reading the book, the Serial Reader approach has its pros and cons.

PROS: I read the damn book! I really don’t believe I ever would have done it otherwise. The app kept me motivated, with its scoring and little achievement badges and daily encouragements with each segment completed.

CONS: While I read the book (hurray!), I don’t believe I came even close to fully appreciating it. I read it quickly, and it was a very surface-level read. I didn’t dive into the symbolism, the structure, the themes, the references — I read it purely for story. I suppose someone could use the app and still take the time for a deeper dive into each installment, but I didn’t. I approached this read as a limited time commitment, with its allotted 10 – 15 minutes per day, and that’s all I was willing to give.

in-the-heart-of-the-sea-whale-xlarge-large_transrp36ti1mfcyr8pmus2fhb17hoduspm84eyl8thpmrlk

Do I recommend it? Again, yes and no.

The Serial Reader app is a great way to tackle books that you might not ordinarily read. But as for Moby Dick, I do believe that I would have gotten much more out of it if I’d read an annotated version, or even looked through an illustrated edition with diagrams of all the whale anatomy and other goodies.

Will I use Serial Reader again?

Oh, I think so. Maybe not right away. I think I need a little free reading time where I’m not keeping up with quite so many narrative threads at once. (See my post about my reading saturation point, here.)

Likewise, I don’t know if I’d want to tackle such a big book this way again. At some points, it really did feel like a chore, and I’m pretty much opposed to anything that makes reading feel like work, not play.

But I do see the value in using the app to make a challenging read more bite-sized and manageable. I could see myself using the app for some classic sci-fi, like Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, or even some random short stories. As for longer classic fiction, I’m not sure. I’ve been saying I want to read Great Expectations for years now and still haven’t done it, so Serial Reader could be the way to get it done — but I think I’ll get more out of it as a reader if I treat it like any other book I want to read, sitting down with the book and a bookmark, and not starting anything else until I’m done… rather than treating it like an assignment with a daily deadline.

matilda-moby-dick

Meanwhile, back to Moby Dick

I read it, and I enjoyed it, and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit ever since I finished this week. The book has such a reputation as a heavy, overwhelming read, and I was surprised to find that it’s actually fun, entertaining, moving, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Sure, the science is a bit (oh, 150 years or so) behind the times, but for when it was written, it’s really quite remarkable. So what if Melville considers whales to be fish? I’d venture to say that what he presented was deemed accurate at the time.

So, consider me a fan. I met the white whale, and survived to tell the tale.

Save

Save