Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center
Have you decided to catch up on all the reading you’ve been meaning to do now that you’re stuck at home? After all, you probably need a break from looking through old photos, sorting stuff in your cupboards and closets, and rearranging your sock drawer (or is that just me?). Most of all, you need to take a break from all the frightening news. My suggestion: get out the Dickens!
I love reading Charles Dickens. His works can be in turns wickedly funny, sentimental, and as exciting as a thriller. He is a keen observer of politics and the human condition, and the writing is often shockingly timely, proving that not much has changed in 150 years. The more I read, the more I love it. I even attend an annual week-long Dickens Conference at UC Santa Cruz each year. I know Dickens isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; but if you’ve been thinking that now is the time to finally dive in, here are some tips:
Start Small. If you are new to Dickens, you don’t have to start off with a 900-page monster. Try A Christmas Carol. You’ve probably seen one or two (or ten) movie or stage adaptations, but have you actually read it? I realized I had not, even with all the Dickens I have read, so this past week my dad and I sat down with A Christmas Carol. It’s fairly amazing how something so familiar can become new all over again. And it doesn’t need to be Christmas to read it!
Read out loud. Dickens’ phrases and descriptions are so marvelous, they are best savored word-by-word. Reading out loud doubles the fun (especially for the theatrically inclined among us). For one thing, it involves your body physically the way that reading to yourself doesn’t do. It also forces you to read every word instead of rushing through to get to the end. Many people routinely listen to audio books, usually while doing something else like driving or working out. Hearing and reading “live’ is a whole other experience. I’ve been enjoying reading Dickens out loud since the 1980s, when my mother cajoled the family and a few friends to meet weekly to read Nicholas Nickleby. It took us about 5 months to finish, but it was marvelous. We continued our little group for about five years, reading many novels that way.
Make yourself comfortable. Reading Dickens should be a pleasure, not a chore. Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t worry about a timeline. Settle down in a comfy place with a mug of something warm to drink. Tea, of course, is classic British, but so is hot punch. A great deal of eating and drinking goes on in Dickens’ works, so do likewise! If you’re so inclined, I recommend this simple hot toddy – in an 8 ounce mug, put one tablespoon sugar, a large slice of lemon, and an ounce or two of your preferred alcohol (whisky, brandy, rum, gin – anything goes!), fill to the top with boiling water and add a cinnamon stick. Stir, drink, and enjoy!