Bleak House

I have a To-Be-Read pile.

That means that I have a long list of all the books I am supposed to read. In theory, they are organized in order according to when I bought them. The older books are read first and the books I impulse buy at various thrift stores, Barnes and Noble outlets, or order off of Amazon have to wait until the ones I bought two years ago have had their turn.

In theory, this system works.

In theory.

However, every once in a while (Okay, every single time I buy books) I find a book that I simply cannot resist.

An especially fat, wonderful book that absolutely begs me to slip between the pages and lose myself in the magic of its story.

I am not known for being particularly good at refusing these pleas. So my To-Be-Read pile grows longer and books that I bought three years ago and still very much intend to read continue to wait their turn.

I’ll get around to them.


I bought one such book a few weeks ago, right after my birthday. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, had always seemed a rather dry and overly long story that didn’t appeal to me much when I saw it in the bookstore. On a whim, I bought it, thinking I would give it a chance to turn out better than I anticipated.

Or be dry as dust.

Either way.

To my surprise, it was one of the best books that I have read in a long time. Bleak House is the chronicle of the ill-fated Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, a court case revolving around a disputed will that has dragged on for decades, sucking the money and the life out of its victims. The story begins by introducing us to a sweet, even-tempered child of uncertain lineage. Esther Summerson. She is brought to Bleak House by its master and her guardian, John Jarndyce, a man who has been so plagued by the court case that he has sworn off of it entirely, declaring it nothing but a blight on his family’s name. When he welcomes Esther to Bleak House, he introduces her to two other relations of his, both orphaned and left in his care. Richard and Ada.

Between the three of them, Bleak House is transformed into a home filled with light and laughter. The affection between them grows, and Esther is delighted when she detects something more than friendship between Ada and Richard.

But Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and the promise of a possible fortune at his fingertips, draws Richard away from the happy family, and the poison of the law courts changes him more than Esther or Ada would have ever anticipated.

Bleak House is a whirlwind of fascinating characters, gorgeous imagery, and intriguing mysteries. This was one of only a few books in my lifetime that has made me shut the book so that I could calm down. It was charming, it was witty, and it was so intriguing with its mysteries, scandals, and twisted relationships that I didn’t at all mind its enormous size. Truly one of Charles Dickens’ greatest works, and one that I will be recommending to people for years to come.

“Do you know the relief that my disappearance will be? Have you forgotten the stain and blot upon this place, and where it is, and who it is?”

A Christmas Carol

It is not Christmas.

I am aware of that, thank you very much.

Nor am I generally the type of person to be singing Christmas carols in July or leaving my Christmas lights up all year round.

(Okay, you caught me. I totally am.)


But, if we are going to be fair and totally above board with everything, I did, in fact, read this book around Christmas time. I had seen plays, watched endless numbers of movie adaptions, and listened to radio productions, but never actually read the book. So I thought it was about time I picked it up.

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Despite my heightened expectations, A Christmas Carol was everything I hoped it would be and more. Charles Dickens (also the author of A Tale of Two Cities, which I reviewed last week) is an incredibly insightful, interesting author with a solid grasp of character, prose, and story. From the first words to the last, this charming Christmas classic held me spellbound, and more than ever aware of how watered down and cliched this story has become. The powerful classic is now a children’s fairytale, something pulled out at Christmas time and ignored otherwise.

And yet, some renditions still hold true to the spirit behind this beautiful story. I have seen plays—and movies—that, although not perfect, held very well to the original storyline and managed to convey the truth of what Dickens put onto the page.

All of us, of course, know the story of the crotchety, miserly Scrooge, who hated Christmas, hated people, and loved nothing but his money and his business, if that can be called love. His experiences with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future are familiar to many. Even the tale of Tiny Tim, the ailing son of his overworked and woefully underpaid assistant, Bob Cratchit, is well known and loved.

And yet, for the sake of time, many stories have cut out much of Scrooge’s journey with the spirits, his return to a childhood marred by neglect and illness, the memories of a woman he loved and longed to see at ease and with plenty, and yet lost because of his obsession with the wealth he was determined to give her. Each of the spirits show him another portion of his life, either past, present, or future, and glimpsed from the outside, instead of through a veil of wealth and greed, Scrooge begins to understand how cold, useless, and unfeeling the wealth that he was massed and hoarded over his long life has become. How much he has missed through his miserly, clutching behavior, and how little time he still has left to amend his past.

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A Christmas Carol has always been one of my favorite stories, and since reading the book, I treasure it all the more. If you have never picked up the unabridged classic and read it front to back, I strongly encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed.

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”

So begins one of my favorite classics, a book that I didn’t expect to like and instead fell head over heels in love with. A Tale of Two Cities captivated me. Its poignancy, intrigue, and complex characters drew me in, propelling me through a book that I’d heard described many times as sluggish.

The French Revolution is a bloody, chaotic period in history, and the books that I have read during that era have always fascinated me. The Scarlet Pimpernel and Les Miserables are both great favorites of mine as well, both as movies and as books.


Like most classics, A Tale of Two Cities is anything but a quick read. It meanders along, telling the story in rich detail and vivid depth. I personally will read—and enjoy—a book no matter the length, as long as it does a good job of keeping its reader engaged.

And this book had no trouble doing that.

The story begins with the trial of Charles Darney, a Frenchman in an English court, now accused of treason and espionage. The charges are quickly dropped, however, on the testimony of Sydney Carton, a lawyer and a man who looks enough like Darney to be his twin. After the trial, the two of them continue to be linked together by a young woman, Lucie Manette, whose father has recently been rescued from a French prison. She eventually is married to Darney, and Sydney graciously steps aside, declaring the other a better man and continuing to maintain friendship with both of them.


But the turmoil in France continues to grow, and Darney, a former aristocrat who has disowned his family line, must return to plead mercy for a former servant. But the bloodshed, rampant hatred, and growing terror snatch him up as well, and the whirlwind of violence that was the French Revolution threatens the quiet family he has built.

A Tale of Two Cities is a remarkable story of love and grief, bitterness and healing. Charles Dickens weaves heroism into ‘worthless’ men, fear into courage, and forgiveness into years of hatred. This story is one that I have treasured since the moment I read it and will continue to hold dear as one of the most believable, moving stories I’ve ever read.

I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.