Book written by Charles Dickens
Depending on the circles you run in, someone somewhere along the way probably has asked you what your favorite movie is. It may have been akin to asking what sort of music you listen to as shorthand for taking your temperature to see whether your idea of cool jibed with the questioner’s idea. Or it may have been a way to start a debate at an otherwise boring moment. I have been there. I may even have asked the question. And let’s be clear that it is not a question to ask if you cannot answer it. I usually took the film wonk’s easy way out and said Citizen Kane, a movie that truly blew my mind when I saw it the first time, but I can now say that about a lot of films. The thing is that the same question so rarely gets asked about books. People will ask what you’re currently reading or if you have read anything interesting lately or if you have read the current “it” book, but rarely what your favorite book might be. And it is a stumper. I have only heard the question asked a handful of times and just a couple times it received an answer. As for me, I fell into the dodging-the-question camp. I had not read Martin Chuzzlewit at the time.
Dickens wrote a lot, so if you like Dickens, you can parse him out over your lifetime. I first heard of John Irving doing that (probably apocryphally and maybe it was John Cheever or John Updike…) and it has always seemed like a good plan, so I have not read all of Dickens, but you probably haven’t either. Those that I have read I like a lot and Martin Chuzzlewit translates best to the modern world for me. Dickens had recently returned from a tour of the United States and had a lot to say about what he had seen. He was also carrying some lingering anger over being ripped off by American publishers as we were the China of the day as far as copyright goes. The middle section of the novel includes an extensive telling of the adventures of the younger Martin Chuzzlewit in our hemisphere. (Note that the book is the tale of the older Martin Chuzzlewit seeking an heir and the younger doing everything in his power to be disinherited, though much more comes into play as always.) Dickens’ critique of a land where everyone seeks their fortune may seem unfair, but he didn’t see it as unfairness. He didn’t bring down the country and he highlighted issues that merit attention.
Dickens was capable of remarkable humor- a central villain of the piece is named Pecksniff. If you can read the first three pages of the book and not get a laugh, then I admit that it may not be for you, but I confess to a certain sadness for you.
Apparently you can use favorite books for just the same purposes as favorite films. Really, you should not be afraid of standing near me at parties.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 283 more to go.
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