Monday, February 6, 2012

The Epic Reading List Updated: A Tale of Two Cities

List Update as of February 6th

1. 'The Hunger Games' -Suzanne Collins
2. 'Alanna the First Adventure' -Tamora Pierce
3. 'Anna Dressed in Blood' -Kendare Blake
4. 'In the Hand of the Goddess' -Tamora Pierce
5. 'Graceling' -Kristin Cashore
6. 'The Woman Who Rides Like a Man' -Tamora Pierce
7. 'The Name of the Star' -Maureen Johnson
8. 'Lioness Rampant' -Tamora Pierce
9. 'Tale of Two Cities' -Charles Dickens

10. 'Wild Magic' -Tamora Pierce
11. 'Catching Fire' -Suzanne Collins
12. 'Wolf Speaker' -Tamora Pierce
13. 'Matched' -Ally Condie
14. 'Emperor Mage' -Tamora Pierce
15. 'Divergent' -Veronica Roth
16. 'The Realm of the Gods' -Tamora Pierce

Oh dear gods it took me long enough to read this one. I was busy sulking.

First, I haven't read much Dickens. I did read A Christmas Carol in sixth grade so that was quite a while ago and then read Hard Times for my Victorian Literature class in college. That was the first time I felt really exposed to Mr. Dickens (there was actually an ongoing joke about how I was having an affair with him because we kept sleeping together). Despite my rather unfortunate tendency to pass out while reading it I really liked the book. I'd been meaning to read more Dickens but hadn't gotten to it yet. 

Then I read Clockwork Prince. If you've read it you know there are multiple references to A Tale of Two Cities and they're really good references. Great quotes. Shortly after I recalled that I actually bought a really nice, leather bound, embossed cover version of it when my local Waldens closed years ago. It was like kismet.  So, when I was making the list I decided that I would put a classic on the list and A Tale of Two Cities seemed the obvious choice.

Admittedly, I knew very little about the book aside from the first and last lines and the quotes Cassandra Clare used. I'd heard very mixed reviews of the book from friends and siblings who had to read it for classes.

The first thing I noticed about the book was how much more difficult it is to read. I feel completely comfortable admitting this even though I've had people stare at me and say "But you were an English major!" Fact, my good people, fact. Maybe that's why I had the determination to finish or maybe it didn't take me as long to slip into Dickens-mode as it might have taken someone else. I don't really know. But I when I started reading it I remembered how much more difficult it is to get into the rhythm of some of the classics. They're usually well beyond worth it once you do and they become faster reads once you figure how to read them. Regardless, what I ended up doing was breaking the book up and requiring myself to read to a certain page number each night. Sometimes I read more, once I read less (last night).

And I loved the book.

Thinking about how much I enjoyed the book it took me a minute to figure out why my love for it struck me as so strange. I love a good plot but characters a usually a really big drive for me and there's so much going on in A Tale of Two Cities that few of the characters have the opportunity to be truly developed. Predominately they are each given a dominant trait and left to that. Lucie is the picture of compassion. Miss. Pross is loyalty. Charles got to be the character who was trying to escape his past, the noble one but he came off as the flattest of the characters. Sydney is the best developed and Citizeness Defarge is well created as well. The odd thing about this is that these traits give each character at least one real moment in the book.
The one that stands out the most to be (perhaps because it is at the end or just because I really liked it) is Miss. Pross' at the end. She was a character who I'd admittedly not given much thought to until this moment.

"I am a Briton," said Miss Pross, "I am desperate. I don't care an English Twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I'll not leave a handful of that dark hair upon your head, if you lay a finger on me!"

I pretty love everything about that moment. It is glorious. Unforgiving, not particularly eloquent, and true. She is telling it like it is and I love her for it. I love Citizeness Defarge's inconspicuous knitting and just how awful she is (but Miss Pross totally wins the showdown for my affections between the two).

Sydney could have a whole post about how my feelings about him changed but I'll keep it brief-ish. I didn't want to like him. As beautiful as his confession was, and I knew that going in, I didn't want to like him at all and I knew that I was being set up to. Drunkards really shouldn't be charming. I think what ultimately won me over was his understated love for Lucie and his being able to admit that he was unfit for her. I like Sydney and I did NOT want Sydney to end up with Lucie. It would have completely ruined it for me. They weren't fit for each other. Lucie needs someone bland like Charles. Plus, Charles' flatness highlights Sydney's depth.

But enough about characters.

If anyone is the king of somber writing it's Charles Dickens. Dear gods, that man. It's beautiful and maybe it strikes me so much because it's not something that pops up much in what I read. I read plenty that I find lovely but not in the same way. The whole end of this book, while fairly predictable (or maybe I subconsciously knew more about it than I thought), was beautifully written. I really liked the book until the last sixty or so pages in which I fell in love with it. It's where everyone who was going to took a stand and the curtains were drawn back on the changes in character, and motives and I loved every word.
But more than the end, Dickens has a way of making every description count toward the story he's telling. He doesn't describe things because it's fun (or if he does it doesn't feel that way). One of my favorites is:

"The night wore out, and, as he stood upon the bridge listening to the water as it splashed the river-walls of the Island of Paris, where the picturesque confusion of houses and cathedral shone bright in the light of the moon, the day came coldly, looking like a dead face out of the sky. Then, the night, with the moon and the stars, turned pale and died, and for a little while it seemed as if Creation were delivered over to Death's dominion."

It's the exact opposite of how most people see sunrise and I love it. It fits so well. In the book all of these horrors happen during the day with the revolution and death really does come with the day. Even while it makes people feel better it brings horror.

Now that I've rambled, the only thing that stops this from getting a Beyond Epic rating is that there were some dragging parts in between. It might have been me, but there were still some bits I really struggled with. I knew they were all important but it was still rough going. I think a time gap and different way of thinking is partly to blame and though I can't blame Dickens for that it still sort of counts against it.That and since I am such a big character reader the fact that I couldn't relate well to any of the characters didn't help any.

I still loved the book so, Overall Ranking: Massively Epic

Next up is the first in Tamora Pierce's The Immortals quartet: Wild Magic.


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