Charles Dickens

It's the most cliché thing in the world to say that your books are great. But as I like to tell people, growing up means finding out that clichés are mostly true.

Because I went to a public high school and was an art major in college, I never had to read the great works of English literature. I suppose I read Tale of Two Cities in high school but didn't think twice about it.

So it was a revelation when I ‘discovered’ that David Copperfield was an incredible, funny book. I remember sitting at a table in Anschutz Library, looking wildly around the room and considering how weird it would be to run up to strangers and ask: “Did you have any idea that David Copperfield was good?” But of course, it's a classic. It's supposed to be good!

But I didn't have the idea in my head that classic books were good, or fun to read. I had the idea that they were... important. Or good for their time, but lame now. That nobody actually would want to read the classics for pleasure, and that 'English class' is really a kind of history lesson, and you'd only read these dusty old classics because you're studying them. But Copperfield was the book that shook me out of this: here was a fun book! Interesting, charming, funny, outlandish, a little preachy but in an endearing way. It was a pleasure!

And then I realized there's a lot of your books! Over the last twenty-ish years I've been pacing myself through your novels, because each one is so enjoyable to read, I didn't want to run out. I think I finally read the last 'new to me' book this summer, with Dombey. But in the meantime, I've forgotten (sorry) what happens in some of the others, so I think I can cycle back through your minor work (sorry) and they'll feel fresh.

Today I love your books for the immortal, outlandish, cartoonish characters you created. I love the generosity you show by painting portraits of people who might be irritating and frustrating in real life, but position them in communities and families where they are treasured and ... forebeared with? Shown forebearance? Mr. Dick and Mr. Micawber in Copperfield, and so many more in the other novels. It's a model of graciousness to aspire to.

Anyways. Thanks, Charles. You cracked open hundreds of years of reading pleasure for me.

January 1, 2024


This is Matt Kirkland's corrective project for 2024: learn how to write thank you notes. I'm warming up by writing to dead people.