Happy Birthday, Mr Charles Dickens

I could not let Charles Dickens 200th birthday pass without recognizing it in some way. I read my first Dickens at the age of 7. I have a vivid memory of waiting in our hallway for my lift to school, reading just one more page to my mother. The first book I read was “The Cricket on the Hearth”. I remember this so clearly as it was the year that a cricket moved into our boiler room and chirped so much that it would drive our dog mad.

Over the years I have read all but one of his books. My parents have a set. They are red, hardback and published at the beginning of the last century, or there abouts. I spent many a holiday cuddled up in a nook somewhere in the house, ploughing through this run of books. They were heavy, well read and smelt of old book. I loved turning the slightly yellowing pages. I loved these books. I loved the stories. He was probably the first writer who dragged me into the story and made me feel I was there too. Alongside his characters.

After graduating, my first job entailed travelling by train to various locations around the UK. It was fun to realise that I was in a location that is featured in the books. My job took me all over London (we had one office in Clerkenwell, which never failed to make me smile) and places like Portsmouth and Birmingham. I picked up paperback copies of Dickens in train station bookshops, as I waited for my connection. BUT it was not the same. The pages of these copies were crisp and the edges stuck together as no one had ever read them. The corners of the covers bent and worse of all they smelt NEW. I was reading Dickens but it was a new book. This felt wrong.

When I read any book, I take in my surroundings and this is fixed into my memory of the book as strongly as the story I’m reading. There are parts of Bristol I still cannot pass without thinking about a specific moment of an Agatha Christie, which I read on a bus as I commuted to work 15 years ago. The condition of the book is all part of the experience. How can I stand in Little Nell’s Old Curiosity shop, when the book in my hand is so brand new? I’m dragged back to the 21st century at every turn of the page.

So I started to haunt the second hand book shops and I have picked up a few old hard back versions over the years. They are not first editions or very special, but its the way I like to read Dickens. That and a glass of something in my hand! Paperbacks and Kindles may work for others, but it just does not do it for me.

And the one book that I have never read, the Mystery of Edwin Drood. I could not face reading a book finished by someone else. It would leave me endlessly guessing. My favourite Dickens? It’s a close run thing, but I’m going to go for Little Dorrit. I could go on and on about all the wonderful stories….really I could, but all I really want to say is….

Happy Birthday, Mr Charles Dickens. I love your books.

Which is your favourite?

(Incidently, I’ve added the button for the Read the Printed Word pledge to my sidebar.)

14 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Mr Charles Dickens

  • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 12:30 pm
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    What a wonderful collection!

    • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 1:43 pm
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      Thanks, Julia. Looking at them again makes me want to read one again. Hmm. Eeny meeny miney mo….. 😀

  • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 1:52 pm
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    What a wonderful description of why reading real books is so special! I too will never switch to an electronic version as it could not possibly offer me the whole multi-sensory experience of reading a paper book, it really is all about the smell, texture and even the weight in your hands…you have inspired me so much I am off to read one now! 😀

    • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 5:58 pm
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      Dickens paints such a vivid picture, that anything but an old book would be out of place. Sorry modern publishers. You are right about the weight of the book. Hope you enjoy your book.

  • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 3:52 pm
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    Gorgeous post…love the picture in my mind of book memories at different locations…love the books
    Can I be greedy and say I love both ebooks and real books… 😳
    When I moved from the UK my “Worldly Goods” were two pallets of books and now I see I have 1090 books on my ereader…how did that happen?

    Christmas Carol…Great Expectations..and…errr Tale of Two Cities are tying for first at the moment :0)

    A Very Happy Birthday Mr Dickens :0)

    • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 5:56 pm
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      I think its horses for courses. Dickens as an ebook just wouldn’t work for me. Wrong setting. I love sci fi and I think that would work perfectly on a Kindle. If I commuted, I’d probably eat humble pie and sneak a Kindle out of my bag to read Pratchett. Maybe not Asimov as I connect his tales with 2nd hand paperbacks. Although if you have managed to accumulate 1090 books on yours, maybe I should stir clear. Yes, I think I’ll stick to flicking paper pages rather than pixels, for the moment.

      I read Tale of Two Cities for my O’level English. There, that dates me! The number of times I’ve been knitting and thought of the execution sections, with the old women knitting, and wondered what they would read into my knitting! I like your three choices.

  • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 9:43 pm
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    #1 – love the photos; #2 – feel the exact same way about olde books; #3 – one of my first jobs required me to take two buses and a trolley to get there. That’s where the world of books really opened up for me. Loved this post!

    • Tuesday 7 February, 2012 at 10:10 pm
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      Oh Jodi. I read so many books when I travelled. I love that you expanded your love of books while commuting. 🙂 (especially olde books)

  • Wednesday 8 February, 2012 at 3:40 pm
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    I like reading books that I can hold in my hand too. Curling up on a couch with an electronic version is just not as romantic! And yes, the condition of the book does help although I don’t like ones that are completely falling apart or smell too too musty. Makes me sneeze.

    • Thursday 9 February, 2012 at 11:32 am
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      No, I guess there comes a point where the book is no longer readable. Dust I can cope with. Even terribly musty is almost fixable, but falling apart….the book loses its charm. 🙁

  • Wednesday 8 February, 2012 at 4:40 pm
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    My favourite is Nicholas Nickleby. One of my kids is named after that book. There are a few I have never found…but I also did once find (and buy) a huge old book that has about 6 of his stories in it. I like to pick up old books as well. Just something about the feeling of them.

    • Thursday 9 February, 2012 at 11:36 am
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      I’m so glad others can see the beauty in old books. And not just to buy old books by the yard for house styling reasons!

  • Wednesday 8 February, 2012 at 9:56 pm
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    This is just a beautiful post… My oldest son is mad about Dickens… always has been. Well Shakespeare was his first love but once he had waded through Shakespeare he moved onto Dickens and when we find an old Dickens in a 2nd hand bookshop he gathers them up… and is starting a great collection!!!

    • Thursday 9 February, 2012 at 11:37 am
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      A wise boy your eldest! Its a good collection to start and will last a lifetime. I hope he continues to enjoy them!

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