Friday, February 24, 2012

I Finally Finished Reading It

When I had been reading independently for a couple of years, I tackled David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I was an ambitious young thing and eager to prove myself capable of plowing through those 12 (Braille) volumes. I was nine years old. It was slow going and I quit after the first chapter. I looked up "caul" in the dictionary.

A year or so later I gave it another go and half-way through the second chapter, quit again. It was not because the book was too long. Jane Eyre and Gone with the Wind were under my belt by then. It was just dull. However, I did not give up on Dickens. I read Great Expectations and was intrigued, though I thought it strange and a bit macabre. I struggled through A Tale of Two Cities more out of stubbornness than pleasure. I knew nothing of the French Revolution and those sentences--by the end of one I had forgotten the middle, let alone the beginning. I was continually puzzled about the characters and their relationships. But, I finished it.

Consequently, I had a little prejudice against Dickens. I thought he was ponderous and stiff and nothing enticed me to crack one of his books for another 30 years. My local library had Bleak House on digital recording. I got a lot of housecleaning done because I couldn't stop listening to it. The next year my son and I read Oliver Twist. He was much more intrigued with that than I had been with David Copperfield.

Yes, Dickens is long. Yes, his characters are often odd--to say the least (who are "dust men"?). The protagonist, however, is usually intriguing and innocent of all the secret plots surrounding him. The more I read his books, the more I anticipated sinking into a story with seemingly endless twists and turns, where characters wandered in and out of the hero's life, and where, after all the misfortunes, everything tied up nicely with a happy conclusion. (Isn't that one of the joys of reading--having things come out the way you long for in real life?) Rather than dark, I was surprised by the jokes and hilarious asides sprinkled throughout his prose.

One of the reasons I turned back to Dickens was that my mentor, Charlotte Mason, referred to him often. I was curious about what she had enjoyed reading. As an adult, I had a lot more life experience that helped me relate to his novels. For one thing, I had been homeschooling for 25 years and actually knew about the Industrial Revolution and something of the appalling conditions of the poor in England in that supposedly blissful Victorian era. After years of being unconsciously haunted by my unfinished reading of David Copperfield, I also discovered it was autobiographical. I'm a sucker for life stories.

These confessions are not to say that your better educated homeschooled children have to wait for adulthood as I did to read Mr. Dickens. In fact, I wish I hadn't waited so long to read this masterful storyteller's tales. I am suggesting, though, that it is okay to take your time in reading a book. Many parents are concerned when their children pick up a book and don't finish it. Reading is not about getting a job done. It is about growing. Let your children grow up with the books and they will grow into them in their own sweet time.

I just finished David Copperfield--46 years after opening to page 1.

For the joy of reading,


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