Sarah and Lissa and Lilian asked for a little more information about my Dickens project, so here's an outline of how I did it with some notes on the books. As I mentioned in my first post, I had already read Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist before I decided to read them all. If you've never read any Dickens, start with those.
2000: I started with David Copperfield, and it remains one of my very favorites. It's a great way to start on the longer novels, because the characters are so engaging.
2001: I picked Martin Chuzzlewit because it was the only Dickens novel on the shelf at the branch library, and I spent nine long weeks battling through it. It was fun to see Dickens' perceptions of America and Americans since we had just returned from two years in the UK. I also remember being struck by Dickens' emphasis on illness as transformative (for both patient and nurse), and by the glimpses of 19th-century midwifery. It was mostly a slog, though.
2002: Little Dorrit had been on my shelf for years, and I decided to finish it before the arrival of our third son. (Lesson learned from 2001: don't drag it out.) This one taught me to pay close attention, because I was still puzzled about Mrs. Clennam's prevarications when I finished the book.
2003: OH! Bleak House! Love love love puffy heart love. Might be my favorite. This year I also read Great Expectations to my oldest son, which took some determination. Well worth it -- I'll always remember sharing that beautiful ending with him. "Mom," he said quietly, "that gives me a funny feeling inside." Me too, sweetheart.
2004: The Old Curiosity Shop was hugely popular in its day. I am not a fan. I wished Little Nell would hurry up and die already.
2005: Pickwick Papers is most likely my favorite, but it arrived at the top spot by a circuitous route. I tried to read it in college and gave up after 20 pages. I tried to read it in the winter of '05 and gave up after 60 pages. I set my teeth and dove back in at the beginning that summer. About 150 pages in I was completely hooked. Of all his books, this one is the most fun: whimsical and deliciously preposterous in places, with the bathos confined to stories told by the characters. I knew it had to get better, because why else would the March sisters have loved it so? It did -- oh, did it ever. Persevere, Lissa! I promise you'll be glad you did. (Note to any Dickens newbies: I do think it's helpful to have read some of his other stuff first.)
2006: Our Mutual Friend is in the Little Dorrit class -- not one of his very finest but a good read anyway.
2007: Same for Barnaby Rudge. Remembering the eerie feel of this one still gives me a pleasant shiver.
2008: Dombey and Son is obscure for a reason. Evanescence of riches, fragility of life, importance of family, all presented in a way that made me say "blah blah blah" instead of nodding in recognition.
2009: Hard Times must be his shortest novel. It's a quick read that hits on a lot of familiar themes.
and 2010: Nicholas Nickleby, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I'd love to hear about your Dickens adventures!