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January 07, 2014


Donna Andrews

Catriona, I once took a whole class in Dickens, in which we read about a dozen of his books. So which Dickens to read if you haven't read him before is a tough question!

But if forced to choose--I'd say try either A Christmas Carol or Tale of Two Cities. I think both have plots that are less convoluted than some of the others--even though I love Dickens, I admit that his plots can meander--and odds are that you've seen a movie adaptation of one or both, and that would add another interesting dimension to your reading.

And A Christmas Carol has the advantage of being shorter than most of Dickens's novels.

Though a good argument could be made for Oliver Twist (Fagin! Bill Sykes! the Artful Dodger!) Great Expectations (Miss Havisham!), or David Copperfield (Uriah Heep! Mr. Micawber! Barkis, who is willin').

Karen in Ohio

David Copperfield (if for nothing else, a really great example of the word "unctuous"), Great Expectations (you must know who Miss Havisham is, after all, and why she is still wearing her wedding gown), and The Old Curiosity Shop. For some reason the last one captured my imagination more than the others.

There are a metric buttload of Nancy Drew mysteries, so start with the first one and see how it goes.

Your domestic drama is hilarious.

Marcia Talley

For Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities would be my choice. It was one of the few novels I was forced to read in high school that I actually enjoyed. And the 1930-something movie with Ronald Coleman is one I try to catch any time it comes back on TV.

As for Nancy Drew, any of the earlier ones (1-12?) which were written by the amazing Mildred Wirt Benson.

Frank Cook

I second "A Christmas Carol." As a reader and a writer, where else does the villain become the victim become the hero. (And even more importantly, he wrote it quickly because he needed the money.)


I would start with A Christmas Carol, that was the first Dickens book I read.

A Facebook User

When I was a young girl I was fortunate to have access to the original Nancy Drew books. My advice would be to try and find a vintage copy where Nancy still drives a roadster and not a Mustang. The older books have a much different feel than the later edited ones. My favorite would be either "The Clue in the Jewel Box" or "The Password to Larkspur Lane". As for Dickens...I'd go with either "A Christmas Carol" or, if you have the time to spend, "Great Expectations".
Diane from St. Louis

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Nicholas Nickelby! Love it so much...

I have tried to read Bleak HOuse many times, and, you know, can't.

Beware of Nancy Drew. You would have liked them better about 30 years ago. But I agree, it's...a rite.

ANd now I am going back to look at the cute mouse again.


Thanks, everyone! It's looking like A Christmas Carol - except I'd kind of like to read one where I don't know the ending and also I'd kind of like to read a massive one to earn my stripes.

Karen - "metric buttload" made me laugh out loud.

Donna - re. Dickens college courses: a student of mine one chose - chose, mind you - a Dickens option (option!)at college and then came to my office hour to complain that there was a lot of reading. Sigh

Elaine Viets

"David Copperfield" is a good place to start Dickens.
And I've never seen "The Sounnd of Music."

M. Rups

For Dickens: absolutely start with Christmas Carol. If you wish to go on, you might try Oliver Twist, with its criminals and murder and central mystery, but they're all good (although I could never get into Pickwick Papers -- but, then, that's early Dickens; should give that a running go again). Bleak House opens with a ripping good description of a London "particular" and has some great characters, one of whom (spoiler alert) dies as a result of spontaneous combustion, but the heroine is a bit droopy, I thought. My own favourite is Our Mutual Friend, the last completed novel, which also has a mystery at the core and is Dickens pretty much at the height, I think, of his powers.

For Nancy Drew: yuck. The Hardy Boys were *so* much more fun. (^_-) My favourite Hardy Boys was The Tower Treasure, probably largely because that's the one on which the Disney studio based its serialised Mystery of the Applegate Treasure on the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s. (I learned much of my English from the MMC.) But definitely try the oldest versions of either series; as others have noted, they at least have the charm of the past about them.


*meekly* I've never read Nancy Drew either.

I've heard they're pretty badly written, if you come to them as an adult. I'm afraid.

I've heard David Copperfield or Great Expectations are the Dickens to beat. I've read Christmas Carol, but that's a bit seasonal, in my opinion. Best by the fire, that sort of thing.

Now, the two books that were amazing. I'm betting you liked the Mina. I LOVED that book.


Tbe End of The Wasp Season was fab, Lori, but it was The Goldfinch and Dr Sleep that might have infected me with the why bothers. You'd think after reading 380 Kings I'd be over it by now, but I still get envious every time.


Oh, I really don't need any additional why-bothers right now. I'll stay away from the Dr Sleep I bought for a while longer.

Kathy Reel

Catriona, thanks for such an entertaining article. I, too, have a confession. I majored in English for my undergraduate degree, and the only Dickens I have read is A Christmas Carol. I have had A Tale of Two Cities on my reading list every year for so long, it spits at me when I type it once again. Now, I was a huge Nancy Drew fan growing up, and The Mystery of the Old Clock would be an excellent place to begin to rectify your lapse.

Catherine Lepreux

Any of the Nancy Drews in SQ library about 35 years ago. I read them all......

Susan Shea

Bleak House, with its all-too-believable story of lawyers and lawsuits and - as someone else noted - somewhat less believable (but I think accepted at the time) incident of spontaneous combustion.

Proust, I haven't read Proust.And it's not on my list for 2014.

Nancy Drew I dimly recall reading in gulps but cannot remember anything from.


Nancy Drew are best read as a young teenager who doesn't get hung up on the style (and the casual racism of the time). But it's worth reading one just to check that box on your to do list. Other books in that category - the Hardy Boys, the Tom Swift books, and many others from that period written for teens.

Triss Stein

For Dickens, Christmas Carol is short and fun, but I have an attachment to David Copperfield. It's very long, but so full of unforgettable characters.We read Tale of Two Cities in high school and I enjoyed it too.
Never liked Nancy Drew even as a kid. (I may be the only female mystery writer who would say that)
But a question for you - how the heck did you get through UK schools without reading any Dickens? Or did you go to school somewhere else?


Avis - I'll breeze through the casual racism; I'm an old pro, having read Dorothy L Sayers (because wow!.

And Triss - it was easy. It was the seventies and our pinko English teachers had smashed the canon. Actually, that's not fair - we read Shakespeare. But I can't remember anything else we read. Five years of my favourite subject with my favourite teacher and all I can remember is Macbeth. ???


I've never read Dickens either, but it's still in the should column rather than the want column. Nancy Drew, however, I read voraciously as a child. They didn't leave much of an impression, unlike another girl detective - Trixie Belden. I'm such a Trixie fan that I have a collection of nearly every book printed in every edition. I still, at 45, pull them pour and read them occasionally.


Arrrrgh... I hate auto correct! I pull OUT the Trixie books and read them.

Kristin Lundgren

For your first resolution, I would recommend Good Reads. You can put in all the books, all the info you want, give it a starred rating, write a review, and list books you want to read, have read, currently reading, etc. I have been doing it for years, and have hundreds read, and more than that to be read.


Kristin - I'm not even typing the names! Biro in a notepad is about my level.

So, the upshot is that I'm going to read either David Copperfield or A Tale of Two Cities (because I don't know what happens in either of them) then A Christmas Carol next Christmas.

And an original roadster'n'racism Nancy Drew!

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