The old classics. Are they still worth reading? As an author and a reader, I consider myself a fairly well-read person, but came to the sad realization some months ago that I have neglected many of the classics. Further, a lot of my recent reading has been devoted to thrillers written by NYT bestselling authors that turned out to be very badly written. So, hungry for good writing after having been disappointed by a succession of bland and trite thrillers, I downloaded Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. What a treat! – though in the case of Dickens, a hard-earned one.
Published in 1859, A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris during the time of the French Revolution. It is the story about the brutality and injustice of life in those days – the brutality of the rich and aristocratic towards the poor and disadvantaged, and, in the case of Paris, how the ignorant downtrodden rose up with the guillotine and the smug fervor of Maoist peasants against their former royalist masters.
I’ll be honest: for the first two thirds of the book, I struggled. The archaic language and intricate sentence structure was too hard a nut to crack for my brain used to the pabulum I’d been reading lately. At one point, I even set the book down. But eventually I came back to it and found the reading much easier. And that is when I began to appreciate what a great writer Dickens was. The writing was ingenious. The sentiments sublime. The insights into those terrible times completely convincing. What a wonderful experience to read a book by a truly great writer. Here it is, 154 years since its first publication as 31 weekly installments in Dickens’s own literary periodical called All the Year Round, and I am still gripped by the nobleness of Charles Darnay and the Christ-like sacrifice of Sydney Carton. Further, the book appealed to my nobler instincts. I felt a better person for having read it.
Just for kicks, I went to Amazon and Goodreads to see how A Tale of Two Cities was rated by my fellow readers. On Amazon it was rated 4.2 and on Goodreads, the ratings for the various editions generally hovered below 4.0. I am embarrassed to note that my book, A Thousand Suns, was rated higher on both websites. Ha! Clearly, thriller writers are judged by a different standard. So, let me state this loud and clear: Thank you everyone who loved my book and rated it so highly, but please read A Tale of Two Cities. You won’t be disappointed.
Zurich – June 21, 2013