March 15, 2011

Great Expectations: A Review

Despite my obsession with reading the titans of literature, I had never gotten around to reading Dickens until now. When I was growing up, my parents had this very beautiful and intimidating set of Dickens' complete works.


I always loved the way they looked but they still had a very stuffy feel to them. When I was about 10 I decided to take on one of these impressive books just to say I had. I started reading David Copperfield, but once I realized it had nothing to do with magic, I quickly became disinterested and haven't attempted to read the great English writer since.

Recently, I was in my favorite little used bookstore and decided it was time to give Dickens another try. I purchased the book and the little old lady at the counter said "Ooooh! You must be part of Oprah's book club!", which made me throw up in my mouth a little. Yet another obstacle to reading the great Charles Dickens: my refusal to do anything Oprah tells me to.

Despite this hardship, I decided to go ahead and read it anyway. I just wouldn't read it within the vicinity of any middle-aged housewives. And, I'm really glad I did. I see why they put Dickens up there with Tolstoy and Shakespeare now, he's really incredible. Yet, as a writer, he seems almost completely different than any of the other authors of great literature. They all have a tendency to be very plodding, methodical and philosophical. Dickens feels a lot more like that exaggerating uncle that tells really good stories after he has a few beers.

The incredible twists and turns this novel takes literally made me gasp out loud. I don't think I've ever had as much concern for, and curiosity about, a fictional character as I did for Pip. Dickens really knows how to work a reader over emotionally, it's incredible.

What really makes this book one of my favorites, is that it was so relatable for me on a personal level. Growing up, my father owned a failing floor cleaning and janitorial service. We really weren't doing well at all and it made for some hard times. As much as I realize that it's an honorable profession now, when you're a kid no matter how much you emphasize the word own, you're still going to get made fun of and feel looked down upon when you tell other kids your dad is in the janitorial business.

Just like Pip, I too, would at times try to conceal this sort of open secret about myself and placed an extreme amount of pressure on myself to rise above what I thought was my station in life. I'm at peace with everything now and realize that my father worked incredibly hard to make sure I would have the chance to succeed. I still, however, have all sorts of underlying complexes that I share with Pip and it made this book immensely memorable to me. Even if you don't share my various neurosis's you should still read this book, it's a wonderful piece of work.
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To read my previous book reviews click here.

20 comments:

  1. Dickens is hard to read. I still have a hard time reading him. I tried reading A Tale of Two Cities about a year ago, and I was completely lost.

    I do love Great Expectations, though. It's one of my favorites. I first read it in high school for english class, and I think that really helped. Someone explaining Charles Dickens to me as I read him.

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  2. Great Expectations is one of my all time favorite books...

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  3. Sadly, I've never read any Dickens. This is very sad coming from someone who reads CONSTANTLY - and anything I can get my hands on. This was such an interesting review and take on the book. Now I feel the need to add it to my GoodReads list. Thanks.

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  4. Isn't that the best -- when you can total relate to a work and in some way it is 'your' story?

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  5. Other than Oliver Twist, I've never read Dickens. As someone else mentioned - having it explained, and having someone go through interpretations of what he's saying can sometimes make it more interesting, but sometimes I get lost and distracted.

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  6. I think Great Expectations was Dickens most readable book.

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  7. Maybe I should buck up and read it. Unlike you my fam had the stupid painting cover you first displayed. That makes me go, boooooooooooooooooooooooring. I think I'll read something else...heads to blogger...

    But after that review, I think I'm ready. Thank you.

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  8. I will surely include that book on my list. There are still two more waiting for me on the shelves.

    I'm glad you come to realize your dad's hardwork for you.

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  9. i googled "dickens" once, as a bright-eyed, innocent youth (this morning).

    i am now well versed on the tragic saga of out-of-work bisexual porn star, seth dickens.

    i think i may have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

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  10. Shelly: I thought Great Expectations was a pretty easy read to be honest and I was kind of surprised. Maybe I just got a good edition. There were a few words I'd never heard before, but for the most part it was just plain English.

    Austin: It's definitely a good one. Has me curious to read more Dickens.

    Mel: I would definitely recommend it. From someone who is also new to Dickens it was easy to jump into so I suggest it being a good place to start.

    ab: It's a fantastic feeling!

    K. Syrah: I thought Great Expectations was actually pretty easy to read. I'm not sure if I got an edition that was updated a little for modern readers but it seemed like pretty straightforward good reading to me. I've actually never taken a literature class so I wouldn't really know, but hearing the details behind the book sounds interesting. Just an untrained, enthusiastic amateur here.

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  11. Mandy: Well, I'm definitely glad I started there then. Any suggestions for the second book of his I should pick up?

    Traveler: It was a lot easier to read than I expected it to be. If you ever get around to getting started on it let me know, I'd be curious to hear what you thought.

    Sey: You look at things differently once you get older and your viewpoint grows less selfish. I wish I only had two on my shelves! I buy way too many books. I think there are about 50 or so waiting for me right now.

    Laoch: That he does!

    Kage: Ha, I'm sure he's got enough stories to fill a book too. Not sure that I'd read it but...

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  12. Seriously, the David Copperfield line made me laugh out loud!

    I commend you and anyone else who can read Great Expectations and like it. To this day, I think it's one of the most dreadful stories I've ever read. Then again, in my defense, I was in high school and forced to continue reading even after I found that I couldn't stand it. . . which tends to lead you to not be able to assess it objectively.

    That being said, I'm not a total idiot when it comes to the greats. As I absolutely adore Shakespeare and did even back then. I think I was the only one in my junior class who was stoked about reading Hamlet.

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  13. Tracy: Ha, yea I actually had that line in my head since I started reading it just for this blog. It was a long time in the making.

    We must be opposites because I have an awful time trying to ever finish anything from Shakespeare. I enjoy it in the theater and all, but reading it, sadly, bores the crap out of me.

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  14. Dickens is a mad genius. Don't worry, even Oprah fucks up and reads something good occasionally.

    I totally sympathize with the vom-in-the-mouth. Happens on a regular basis around campus when I see what this year's crop of Freshers try to pass off as clothing. (No wonder they get sick so much)

    Hands off Aphrodite. She's MINE, bitch!

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  15. That is one of my all time favourite books!
    I think that there are lots of people who read classic books nowadays.

    Thanks for sharing, Christopher.

    Have a great day!

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  16. Me too, and that's definitely a good thing. Thanks for stopping by!

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  17. Second book? I'd say A Tale of Two Cities. Or David Copperfield. Or Oliver Twist.

    Books I didn't care so much for: Our Mutual Friend, Bleak House and Hard Times.

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  18. Mandy: Thanks for the tip, I'll probably go with A Tale of Two Cities. I've heard good things.

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