CHARLES DICKENS | OLIVER TWIST

A classic with a cause.

Amidst all the melodrama (which sometimes makes one smile), the saccharine piety (moderated by humanism) and the unexamined anti-semitism (no less appalling for it being commonplace at the time) Charles Dickens tale remains a compelling and often moving read as we approach the two hundred year anniversary of its writing. (Well, in a decade-and-a-half).

Dickens observed the society in which he lived with an artists eye and recorded it with a novelists flair. Both the images and the descriptions are so vivid as to be sometimes shocking, yet, a little like young Oliver, we gaze open-mouthed and cannot turn away.

For readers accustomed to the relative flatness of 21st century prose, Dickens’ language may present a barrier. This is worth pushing through, as context often gives enough of a clue to work out many unfamiliar terms while a quality edition such as this Penguin has abundant notes to elucidate archaic terms.

Others will naturally have their own views, but I’m comfortable recommending Oliver Twist as an excellent entry point to the rich and engrossing world of Charles Dickens.

BUCKET BOOKS

What’s on your ‘Read before Dead’ list? (Here, read is past tense, ‘red’ to rhyme with dead). The question was posed by a new acquaintance on Instagram, where I’ve been attempting to build more of a presence for Vinyl Connection. It’s the same old hamster wheel I’ve trudged around on WordPress, Tumblr and other socials and I’m really not sure why I’m doing it. Isn’t all social media ultimately a waste of time? Like flicking playing cards into a wastepaper bin and calling it entertainment. Better off reading, surely?

My answer to the bucket book question was ‘more of everything’. Betterment of the mind through literature. Learning and appreciation. Pride and educational status are in there somewhere too, the snooty prefect who roams the mind corridors judging intellectual achievements. And always finding them wanting. Like lemon juice writing emerging over a gentle flame, a list emerged, demonstrating a fawning desire to be seen as ‘well read’ (rhyming with dead).

Dostoyevsky, starting with The Brothers Karamazov

Bleak House

Iris Murdoch (anything)

The Handmaiden’s Tale (because I’m currently earning good-partner points watching the series)

The other two thirds of Shakespeare

Reality is a little different. The last book I completed was Mick Wall’s no-holds-barred biography of Black Sabbath, which had more swearing than any non-fiction book I’ve ever read. The 33⅓ music monograph on Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights is required reading for a music book group. I ordered a back copy of Prog magazine to check it out; it is sitting on the coffee table next to an adolescent/children’s fiction book my son recommended. (He’s been reading some of my suggestions, I thought it only fair to have traffic going the other way). Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans is also on the table. I raced through the first half of this slim novella but have stalled.  Also in the ‘I must get back to that’ category is an ancient copy of Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett. Knowing my fondness for Mr B’s plays, a retired English-teacher friend gave me a spare copy and suggested we read it concurrently.  I’m winning, being on page seventy-four.  Yesterday, on the phone, he announced a new challenge: adding Ulysses to the list.  The deadpan voice did not fool me for a second; I roared with laughter. We started Malone Dies (a tenth of the length of Joyce’s tome) five years ago. His partner, also on speaker, scoffed. Why would you read that old stuff? Modern writing is better.  Is it?  I don’t know; haven’t read enough. But there are more dead writers than living and cities full of books waiting to be read. The list could be endless. More Vonnegut, a creative non-fiction dude recommended by a friend, attempt the Dune sequel, Sanditon… Better make a coffee and get reading. But first I’ll just check Insta to see how many more likes my photo of The Wombles LP has received.

RAIN

The forecast said up to 30mm. 

I decided to clear the winter leaves and silted earth out of the gutter in front of the garage. It used to flood but hasn’t since we had a proper drainage pit dug near the back fence. Two and a half thousand dollars for a hole, some rock, then filling in the hole again. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. But today it wasn’t a deluge, wasn’t like the Biblical flood of the East Coast of the USA where waves surged through subway tunnels; here it was steady rain, a horizon-to-horizon cascade. A million cloud-archers shooting an endless flight of liquid arrows at the earth. I sat reading Kerouac as the dull day trickled towards the plughole of evening, trying to puzzle through the poetic and often disjointed language of The Subterraneans while listening to The Pogues on the stereo. It should have been Charlie Parker ‘cos that’s what Jack was listening too, live in a West Coast club in 1951, but it was Shane MacGowen, another genius wastrel with more talent than sense. The persistent myth of the burning moth again, extinguished (in some cases) by historic rainfall early in the season leaving a permanent strata of marsh, deep underground. Something sad and wet underneath that never dries, even in the summer, but still provides compost for a growth of sorts. 

BLADES

The Dad on rollerblades was doing circles around the park rotunda, closely followed by a little boy on a little bicycle. Once every couple of circuits Dad fell over, sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. The child never came off his bike, though he stopped when the man stopped for a drag on his cigarette. Grey twists of smoke swirled around the helmet of the skater. The child, bareheaded, stared at a few puffy white clouds that drifted due west, a linear path.

I wondered about the balance in the modelling. Smoking compared to persevering with a physical challenge. Exercise versus lung poison. What will our children remember, digest, replicate? We hope for the best and remember the worst, usually at one in the morning, wide-eyed and pitted by poisoned thoughts. Fall over, bruise, get up. Parenting; life. Try to encourage and support the child, hoping they thrive. Hoping that later they might return the favour.