Don’t cheat!

Happy Friday, everyone. If you are like me, you are looking forward to a weekend with lots and lots of reading in it. I’ll be finishing Ransom Riggs’ strange and wonderful first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which is inspired by and woven around Riggs’ amazing collection of creepy vintage photographs of children. I will also be dipping into Peter Ackroyd’s wonderful The Thames. If you don’t know Ackroyd’s historical and biographical work, change that: London: The Biography is just marvelous, and he just brought out a study of all the great stuff that’s under London, from tube stations and tunnels to Roman ampitheaters to sewers and hideouts and crypts. And, of the zillions of Dickens biographies out there, Ackroyd’s–which is scandalously out of print–is the best.

Which brings me to Dickens. And to Christopher Hitchens. And to the fun quiz that occasions the title of this post. Don’t cheat!

Hitchens’ last piece was on Dickens, and appears in the February edition of Vanity Fair to commemorate the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth. It’s mostly a meditation on how the legendary-ness of Dickens has swamped the truth, so that false, or at least unverifiable, anecdotes about him get as much play, and count as much, as the more clearly factual stuff.

Hitchens’ piece also contains a wonderful sentence: “Opening his own memoir, the most inept fictional narrator of my generation showed that he was out of his depth by dismissing ‘all that David Copperfield kind of crap.’”

Now for the quiz. Who said that? No googling to get the answer. It must come from your memory or not come at all.

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  1. Elsa Louise says:

    Reminiscent of something an anthropology professor of mine noted. We undergrads were fussing one day about an upcoming exam, worrying about whether we’d remember enough of the pertinent yet largely unfamiliar details to pass the test. She commented that the human mind is equipped with an amazing capacity for remembering the most arcane details, even those we think we won’t.

    All this by way of answering your query: Holden Caulfield. My memory goes back to having first read the book in high school and then again for a lit course at university. Still, it’s certainly been more than two-to-three decades since I first encountered the words. While Holden the character might have been inept, certainly Salinger the author was not, as it was his shaping of that unique, distinctive voice that helped the opening stick with me.

  2. Erin O'Connor says:

    We have a winner!!

  3. mutecypher says:

    Crud, it sucks to be in Hawaii and read this after the rest of the country. “Crap” gave it away. And then I get beaten to the punch. Congrats Elsa!

  4. Ali says:

    What a fun post, Erin, though I had no clue what the answer was. I want to get Ackroyd’s new book, and I do want to read his biography of Dickens, which I own. However, I am a little intimated by the size of it! I am not so intimated by long novels, but works of long nonfiction do scare me a bit! I have decided that this is the year that I am going to read David Copperfield. I started last year but didn’t get very far. But a lot of the fiction I have been reading lately has not seemed satisyfing in a way that the timeless classics are, and so it is time for me to return to some of the Victorian literature I love. I also want to get through Daniel Deronda this year–I read Middlemarch a few years ago and loved it–as well as Villette and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

  5. Erin O'Connor says:

    No need to be intimidated by the size of Ackroyd’s bio of Dickens–just remind yourself that he’s doing unto Dickens what Dickens did unto us, and enjoy the ride and take your time. And may the timing be right for you this time with “David Copperfield.” Big chunks of the opening sections are more or less lifted from an autobiographical piece Dickens tried to write, but had to put away because it was so painful for him, and the whole has such a wonderful tenderness to it. I wish you luck with the Eliot and Brontes!!

  6. Ali says:

    Thanks for the reply, Erin. You have convinced me to tackle the Ackroyd biography! First up I am working my way through RWB Lewis’s biography of Edith Wharton. And I do want to finish Glendenning’s biography of Trollope. I started last year after, and I want to get through it as well. I guess this is the year of the literary biography for me in addition to my other reading goals!

  7. Dr. Weevil says:

    Before we get to Dickens’ 200th birthday on the 7th of next month, we have Edith Wharton’s 150th on the 24th of this month. Any big celebrations planned for that one?

  8. Robert Mathiesen says:

    Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a keeper! Having been a very odd child myself, long, long ago, in a very odd family, I could relish every detail of Rigg’s novel.

  9. Erin O'Connor says:

    Yes! I just LOVED the way the found photographs anchored the narrative. Watching his imagination work was half the fun. And clearly there will be a sequel–this novel is just act one!

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