A Reader's Guide to Unfamiliar Literature
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A Good Place To Start

Great Expectations 4
Oliver Twist 3
Bleak House 2
A Tale of Two Cities 2
A Christmas Carol 2
David Copperfield 1
Hard Times 1

A Bad Place To Start

The Pickwick Papers 3
Great Expectations 2
Hard Times 2
David Copperfield 1
Bleak House 1


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Charles Dickens

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Please consider recommending where to begin reading this author, or where not to. A few words about your experiences reading this author and why you make the recommendations you do will be helpful to other users. If you are the author or have studied this author extensively, please say so.

bookbug August 1st, 2005 08:55 PM PST

I had a college prof once who said (after asking the class what Dickens we had read and hearing very few titles), "Oh, God, I wish I had all of Dickens to read again!" I think of that often, because I also came to love Dickens. Among good possible starts, I would recommend "Great Expectations," "David Copperfield" and maybe "Our Mutual Friend." I think "Little Dorrit" is also wonderful and I think "Dombey and Son" is often unfairly overlooked. These all have wonderful plots and terrific characters. I was made to start with "Oliver Twist" in seventh grade, presumably because the hero was a child near our age. But I don't think this is a good starting place--in fact, I recently tried to reread it and still couldn't get into it. And I certainly wouldn't recommend "The Pickwick Papers" (another frequent introduction) to any but committed Dickens readers. I reread "Bleak House" recently and loved it all over again, but it's probably better read once you've soaked up a few others.

dropo59 February 2nd, 2006 03:04 PM PST

Hard Times is often taught in general college courses, because it's relatively short, has a strong plot, and shows Dickens's social ideas in a strong light. I'd recommend it as a first Dickens novel. Great Expectations would be second, because it's longer; but Great Expectations has a strong first-person narrative and a unified story. If you like those two, go anywhere from there ...

ellen4 February 2nd, 2006 04:18 PM PST

I like the dual recommendation - Bleak House both best and worst first book to read. Frankly, I'm loving it - but in small doses!

hanmeng February 5th, 2006 10:29 AM PST

Dickens was one of my favorite authors in high school. I was gloomy and liked Hard Times' gloominess. I liked David Copperfield but one voracious reader complained that the unabridged version was just too long. Great Expectations is my favorite, but when one reads it without subscribing to the notion that the protagonist is slated for great things, one misses the whole point. I vote for starting with Oliver Twist.

mkiker2089 May 3rd, 2006 06:52 PM PST

I'm surprised that Great Expectations is voted as the best place to start. I'd suspect that it's because many here haven't delved deeply enough into Dickens. In my opinion that novel is very atypical od Dickens work with it's slower pacing, lack of style, and the overall pessimistic overtones. While it is a great novel in many ways, it's horrendous in others.

I recomend starting with A Christmas Carol. It's short, fun, and gives you a good taste of Dickens style. From there move on to something with more meat. Save Great Expectations for at least the third, unless you like contemplating suicide while you read.

Marian November 9th, 2006 08:14 PM PST

According to MSN Encarta: "Dickens always considered David Copperfield to be his best novel and the one he most liked."

emac52 November 30th, 2006 05:16 AM PST

Dickens is a typical British author - I have to agree with other comments that A Christmas Carol is a great place to start, particularly as most people are already aware of the story, so the language doesn't pose as great a problem. However, I actually think that the first one I read was A Tale Of Two Cities - which is just as good, cleverly drawing on historical fact to show that man is capable of unselfish acts.

Although I liked Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Bleak House, I'd save these until later in the Dickens experience. And of course remember that the musical 'Oliver!' is only a loose interpretation of the original (and better) novel :0)

tim helck April 28th, 2007 11:33 AM PST

Although my favorite is probably "Bleak House", the one I would recommend reading first is "A Tale of Two Cities", as it is more plot-driven than most of his other books.

As for a bad place to start: I would say "The Pickwick Papers" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (which is unfinished). They are both wonderful books, but don't start with them.

dewey_decimal February 20th, 2008 02:22 PM PST

A Christmas Carol is a great place to start. It's short, and if you don't like it, then you know you probably don't like Dickens.

If you're a bit more ambitious, start with Great Expectations. It is in many ways atypical of Dickens' usual style, as other commenters have noted, but I liked it for that. Pip is a much more interesting protagonist that boring David Copperfield or angelic Oliver Twist. He's a deeply flawed person who comes to understand and overcome his flaws by the end of the book. With David and Oliver, there's really no character development. And the secondary characters in Great Expectations are very enjoyable too.

I loved David Copperfield, but it is a bit of a slog. Also, David himself is rather a dull character; it's the secondary characters that really make this book. A weakness of the book, in my opinion, is its over-reliance on coincidences.

Whatever you do, don't start with Bleak House. The female character is such a grateful little orphan that she turns my stomach.

editor March 9th, 2008 09:32 AM PST

I'm sorry, I just can't let this stand without putting in another word of my own. I hated "A Christmas Carol" when I read it early on, and it's still far from my favorite Dickens. DON'T assume you don't like Dickens, should you start here and dislike it. Try Great Ex, as dewey decimal suggests. Or Dombey and Son, or Our Mutual Friend.


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The English novelist Charles Dickens, who wrote during the Victorian era, was one of the world's greatest writers.

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