Dickens, a Mad Scientist, and a Monster: Why I Read

Charles Dickens

The books I’ve decorated this blog with (See them? Yup, there they are.) are there for a two reasons. I like to read. I like to write. However, when I was a boy, a teenager, I loathed turning the page just as I loathed wielding a pen. In high school, I was assigned an arduous task. Rather, at the time, I felt I had been cursed (cursed and burneded and punished!!!) with a terrible task. I needed to read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Who was this guy Pip? And Havisham? What was her deal? And, really, how did any of it connect to me? It didn’t. This Dickens guy – what a jerk! Needless to say, I read a page here, a page there, but I, in my junior year of high school, ultimatley failed to read Great Expectations.

Frankenstein’s Monster

In college, I believe it was my sophomore year, I enrolled in a British literature class that focused on the Romantics, Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, etc. Yup, we read a lot of poetry. Hated it all. I was surprisingly thrilled when my professor assigned a novel. Thank God (and I did thank Him!). No more poetry. That novel was Frankenstein. Well, I thought, at least this book has a monster. You know, that big buy in the drab sport coat, with the flat top, a scar, and a few bolts jutting out from his neck. You know – that  big guy, the monster, was Frankenstein. Now, to make a long story short, I was wrong. Frankenstein isn’t the creature, I discovered. He’s the doctor, the scientist. And the creature, he’s not slow and awkward and stupid. Nope!!! He’s graceful and intelligent. He feels sorrow, tremendous terrible sorrow. And it hates. And it loves. And it wants…it wants all the things that I want, that all humans want. That it is a he – a person, a wonderful, terrible person. You guessed it. A reader was born.

After reading Frankenstein, I went back to that poetry I disdained. Loved it. I opened new books. Loved them. I even read Dickens and, yup, I loved him…and all of his words, every single one.

This year, I am celebrating my 22nd anniversary of being a literature and writing teacher at Wayne Hills High School. I also teach the same at a local community college. Oh yes, I’ve written and had published two books of poetry. Finally, my novel is well on its way.

That Frankenstein guy created more than a monster. He created me.

And Dickens? He’s okay too.

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4 thoughts on “Dickens, a Mad Scientist, and a Monster: Why I Read

  1. Once writing has its grips on you, it never lets go! I recall, myself, having to wade through compulsory school reading – the compulsory nature of it naturally rendering the experience dull and a chore. It took me years to discover that there is more to literature than boredom!

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  2. Even though I’ve taught English/literature/writing most of my life — and I’ve always loved reading and writing both — I have to admit that there are a number of so-called “great classics” that I cannot stand. I do love Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Wordsworth and Frost. There are others I think deserve to be read and appreciated — like G. K. Chesterton, Winston Churchill, Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck. But I have to confess that I hated Moby Dick, Last of the Mohiccans, Wuthering Heights, Green Mansions, Les Miserables, and Catch 22. I can’t stand works by Hemmingway, Tolkein, Fitzgerald, Spock, or heavy doses of C. S. Lewis, and I did not learn to write well by reading any of them. I did, however, discover a number of things that I do not ever want to do as a writer. And while I’m being totally honest, I may as well confess that I’ve never read War and Peace. I have a good friend who’s read it all the way through. But he’s a genius — in the top 2% of the whole human race — and I think he read W & P only because he thought being a genius required it of him. Sometimes I’m really glad I’m not a genius.

    Happy reading, Thomas!

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