Summer Reading for 2012 – Try a little Dickens

Originally printed in the Covenant Courier June 2012 Issue

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

His writing shook the world.  His vivid depictions of urban squalor gave fuel to reforms in labor laws and in the management of charitable institutions.   He crafted prose rich in sensory detail, and he painted characters vivid with individuality and passion.   These characters still grip our imagination:  Scrooge, Fagin, Mrs. Havisham, Pickwick, Mrs. Jellyby and a whole troop of villains, nobles, waifs and clowns.

Charles Dickens remains a literary colossus, and for my 2012 summer reading recommendations, I suggest you pick up one of his works.   This year is the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth, which has been commemorated by a number of new biographies, new film adaptations of his works, and new releases of all his major works.   The cultural moment is ripe for a re-reading of Dickens.

But I also commend Dickens to you because he was a committed Christian.   His works are saturated with a worldview of redemption.   One cannot read A Tale of Two Cities without grasping the sacrifice of Christ.  Looking for stories of new birth and redemption – of course you go straight to A Christmas Carol.   In many ways, Dickens’ stories are extended sermons, challenging us all to live in accordance with our convictions, as evidenced in the opening line of David Copperfield: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

Interestingly, Dickens wrote a testimony of his faith, called The Life of Our Lord.   Every Christmas, he gathered children around for a reading of this little book, which recounts the life, miracles, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ.  This Christmastime reading was a Dickens family tradition, even for years after Dickens’ death.   It wasn’t until 1934 that the Dickens family decided to publish this testimony to the great writer’s faith.

So this summer, pick up some Dickens.   Be forewarned that in our accelerated, hyper-kinetic age, Dickens works are slow going and very long.   Settle in for the long haul, pace yourself.   When I read Dickens, I usually take a break every hundred or so pages to read something else that’s quicker and more modern, then I come back to work through the novel.  Yes, it’s challenging, yes it’s reading that demands something of you.   But Dickens gives back so much more than he requires.    I believe that I’m a better Christian because of the influence Dickens has had upon my heart – I hope you might have the same experience.

Soli Deo Gloria


Russell’s Recommendations for Dickens Novels to start with:

  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Great Expectations
  • Oliver Twist
  • Bleak House


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