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Dickens on Writing and Bookselling

August 13th, 2010  |  Published in Uncategorized

I've been reading Oliver Twist this month, which is both comic and horrific at the same time, and you can feel the young Dickens exulting in his command of the English language and his growing confidence is palpable. High school English turned me off of Dickens for 30 years, but reading Drood, by Dan Simmons, rekindled my interest. This passage cracked me up:

   "There are a good many books, are there not, my boy?" said Mr. Brownlow, observing the curiosity with which Oliver surveyed the shelves that reached from the floor to the ceiling.

   "A great number, sir," replied Oliver. "I never saw so many."

   "You shall read them, if you behave well," said the old gentleman kindly; "and you will like that, better than looking at the outsides,—that is, in some cases; because there are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts."

   "I suppose they are those heavy ones, sir," said Oliver, pointing to some large quartos, with a good deal of gilding about the binding.

   "Not always those," said the old gentleman, patting Oliver on the head, and smiling as he did so; "there are other equally heavy ones, though of a much smaller size. How should you like to grow up a clever man, and write books, eh?"

   "I think I would rather read them, sir," replied Oliver.

   "What! wouldn't you like to be a book-writer?" said the old gentleman.

   Oliver considered a little while; and at last said, he should think it would be a much better thing to be a book-seller; upon which the old gentleman laughed heartily, and declared he had said a very good thing.

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