choices · keep trying · who are we

What the Dickens, or when to give up on a stupid challenge

Back in the dim and distant past, or rather late December 2015, I sat down and tried to think up some goals for the New Year. To write a list of goals seemed more inspiring, more aspirational, than resolutions which seem automatically tinged with cynicism. They were the usual things; losing weight, giving up my addiction to reading the Daily Fail online and its side-bar of shame, finding the holy grail that is a good hairdresser, working out what I want to do with my life and reading the rest of Dickens.

The Dickens challenge came together in a flash of inspiration – from my intention to read more challenging fiction, the fact that Dickens is always cited as being a comedy genius, the brilliant (if short-lived) BBC drama that was Dickensian, the half complete leather-bound set I inherited from my Gran and the fact that I worked out that I had 12 books left to read – a tidy one per month for 2016.

I gave myself a bit of a break for January with the blissfully short, if depressingly accurately named, Hard Times. The Old Curiosity Shop and Pickwick Papers followed, with April’s tomb being Oliver Twist. This month I have carefully placed Little Dorrit in the pile of books from the library by my bed.

But here’s the problem – I am hating them. I just don’t get it. He over-wrote everything. He is droll at best, certainly not funny, and most of the time really depressing. The stories go on and on and very few people are likeable and none of them really evolve. There may have been tedious chapters in Anna Karenina about Russian peasant farming techniques but you stayed in there for the characters.

In the last two months I find myself leaving the book until the last week and then torturing my way through hundreds of pages each day. I feel I could be doing better things with my time but I am stubbornly trying to not give up on this promise to myself; this challenge. With so little else going right at the moment, this feels like something that I can achieve, that I could actually do. But do I want to? When should we give up on something? I still haven’t quite decided, though I have managed to break my habit of reading the Daily Mail so that’s one gold star for me at least…

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