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July 23, 2007

Blog a book: ’A Tale of Two Cities’

Two_cities Okay, so after much procrastinating, I’ve started reading A Tale of Two Cities. Last Friday, after my hard drive crashed and went to hard-drive heaven (will I be reunited with my data in the world to come?), I read chapter one. It was the shortest of first chapters, it was the longest of first chapters. So bottom line: the year is 1775 and our story is set in London and Paris.

After finishing chapter one, I said to myself, “I just can’t handle this today.” I put the book down and picked up Miroslav Volf’s The End of Memory, which I promptly finished on Saturday. I loved it (Volf…not Dickens). Volf’s book is an absolute must-read. But I will write more on that later.

On Tuesday morning, I slogged through chapter two. While I can’t say I enjoyed it, I can say that “blunderbuss” is quite a fun word and was used several times. I looked it up and found that it is derived from the Dutch “donderbus,” another word I’ll be adding to my vocabulary just for the fun of it. While it literally means a kind of gun, I think it sounds more like a nice hardy insult. As in, “What were you thinking, you donderbus!” At least that would have been my answer had we been playing Balderdash. Here are a few other phrases I picked up in chapter two: “So ho!”; “Yo there!”; “Answer straight,”; “D’ye mind me?”; “A blazing strange answer”; and “You’d be in a blazing bad way.” So other than those little jewels I can’t say I got much out of chapter two.

Continue reading ...

Now chapter three intrigued me a bit more. It started with the profound musings:

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to the every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Now this is a fine thought and worthy of pondering. In fact I’d journaled something similar on the metro several months back:

The brush of humanity. You are so close to me yet so foreign, like a language I do not understand. You could be Einstein or Hitler for all I know. You mind could be dazzling. Your heart could be stone. Don’t look so sad, so forlorn. Let me lend you my smile. We’ll be friends for a moment and then blow past each other like autumn leaves. Human wonder, we don’t speak, and you are lost to me forever. There was a moment and it passed. Intricate treasures, unknown, but within grasp.

There is definitely something mysterious and wonderful about how God has made us each so unique and how he has created us with the ability to navigate each other’s personhood and explore the wonder of the other through speech. Sometimes we don’t take advantage of the mystery, one of the most profound mysteries imaginable, the opportunity to know another.

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Exaltations and joy that you liked something about Dickens! :) As you know, C., I'm reading along with you and that is one of the passages I underlined as well, along with a lovely line a little further on, referring to one who died too young: "It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page."

I also loved the reference to our own noble revolution, right at the beginning of chapter 1: "Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communication yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood."


Catherine, your prose from the metro is beautiful. I often feel the same way.


Oh Kris, you are a credit to Dickens' fans everywhere. May they all be so loyal.


I too decided to read "A Take of Two Cities" this summer. I found reading it less sloggy than you did, but the first several chapters introduced so many characters and seemed so unrelated that I wasn't sure whether Mr. Dickens had the wherewithal to pull it them together. In the end, I found he was more than up to the job

In one of the early chapters (I can't check which one because I left my copy in Japan where I read it), I loved the exchange between the stagecoach driver and the night rider ("My mistakes usually come in the form of lead..." and "If I make a mistake now, it won't be set right in your lifetime...")

Like you, I found one of the most satisfying aspects of the book to be Mr. Dickens' observations on the human condition, individually and as a community. He had a keen eye for human nature.

Sorry to be so long. Hope you enjoy the rest of the book. I'll be looking for the one you said you enjoyed.


How is everyone doing with this book? Will there be anymore posts on this?

I finished it last evening. And am full of questions about how others viewed some of the characters as well as the gospel and history presented in this book.

For me the "prophetic" statements from one of the characters with which the book ended were quite interesting to reflect upon, too. After all a bit more history has unfolded since Dickens wrote his closing chapter.

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