I’m starting with a review of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I know this isn’t the type of book my mom usually reviews on her blog, but she told me I could write about any books I wanted, and I really loved this book. I’d never been particularly interested in reading A Tale of Two Cities because it sounded like kind of a boring book, but wow, was I wrong! This is an amazing story, full of romance, unrequited love, mysterious imprisonment (“Recalled to Life!”), and all the drama and violence of the French Revolution. And lots of sad and terrible and occasionally wonderful things happening to people and being done by them to others. Plus, Dickens has such an amazing gift for words and imagery. I suppose since he’s one of the greats of English literature this shouldn’t surprise me so much.
You might wonder how I ended up reading A Tale of Two Cities in the first place if I thought it was going to be boring. The answer is pretty simple. A guy I had a big crush on loved this book and read me the passage quoted below during one of those marathon nights of conversation where you’re both getting to know each other and pretending to find everything the other person likes to be profoundly interesting. I went and bought the book in a rather transparent attempt to impress him, but now, 3 years later, he’s long gone and I have a book that has a permanent place on my list of favorites. So here’s the first section of A Tale of Two Cities that I ever heard; and even after reading the whole book it’s still a favorite quote of mine:
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to 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! Something of the awfulness, even of death itself, is referable to this.”
When I first heard this, I struggled with the idea that at the deepest level, even in the closest or most intimate relationships of life, there will always be some ways in which no ever truly knows you, or at least some things that no one ever knows. It seems at first incredibly lonely, to imagine that there will always be parts of yourself, thoughts, opinions, dreams, secret hopes, that are so delicate or dangerous that you never share them with another soul. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really is true. I’m a big fan of sharing about my life with the people who are close to me, but there are personal doubts and worries that are too personal even for my closest confidants, and sometimes it seems like I might jinx myself or sound foolish if I voice the deepest hopes of desires of my soul. This quote has also altered my perspective somewhat when I interact with other people. As a new person in a new city, I feel like I’m a “profound secret and mystery” to pretty much everyone I meet, and they are certainly a mystery to me. I tend to be a little quick to form opinions about new people I meet, so I find that it’s useful to think of this quote and remember that there’s a lot more to people than the personality that they may present at work or out at a bar or on a first date. People are complicated and I shouldn’t be so quick to think I know or understand them. And even with people I know really well, I shouldn’t assume that they really share everything with me. But I’m getting off topic. . .
This post is getting long and A Tale of Two Cities is a book with lots of plot twists and turns and a ton of great characters, none of which I’ve actually talked about at all. I don’t want this to turn into a book review though, so I guess I’ll just let you read the book to find out about the story. Or if you don’t want to read the book, try listening to the audiobook. I have the version from Audible.com narrated by Simon Vance (really excellent version!). I will warn you though, I listened to this last month while doing mundane things in the lab, and although it made my days go by really fast, there were some sad or touching sections that caused me to cry at my lab bench. Very embarrassing. I had to pretend I was having a terrible allergy attack.
I may write a bit more about this great book tomorrow, so if I got you at least a little interested in this fantastic classic, stay tuned for more tomorrow!