………I read Oliver Twist for the first time. It was a paperback Signet edition, with tiny print and no illustrations. It’s probably an intense book for someone so young – certainly, the themes of child abuse, murder, gangs and orphanages would be enough to deter some.
I loved it.
I loved Fagin and the Artful Dodger and, despite the perils of their life choices, I wanted to be a part of that gang. It seemed wildly romantic and fun, even if it was dangerous. Then again, I was also ten years old, so what did I know? But I was frightened of Bill Sykes and I desperately wanted Nancy to escape and be happy in a different life.
I don’t remember a lot about Oliver himself, though, which is weird, because it is his story. Even though it was told in third person, he should have made more of an impact on me, but when I think about him as I write this, all I can come up with is a colorless character. Then again, he is the avatar through which the reader experiences the story, the emotional roller coaster, so I guess that’s why he didn’t make much of an impression on me.
I even loved the musical (Food, Glorious Food is quite catchy) – not the movie so much, but the stage version really captured my imagination. I would listen to the soundtrack and re-read Oliver Twist many times through high school. I attempted to read some of Charles Dickens’ other work, especially The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but they didn’t quite capture me the same way that Oliver Twist did.
At some point during my twenties, I gathered up a bag of books to take over to my local used bookstore, where they do trade – bring in some books, get store credit to use at a future time. My copy of Oliver Twist went with it. I figured it was time, I hadn’t read it in years, so may as well let someone else enjoy and get something out of it.
About ten years later, I went to that same bookstore and was browsing through their classic literature section. I happened upon a copy of Oliver Twist that greatly resembled the copy I had given up. I remember thinking, Well, I don’t have mine anymore, and I did like it and I should probably read it again.
Then I opened the front cover – there, on the first page, giving the short biography of Charles Dickens, was my name, scrawled in a ten year old’s handwriting.
Of course, I bought it. You don’t send a book out into the world and not take it back when it shows up again.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Drood by Dan Simmons