As I hinted in my post on Friday, the book I want to talk about today is another which is playing havoc with my reading plans! It’s one of a new series from Oxford University Press with the overall title of ‘My Reading’, the premise being that an author explores the writings of another author who’s had a significant influence on them. The one I chose to read is by Annette Federico who explores her feelings about Charles Dickens under the subtitle ‘But for you, dear stranger’.

The concept is an interesting one, providing (on the evidence of this volume) a deeply personal look at a writer we might perhaps take for granted. Federico, a Professor of English at James Madison University, lets her thoughts roam over four of Dickens’ works – Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, and A Tale of Two Cities – and brings much insight into their impact, as well as revealing how they’ve related to her life.

Federico has taught Dickens and her experiences doing so, particularly throughout the pandemic, making fascinating reading. How do you get modern young people, dealing with massive world events, to engage with a voluble Victorian author? Perhaps, as she discovers, by relating to the characters; Dickens’ focus is always on the people about whom he’s writing, their feelings and their dreams, and this is at the root of his storytelling.

And as Federico explores these elements of Dickens’ writing, revisiting and re-reading him at difficult times of her life, she digs much deeper than her original, more casual readings of his work had been, finding much to learn from him about love, hope and life itself. Her attempts to teach her class during the pandemic eventually led to her undertaking a slow and rewarding reading which seems to have been an intriguing exercise for Federico, as it’s clear she hadn’t necessarily recognised before the significance of Dickens in her life.

“But for you…” is a book which ranges far and wide, drawing in Jung, issues between classes and societies, the autobiographical elements Dickens wove into his works, Federico’s relationship with her parents and partner, prisons, Dickens’ use of melodrama, how and why we read – well, I could go on, but as you can see, for a shortish book (151 pages) this really does cover a lot of territory.

You might have guessed that I absolutely loved this book; I think very highly of Dickens anyway, and to see his work explored like this was fascinating. And as I hinted in my post on Friday, it’s had a very bad effect on me! You see, of the four books covered by Federico, I’ve only read A Tale of Two Cities and I’m afraid her narrative has made me desperately want to pick up some Dickens and get reading him!!! Alas, that may have to wait for a while, as I am embroiled in a number of other books at the moment – but a Dickens reading project would be rather lovely one day!

If “But for you…” is any indication, the My Reading series is going to be a winner; the other books in the initial batch cover Beckett, Balzac, William James and King Lear, with more titles promised for 2023. If you want a personal, thought-provoking and fascinating look at Dickens and the effect he can have on the reader, this is definitely a book for you!

Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!