Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not-so-great expectations.

I recently read this AP article, pointed out to me by the Boston Boom Bums' Bookish Intelligence Report, about the slow start to Oprah's latest book club pick. A lovely copy of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, with dappled pages and a gorgeous red and white cover, it has reportedly sold only around 21,000 copies in its first week and hasn't even made it into the top ten bestsellers for any vendor.

The AP suggests it is because of the easy access to free e-book copies, as it is in the top ten free e-book downloads on Amazon.com. I think that is certainly part of it, but there might be a little more to it; at least, this is why I don't think I'll be buying a copy.

Who didn't read either of these books in high school? I was forced to ingest Great Expectations at the age of 13, and hated EVERY. SINGLE. MINUTE. There was no part that I enjoyed, few characters I liked, no redeeming factors for me. It was the first time I can remember having such a passion of hatred for a book. I was then, as I am now, a huge reader and liked the other selections we read that year (Jane Eyre, one of my favorites, and To Kill a Mockingbird, another all-time favorite). But Great Expectations? If I never saw another copy again, it would be too soon.

A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations: Two Novels (Oprah's Book Club)As for A Tale of Two Cities, it did redeem Dickens for me, as I actually enjoyed it. But would I pay $14 (the price of the book with my B&N discount) for both books? No. I would not spend a penny on Great Expectations, such is my disdain. Even if I liked A Tale of Two Cities.

It's not just me. I can count on one hand the people I've met who actually liked Great Expectations. Most agree with me—they didn't like it and never would.

So to conclude, I think part of the reason Oprah's pick isn't flying off the shelves is because pretty much everyone has read it already. It's not like she picked an ignored classic—most Americans have been forced to read both these books at some point in their schooling, and I'm guessing most of those people were not too happy about it at the time. Bad memories and dislike will not contribute to sales.

What do you think? Did you like either of these books when you read them in high school? Were you one of the few who didn't have to read them?


  1. I didn't have to read Dickens in high school or college (thank God!) because I've tried a couple of his on my own, and just couldn't get through them. I did, however, just finish A Christmas Carol, which I enjoyed. I jsut posted my "thoughts" on my blog.

  2. I hated Great Expectations. We read it in 9th grade English class and it was torture. I think we spent about one month just on this book. It was a horrible month. A lot of the stuff we read in high school were either abridged versions or just parts of the story (like in those huge literature textbooks that have a few chapters from lots of books) but unfortunately Great Expectations was one of the rare books that everyone got their own complete copy of.

    I've never read A Tale of Two Cities. Maybe one day I'll give it a try but probably not in the near future.

  3. Annette—I haven't read all of A Christmas Carol yet, but I liked what I did read.

    Jen—A Tale of Two Cities is WAY better, trust me. Sounds like you had a similar experience with GE as me.

  4. I absolutely hated both books in high school! I was, admittedly, one of those kids that just couldn't get into books assigned from school. I did read Tale of Two Cities later in life and enjoyed it very much. Haven't tried Great Expectations again, and won't after reading this ;)

  5. I didn't have to read any Dickens except for A Christmas Carol, which in my opinion doesn't really count. I tried A Tale of Two Cities on my own and couldn't get into it; my aunt prefers Great Expectations.

    My friend Anna's blog has a link to an unkind article about this book club selection, as well as her own response to that author, that you might be interested in: http://isak.typepad.com/isak/2010/12/response-to-a-curmedgeon-on-oprah-and-charles-dickens.html


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