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    Fiction: It Had Me At Hello

    November 30, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    Opening lines are everything, aren’t they? Every great work has that first sentence, that first thought that is so simple, profound, grand, or whatnot, that many bibliophiles will know the work’s identity at the mere quotation of its first sentence:

    “Call me Ishmael.”

    A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

    In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

    And so on.

    Generally, my fiction reading is confined to reading that is appropriate for all ages, as it is something I read aloud to the whole family. And, for the most part, I find it to be of sufficient quantity. I am more of a nonfiction person, anyhow, and the stories we read as a family are truly great, so it is not that I am missing much.

    But as the weather turned colder, nothing appealed to me more than a big, thick, famous work just for me.

    I say “thick” because I decided to read Dickens.

    We all have our little secrets when it comes to reading. Once I say I love to read, people will inevitably proceed to refer to an author I just can’t seem to get interested in. I think these people leave the conversation thinking I couldn’t possibly love reading if I don’t love, adore, and have memorized whichever author they had mentioned.

    Dickens is one of my little secrets. Along with Jan Karon’s Mitford books, his works are some that I’ve never fallen in love with. I tried Oliver Twist at least twice. I felt horrible about not liking it.

    I still do.

    Anyhow, I tried a couple other works by Dickens, and each time the result was the same. I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t drawn to the book, and force-feeding is never pleasant.

    But something inside me said that Christmas is for Dickens, and I thought, perchance, to pick up a copy at PaperBackSwap. Well, they were all out of A Christmas Carol, so I ordered The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a simply bound first-edition facsimile including all the original illustrations by Phiz.

    The opening line, because it is Dickens, is also the opening paragraph. The book itself says that Chapter One “introduces all the rest.” And so it does. I fell in love with this book because of the first line:

    There once lived in a sequestered part of the county of Devonshire, one Mr. Godfrey Nickleby, a worthy gentleman, who taking it into his head rather late in life that he must get married, and not being young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her turn had taken him for the same reason: thus two people who cannot afford to play cards for money, sometimes sit down to a quiet game for love.

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  • Reply Brandy December 1, 2007 at 10:52 pm


    I am relieved that you didn’t love Mitford. I think I love the idea of Mitford, but the writing style just doesn’t grab me.

    And about Bronte: I have a strange relationship with the Bronte sisters. Sometimes I can read them, and sometimes I can’t. Jane Eyre would definitely be my favorite if I had to pick one, but neither of the sisters would be in my Top Ten list of Favorites, if I had such a thing.

    Kris & Frieda,
    Ya’ll are selling me on Trollope. I am putting him into my PBS wishlist. Since you both adore The Barchester Chronicles, I am hoping that is what comes my way. 🙂

  • Reply Frieda December 1, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Yes, Trollope!! His books are not only charming, but very thought-provoking. The Barchester Chronicles are my favorites. They are not at all ‘Christian fiction’ in today’s sense, but they are set in an ecclesiastical setting of the time. I have 13 different titles, with the pages marked and underlined, and I’ve re-read them at least six or eight times. They are THAT GOOD.

  • Reply rebecca December 1, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    For a second, I thought you were going to talk about how you love the Mitford series. I tried, really I did, to like it because so many women told me how charming it is.

    Here is my confession…. (and I was an English major!!!)… I can’t stand the Bronte sisters. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Villette… yuck. I know so many people who love the Brontes and I always wonder just what I am missing. I would much rather read Dickens or even Thomas Hardy, and I don’t even like Hardy all that much.

    MPL wants to know if you know the first word of Moby Dick. He is kind of a stickler.

  • Reply Brandy December 1, 2007 at 6:07 am


    Yes! Recommend away! I must admit I always forget about Trollope. I’ve never read any of his work, but not because I don’t like it. I just never remember, like I said. So I’m putting him on my list. I know I said I don’t read a lot of fiction, but mostly that is because it is hard for me to put it down and I have lots to do. Nonfiction is easier in small chunks for me.

    Trollope. Yes. 🙂

  • Reply Kristie December 1, 2007 at 1:42 am

    At the risk of doing what you just warned against, may I recommend Trollope? He’s the lesser-known contemporary of Dickens who many say is even more charming. You may recall one blissful semester I spent with The Barchester Chronicles. However, I’d have to recommend the entire series, which I presume you don’t have time for. But then again, you are my antithesis where reading is concerned.

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