One of the unfortunate effects of e-readers is that you can no longer press a book you’ve just finished into someone’s hands and tell them they absolutely must read this but they’ll be in trouble if they don’t give it back. It also makes spying on fellow commuters’ reading a lot less interesting. So, I have two books on the go at the moment, my usual reading pattern. One is on the kindle for the commute and the other is my bedtime reading.

Now the one on the kindle is sort of weird. It’s a romantic contemporary by an English writer and it’s not quite as strange as the one by another English writer where h/h would suddenly fall into a liplock and then resume polite conversation. Many times. There’s a lot of food in this one and people politely offering tea/coffee which seems to be a characteristic of English fiction.

And, segueing effortlessly into the next topic… Charles Dickens is always writing about food too.

Next day, child swallowed two beads; the day after that, he treated himself to three, and so on, till in a week’s time he had got through the necklace — five-and-twenty beads in all. The sister, who was an industrious girl and seldom treated herself to a bit of finery, cried her eyes out at the loss of the necklace; looked high and low for it; but I needn’t say, didn’t find it. A few days afterwards, the family were at dinner — baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under it — the child, who wasn’t hungry, was playing about the room, when suddenly there was the devil of a noise, like a small hailstorm. (Pickwick Papers)

George Orwell, in his essay on Dickens comments:

As a whole, this story might come out of any nineteenth-century comic paper. But the unmistakable Dickens touch, the thing that nobody else would have thought of, is the baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under it. How does this advance the story? The answer is that it doesn’t. It is something totally unnecessary, a florid little squiggle on the edge of the page; only, it is by just these squiggles that the special Dickens atmosphere is created.

AD20111223689300-Charles DickensMy other reading–after that somewhat long squiggle on the edge of the page–is Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens, which is terrific. I could go on and on about this book and Dickens’ strange life, but one thing that surprised me is that even his contemporaries didn’t like his portrayal of women.

They’re either dumb and pretty (begging to be killed off or humbled), saintly (sometimes the same) or straight out of a melodrama (much writhing and breast-beating, doubtless must die as Bad Girls do). Even a tough girl like Lizzie Hexham (Our Mutual Friend), whose occupation is fishing corpses and other flotsam and jetsam out of the Thames, has to be warned that she is in moral danger when she is pursued by Eugene Wrayburn. Really, Mr. Dickens? You don’t think a working-class girl (with impeccable and inexplicable good diction) wouldn’t know about the birds and the bees? Or, horrors, see a liaison with a rich bachelor as an opportunity?

So what are you reading?

And don’t forget, Carolyn’s contest is still open, affording the delightful prospect of reading about hot demons.