On my desk
(That's where I keep the books I'm currently reading, or the books I want to read soon, or the books that the two-year-old took off the shelves and someone plopped on my desk.)
I've made it a practice for the last five or six years to read one novel by Charles Dickens each year. I try to read novels I have not read before, but if I was a teenager the last time I read it, I count it as a new book. Over the past few years I've read David Copperfield, HardTimes, Great Expectations, and Dombey and Son. One year I read Our Mutual Friend on my computer screen after downloading the text from Gutenberg. My Dickens for 2006 was A Tale of Two Cities, and I've already got The Pickwick Papers on the shelf for 2007.
Sometime this year, I realized that I'd like to do the same thing with William Makepeace Thackeray--read one new novel each year. The difficulty is that, although Thackery was as prolific as Dickens, his books have not retained the same level of popularity and are much harder to come by. I've read Vanity Fair (of course) more than once, and The Rose and the Ring which is more of a children's story, as well as Pendennis. And that's it. I want to read more, and so I was pleased to find The History of Henry Esmond at the library recently.
I'm about halfway through the book so far, and one thing that strikes me is the difference in tone. I'm used to Thackeray being a little more tongue-in-cheek as he laughs at the mores of society. This book is more serious. Much more serious. This was Thackeray's attempt at historical fiction, so he is not writing about his contemporary Victorians, but about the 17th century. Not only is the prose complex and convoluted, typical of the day in which it was written, it also contains anachronisms from the 1600's, so it is heavily footnoted to explain to Thackeray's contemporary readers some of the customs and languages with which they would not have been familiar.
In spite of the fact that I'm nearly halfway through the book, I have the feeling that the story hasn't really begun yet. Nevertheless, I'm engaged by the characters and situations and curious to find out where it is all going. I read part of the (modern) forward, which stated that this was Thackeray's most important book, which I find very surprising. I would have supposed that Vanity Fair would claim that distinction. I've already had to renew this book from the library once, but I'm hoping to finish it by the end of December. It's not part of my From the Stacks challenge, but it has a deadline just the same!
I received Parnassus on Wheels in the mail this week--the very first book I've acquired via Bookmooch. I'm really looking forward to reading this--a book I learned about only from reading lit bloggers--but I must discipline myself to read the other books I've started first. I'm almost getting good at that.