Happy birthday, Charles Dickens!

The celebrated author, born February 7, 1812, managed to cram a lot of writing and living into his 58 years on this planet. It’s amazing to consider that this writer, whose storytelling is still so fresh and vibrant today, was born more than 200 years ago.

But if you haven’t read one of his novels, you might not understand what all the fuss is about. Easy enough to fix that oversight. When you do read one, you’ll be glad you did.

All of Dickens’ novels were serialized in newspapers and periodicals before they were printed in books. Even people who couldn’t read were familiar with his work if they were lucky enough to have access to someone who could read the stories aloud.

Dickens was and remains popular because he created more than just a raft of characters and stories; he created the biggest cruise ship EVER of people, places, and plots. His depictions of the poor and downtrodden do more than excite pity — they are fully realized individuals who persevere against the odds. Who can ever forget Oliver Twist, doomed “to be despised by all, and pitied by none” at the moment of his birth. But Oliver is the child who stands up to cruelty and says “Please sir, maybe I have some more?” With those words, Oliver stays in our hearts forever.

There’s enough story-telling umph in your basic novel by Dickens to keep his work at the top of the heap of English writers. And his work has been dramatized for plays, television serials, and movies. That would have pleased him a great deal: Dickens loved the theatre and his books are full of plays and players.

In fact, during his tours (twice to America!), Dickens gave public reading and performances of his own work. Not only did he increase his own popularity, but he fought for copy write laws on these junkets. At the time, there was nothing to stop unscrupulous printers from publishing and selling his work and keeping all the profits.

Dover has a great selected of Dickens’ work, including affordable thrift editions and as well as editions annotated for study. Dickens is also in good company with his contemporaries and near-contemporaries in Dover collections like Classic Mystery Stories and The Joys of Walking.

Charles Dickens loved a good ghost story and wrote several of them. A Christmas Carol is mostly a ghost story that includes a shot at redemption for the initially unrepentant Ebenezer Scrooge. And that name! “Ebenezer Scrooge” sounds like a miser wringing a penny until it squeaks. The name’s been ruined: what self-respecting parents would saddle their son with a moniker like that?

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