Monday, October 31, 2016

A Tale of Two Readings

I just reread A Tale of Two Cities for the first time since high school, when the fact that it was assigned reading made it a chore, albeit one in which I enjoyed the classroom discussions, and especially, the introduction to Dickens' vivid characterizations. It's intriguing to me that several of the characters and the humorous personalities are what I'd recalled, decades later; the horrific, terroristic elements of the plot I'd either partly forgotten or blocked out altogether.

While reminiscing about that class, an absurd tangent occurred to me: does anyone still remember the Lay's Potato Chips television ad, maybe from the early 1970s, showing French revolutionaries challenging a miscreant to eat just one, delicious potato chip, with a silhouette of the top of a guillotine looming above a hilltop in the background? "He tried, but he couldn't do it," sings the chorus with a knowing smile, as the knife is raised yonder. Yeah. Traumatized for life by that one, I was. "Damn the man who cut this tree," said Sterling North as a precocious 11-year old to an unidentified woodsman, in Rascal; "Eff you, pal," I say to the unidentified Madison Avenue jokester who gave me the heebie-jeebies when I was 11.

Some confront history in a museum. I confront it in the salted snack aisle.

Of course, the reality was far worse. The horror of the age is bludgeoned home by Dickens through artful, awe-filled repetition, as if to say, "It was terrible. Really, bloody terrible. Really, really, REALLY bloody terrible. How terrible, you ask? Let me repeat...".  You're in for a rough ride in the rumble seat when your worst fears are depicted by a crafty novelist who's paid by the word.

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