Introducing ‘books you’ve always meant to read’

Ed Skoog;[URL] thinks Charles Dickens was the best writer the English language has ever produced, better than Shakespeare.

Agree? Disagree? You may hear the name Dickens and have a flashback — of a big fat book you were supposed to read in high school. Maybe you loved it. Or hated it. Or you never even finished the thing.

My teacher made us read “A Tale of Two Cities” when I was in 10th grade. From those very first words — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — I loved it.

All things Dickens are big this year, the 200th anniversary of the British author’s birth. Dickens was born Feb. 7, 1812, in Portsmouth.

At a church in the English city Feb. 7, according to [/URL]BBC;[URL] News, actor and writer Simon Callow read from “David Copperfield.” The coming-of-age tale of an orphan boy is believed by scholars to be as close as Dickens ever got to an autobiography.

The British aren’t the only ones celebrating the bicentennial. Dickens readathons happened on the 200th birthday from Albania to Zimbabwe, the BBC said.

In Everett, readers have a chance to read “David Copperfield” with expert help.

Skoog, 40, teaches literature and composition at Everett Community [/URL]College;[URL]. On March 28, he’ll be off campus to lead a 7 p.m. discussion of “David Copperfield” at the Everett Public [/URL]Library;[URL]. His talk will be the first of three the library will present in a new series, “Books You’ve Always Meant to Read.”

“The experience of reading Dickens is wonderful,” said Skoog, a poet with one book published and another on the way.

Brad Allen, manager of the library’s Evergreen Branch, said the Dickens talk will be followed by one April 24 about Joseph Conrad’s “[/URL]The Secret Agent;[URL],” and a final discussion May 23 of “The [/URL]Scarlet Letter;[URL]” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Two other EvCC instructors, Roger Berger and Bethany Reid, will lead those talks.

Berger, who’ll discuss “The Secret Agent,” introduced another classic to Everett readers several years ago when he helped a group through James Joyce’s “[/URL]Ulysses;[URL].” In a description of the Conrad novel, whose better-known works are “Heart of Darkness” and “Lord Jim,” Berger said he sees “The Secret Agent,” written in 1907, as the earliest version of a modern political thriller.

There’s no test anxiety with this assignment, but Skoog hopes readers will start turning the pages of “David Copperfield” now so they can come prepared to his talk. It should be a pleasurable experience, he said.

“I feel enriched every time I return to Dickens, and to ‘David Copperfield’ in particular,” Skoog said. “I look forward to sharing the book with people who are perhaps reading it for the first time, and reminiscing with other readers about our old friends David Copperfield, Peggotty and Mr. Micawber, and marvel at the intense and enduring badness of Uriah Heep.”

What — you thought Uriah Heep was just a ’70s rock band? Time to hit the books, my friend.

Allen expects these classics and the discussions will appeal more to adult readers, but all ages are welcome. “The idea is giving people the impetus to sit down and read these books. I’m trying to crank through ‘David Copperfield’ myself,” the librarian said, admitting this is his first time reading the book.

Skoog, whose first book of poems is titled “Mister Skylight,” believes Dickens’ words and stories speak to today’s world.

“Charles Dickens has been in the forefront of my imagination since I was a kid,” he said. The instant connection Skoog said he felt when he first read “David Copperfield” has “deepened and broadened” with age.

“One of the great achievements of a writer is to echo the development of the self, how we become who we are,” Skoog said.

While Dickens took on social justice issues of his day — among them poverty and child labor — “what’s unique about Dickens, it’s always rooted in the person. He was concerned about large forces, but it was always rooted in individuals.

“He does all of that in this beautiful language,” Skoog said.

Does anybody have time to read Dickens anymore?

Skoog hopes so.

“No matter how be-Twittered we are, people will find themselves under his spell,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,

Classic book talks

The [/URL]Everett Public Library;[URL] plans three talks this spring about “Books You’ve Always Meant to Read.” All talks will be in the main library’s auditorium, 2702 Hoyt. Ave. The books are:

“David Copperfield,” by Charles Dickens: Everett Community College instructor Ed Skoog will lead the discussion at 7 p.m. March 28.

“The Secret Agent,” by Joseph Conrad: EvCC instructor Roger Berger will lead the talk at 7 p.m. April 24.

“The Scarlet Letter,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: EvCC instructor Bethany Reid will lead the talk at 7 p.m. May 23.[/URL]

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