‘Lost’ in a ‘Tale of Two Cities’

Posted by Emma on September 1, 2010 at 8:23 am. Books, Captioners

by Erik Martz

I’m currently reading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities—you know, the one that begins, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Though I’m only halfway through it, the book has already revealed all of the hallmarks that cause people to either love or hate Dickens.  Sentences run on forever, sometimes for entire paragraphs, somehow fused together by a Victorian mess of colons, semicolons, and commas.  The book is endlessly thoughtful and tangential, even for Dickens, who was never known to shy away from being verbose.

A Tale of Two Cities, like all Dickens books, was written serially for magazines and later compiled into one volume.  This meant that Dickens had to write episodically, which naturally begs the question of whether he would have been a good TV writer.  Anyone familiar with the television show Lost knows that the show profusely cited the author as an influence, even titling an episode “A Tale of Two Cities.”  The producers of the show often talked about the kinship they felt with Dickens, unfolding a tome of a TV series episodically, being accused of making it up as they went along.

Well, they were making most of it up as they went along, but so did Dickens.  It’s clear when you read his work that the man was driven by sudden thoughts and impulses, barely stringing them together in a cohesive narrative.  A personal reflection from the chapter “The Night Shadows” in A Tale of Two Cities is a good example:

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.  A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of  breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

That second sentence is enough to make any captioner hide behind their keyboard.  It’s one of Dickens’ many moments of profound lucidity, but it’s also the reason he could never have written for television.  Dickens thought too much.  A Dickens sentence was a journey; every clause was an excursion; every semicolon was a detour.  Television is a friend to character study, but it’s an enemy to long-windedness.  Dickens rarely wrote the former without the latter.

But Dickens is still beloved today for his redemptive story arcs and the boldly drawn characters that inhabit them, and his work will likely always be considered influential.  You can of course find reruns of his work in syndication at your nearest library or bookstore.  Don’t expect any new episodes, though.  Not even Charles Dickens is that good.

Fun Book Friday!

Posted by Emma on August 27, 2010 at 8:56 am. Books, Fun Word Friday

Let’s switch up our fun Fridays a bit. There are so many amazing books about living with disabilities. Here are 5 on our ‘need to read’ list. Do you have any favorites?

1. Fixing My Gaze: A Scientists Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions, by Susan R. Barry
Review from Publishers Weekly
Barry, a neuroscientist at Mount Holyoke College, was born with her eyes crossed and literally couldn’t see in all three dimensions. Barry underwent several surgeries as a child, but it wasn’t until she was in college that she realized she wasn’t seeing in 3-D. The medical profession has believed that the visual center of the brain can’t rewire itself after a critical cutoff point in a child’s development, but in her 40s, with the help of optometric vision therapy, Barry showed that previously neglected neurons could be nudged back into action. The author tells a poignant story of her gradual discovery of the shapes in flowers in a vase, snowflakes falling, even the folds in coats hanging on a peg. After Barry’s story was written up in the New Yorker by Oliver Sacks, she heard from many others who had successfully learned to correct their vision as adults, challenging accepted wisdom about the plasticity of the brain. Recommended for all readers who cheer stories with a triumph over seemingly insuperable odds.

2. Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story, by Ray Charles and David Ritz
Review from Amazon
Ray Charles (1930-2004) led one of the most extraordinary lives of any popular musician. In Brother Ray, he tells his story in an inimitable and unsparing voice, from the chronicle of his musical development to his heroin addiction to his tangled romantic life. Overcoming poverty, blindness, the loss of his parents, and the pervasive racism of the era, Ray Charles was acclaimed worldwide as a genius by the age of thirty-two. By combining the influences of gospel, jazz, blues, and country music, he invented, almost single-handedly, what became known as soul. And throughout a career spanning more than a half century, Ray Charles remained in complete control of his life and his music, allowing nobody to tell him what he could and couldn’t do. As the Chicago Sun-Times put it, Brother Ray is “candid, explicit, sometimes embarrassing, often hilarious, always warm, touching, and deeply human-just like his music.”

3. The Body Silent: The Different World of the Disabled, by Robert F. Murphy
Review from Library Journal
The author, a well-known cultural and field anthropologist at Columbia University, was diagnosed as having an incurable spinal cord tumor in 1976 at age 52. He is now essentially paralyzed from the neck down. Within this frameworkin which his physical self of locomotion and effect loses all functionhe relates his own odyssey into “selfhood and sentiment.” Far more than a bittersweet first-person account of chronic illness, this is a masterfully written examination of the role of the disabled in society. The author draws upon the relevant literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and psychology as a basis for his views and his means of coping. This powerful and eye-opening commentary is highly recommended for social scientists, health care personnel, and informed and interested laypersons.

4. Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness, by John M. Hull
Review from Library Journal
In 1983, Hull, a university lecturer who had lived with sight problems from the age of 13, found that the dark discs he had fought for 36 years had finally overwhelmed his sight. The spiritual and emotional reactions to his vision loss form the basis of this poignant memoir, and the many questions he asks contribute to his eventual acceptance of his fate. A richly textured dream life adds to his exploration of the “other world” of blindness, and the understanding and meaning he finds coalesce into a powerful work.

5. Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World, by Leah Hager Cohen
Review from Publishers Weekly
Combining memoir and reportage, Cohen provides a sensitive, intimate portrait of a New York City school for the deaf and the issues facing the deaf community. Cohen is not deaf, but her father heads the Lexington School, and she grew up there. She tracks the progress of two students: Sofia, a Russian immigrant bravely learning a second sign language and a new American world; and ghetto-raised James, who finds stability after moving into the school dormitory. Cohen analyzes the fierce debates over mainstreaming the deaf, the value of oralism and whether new cochlear implants rob the deaf of their culture. She tenderly recalls her deaf grandparents, probes her father’s dilemmas, reports on her frustrated romance with a deaf man and her work as an interpreter in a program for deaf adults at the City University of New York. She portrays sign language with wonderfully tactile prose–the word “silence,” for example, is signed with “austere arcs.”



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