A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities
When stories become iconic, you sometimes forget what made them so special in the first place. They can become the punch line to a joke. But A Tale of Two Cities not only has the best first line ever written—"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"—it's got everything! The novel has wine, guillotines, revolution! It has the storming of the Bastille! It has Madame Defarge, one of the best villains in any literary novel. At the end, it's got a little romantic switcheroo: One man stands in the place of another and dies for the woman he loves.
— Amy Poehler

See more books that made a difference to Amy Poehler
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations
This book meant a lot to me when I first read it at 14, and it was the beginning of my love for Dickens. The characters are so well drawn: The convict is hideous; with Dickens's description, you can almost smell him. To me, Estella is a girl who's kept under glass. We're all products of our upbringing, and hers was certainly oppressive, but I could never forgive how selfish she was. I recently reread the book with my daughter, and this time around I realized that the one thing you can't be with someone you love is selfish.
— Kyra Sedgwick

See more books that made a difference to Kyra Sedgwick
Bleak House
Bleak House
This is a novel you don't so much read as move into for the duration. For me, it's Dickens's most serious and most entertaining work. The enchantment begins on the first page, with the description of London's "implacable November weather" and the famous fog. I know a writer who used to read this passage for inspiration every day before sitting down to work. All of English Victorian society is here. If nothing else about that world existed, we'd still know it thoroughly from these pages. Mystery, love story, satire, sociological critique—this grand, capacious novel contains them all. But at its core—and like all of Dickens—Bleak House is a kind of fairy tale, a story about good and evil, and the redemptive power of love.
— Sigrid Nunez

See more books that made a difference to Sigrid Nunez
The Faber Book of Letters
The Faber Book of Letters
Edited by Felix Pryor
A friend recommended this book to me when I first moved out to California in the mid-eighties. It's a collection of letters written by prominent people between 1578 and 1939. There's something touching about these notes; the writers seem so intent on expressing themselves in an authentic way. I think, in this e-mail age, we're learning all over again the importance of being able to communicate in a clear, expressive way. Some of the examples are very funny, like the letter sent care of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, asking, "Could you get this to Sherlock Holmes for me?" And then there are some that are historically important, like the note Dickens wrote just hours before he died. When I read that one, I just got chills.
— Megan Mullally

See more books that made a difference to Megan Mullally
David Copperfield
David Copperfield
I came to Dickens relatively late in life, but in a way, I think that's the best time. When you're a child, all you see is the plum-pudding characterization and twisting-and-turning storylines, and though that is part of the juicy pleasure of Dickens, you need to be an adult to get the heartbreaking measure of his genius. And nothing shows that more, for me, than David Copperfield. It's the fullest, most breathtakingly truthful story of life—not for nothing was it Freud's favorite novel.
— Nigella Lawson

See more books that made a difference to Nigella Lawson

Plus, one author thinks Dickens might make a difference to her....

"[I???ve been meaning to read] David Copperfield. I've read less Dickens than I'd like to admit, and I'm even more ashamed of my reason: The books are so long. They look impenetrable, like things you'd use to pave a road rather than actually read. And yet I know, from reading Little Dorrit, that they're unbelievably fun."
— Jennifer Egan

More authors 'fess up about classics they've never read

A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are Oprah's 65th Book Club selections. Get complete reading guides and join the conversation here


Next Story