My quest for self-improvement, and the list of books I hadn't read, led me to this Dickens classic. Written in 1859, it deals with the French Revolution - specifically, with the Terror.
Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning's chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur, without the aid of four strong men besides the cook.
Book I, Chapter 7
Dickens can be a tricky author to read. Some of his works tend towards the grandiose, in language as well as in plot ambition. Two Cities, though, is beautifully stripped down - has an urgent tone that matches its setting, and events in the plot. It seems incongruous to call it "refreshing", but that's how I felt afterwards - as if I had been plunged into something and brought back out again.
Every day, through the stony streets, the tumbrils now jolted heavily, filled with condemned. Lovely girls; bright women, brown-haired, black-haired, and grey; youths; stalwart men and old; gentle born and peasant born; all red wine for La Guillotine, all daily brought into light from the dark cellars of the loathsome prisons, and carried to her through the street to slake her devouring thirst.
Book III, Chapter 5
I've been thinking about my reading schedule, and I've decided that I should have a "classic" on the bedside table at all times. There's something different about reading literature - there's a reason these books are still in print one (or two) hundred years later. In a word, they're good. I also have a theory that reading classics broadens my mind and improves my English.
As a side note, I used a different edition than I normally would - the Penguin or Signet style. I am a fan of annotated works, with footnotes that expand on the text, and help place antiquated phrases or vocabulary in their context. This time, I read the "Collector's Library" edition, a small format, which contained gilt pages, the original set of illustrations (by "Phiz"), no modern introduction and no footnotes. I LOVED it - it felt wonderfully current, not in the least as though I was studying something 'old'.
I think next I might try "The Scarlet Pimpernell" - may as well carry on with the French Revolution while I'm thinking of it.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you read A Tale of Two Cities. The first couple of chapters are a bit bewildering - you are introduced to a complete stranger and immediately asked to care a lot about what he's thinking during a long night drive - but if you can get to page 120 you're all set. The rest of the book will go by all too quickly.
Vive le Boz!