We will go on record as saying this right now: Great Expectations was the only enjoyable book Charles Dickens ever wrote. And look, as a fan of Jawbreaker, Rites of Spring and Milan Kundera — and in Wert's case, Bob Seger — we're not ones to forego the depressing in favor of lighthearted fluff. Jeremy Clarkson, to hardcore fans of specs, may be fluffy. But as a writer, he's one of the best contemporary, broad-radar turners-of-phrase Blighty's got. The point is, aspiring Chavs are a far cry from our dad in the Forties, who read The Canterbury Tales just for the fart jokes. We haven't perused the other authors in UK Education Secretary Alan Johnson's published list that the Daily Mail mentions, but good writing is good writing. And Clarkson's a great, engaging writer, even if can be a sanctamonious prat now and then. Dickens, on the other hand pretty much sucks. No wonder British teenagers don't read.
The legacy, while worthwhile, is tired and out of context. And let's face it, when was the last time you read Arrowsmith? I'm a massive proponent of literacy; history isn't bunk, and there's plenty to learn from the past, but who'd rather re-read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs than muddle through Jane Eyre? I'll raise my hand without shame. Clarkson, while old beyond his 47 years and willing to play the educated fool/well-travelled unreliable narrator for the sake of ratings, at least brings some context to modern Britain while offering up food for thought in a hyperliterate, engaging way. And besides, while "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" has become a classic cliché, how punters actually remember its origin? After all, Dickens never wrote anything as brilliantly parsed and scatological as describing the taste of seal flipper as tasting "exactly like licking a hot Turkish urinal." The flowers are in the dustbin, the poison's in the machine. These kids are the future, your future. Stick that in your Sidney Carton and smoke it, Chuckles.
Dickens driven off boys' reading list by Clarkson [The Daily Mail, UK]
More Jeremy Clarkson [Internal]