Many people at year's end reread that most influential man, Charles Dickens. Not only "A Christmas Carol," but also his sweeping books of the human spirit like "Great Expectations" and, especially, "Bleak House." Dickens's damp, soot-fogged London has the feel of America in deep winter, but he inflects that cold city with his bright, generous humanity, a reassuring combination that encourages our annual desire to greet January renewed. Dickens's best characters suggest that the story of life is in the striving, the ongoing effort to begin again and become, even for a moment, our very best selves. So that some day, after we are gone, someone may say, as Jo the homeless crossing sweep does of the dead opium addict Nemo, "He wos wery good to me, he wos." Nemo means "nobody" in Latin and that tragic man exists to tell us we can't do it alone.