On the Carleton College campus, over the din of laughter and clinking dishes, rose the words of Charles Dickens.

"Rendered complete by drab pantaloons and a buff waistcoat, I thought Mr. Barkis a phenomenon of respectability," recited Gregory Hewett. The English professor sat, legs crossed, on the top floor of Sayles-Hill Great Space, reading a thick copy of "David Copperfield."

He was just taking his turn.

This week, the Northfield college collectively read the novel aloud, chapter by chapter, to celebrate Dickens' 200th birthday and preview a Thursday lecture about him.

That's 75 people reading 871 pages, mostly in 30-minute chunks, over 37 hours.

"I was there from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and it was hopping," said Arnab Chakladar, an assistant professor of English, who organized the "pretty epic event."

Although Dickens is not Chakladar's specialty, the author is his favorite. "In his own time, he was read aloud a lot," Chakladar said. Yet he "is not an easy writer to read. His sentences go on for some time and purposefully meander and digress."

Hewett untangled the language smoothly, sounding like the poet he is. Students read, too. Carleton's president, Steven Poskanzer, took a turn.

("I wasn't sure what to expect," Chakladar said of Poskanzer. "But he really hammed it up and did all kinds of voices.")

Throughout the day, students stopped by, some giggling at their professors' acting skills, some following along in their own worn copies.

"Nomming curly fries and programming while listening to the dulcet tones of profs reading Dickens," tweeted Holly French, a senior computer science major, just after midnight.

Chakladar hopes to hold such marathons regularly, perhaps moving to other authors. But "if I had my way, we'd just do Dickens over and over again," he admitted. Next, maybe "Our Mutual Friend," Dickens' last novel. It's long, though.

"It's a great, great book," he said, "but you could kill somebody by throwing it at him."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna