Even though the title is a mouthful, this book isn't as hard to understand as many of Chesterton's other works. Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens is simply a compilation of introductions that G.K. Chesterton wrote for each of Dickens' novels. He reviews the books in chronological order and shows how Dickens developed as a writer. He praises Dickens' genius while at the same time commenting on some of the weaknesses of his works.
There are occasional Chesteronian phrases like: It is not the death of Little Nell, but the life of Little Nell, that I object to. and You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it. You cannot fight without something to fight for. To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. (p. 23) But for the most part, Dickens, and not G.K., is on center stage.
Some samples of his commentary:
Pickwick Papers will always be remembered as the best example of everything that made Dickens great; of the solemn conviviality of great friendships, of the erratic adventures of old English roads, of the hospitality of old English inns, of the great fundamental kindliness and honor of old English manners. First of all, however, it will always be remembered for its laughter. (p. 24)
Oliver Twist is by far the most depressing of all his books; it is in some ways the most irritating; yet its ugliness gives the last touch of honesty to all Dickens' spontaneous and splendid output. Without this one discordant note, all his merriment might have seemed like levity. (p. 39)
What I loved the most was this observation: All of Dickens' books are Christmas books. All of them have the element of drama, of waiting anxiously for something to happen, "a crisis of happiness" (advent). Secondly, they all take place in the "winter" of hardships where characters manage to celebrate in spite of the cold. And thirdly, is the element of the grotesque. Poets and painters have striven to express happiness by means of beautiful figures. Dickens understood that happiness is best expressed by ugly figures: the corpulence of Tony Weller and the red nose of Mr. Stiggins.
He goes on to describe The Christmas Carol as the best of the Christmas books because it has those three elements in spades: the sudden conversion of Scrooge, the winter scenes, and the undignified rejoicing of Scrooge's final happiness. The turkey that Scrooge bought was so fat, says Dickens, that it could never have stood upright. That top-heavy and monstrous bird is a good symbol of the top heavy happiness of the stories. (p. 112)
If you are not already a Dickens fan, you might find the book dry. But it made me want to read the whole canon. Also, each chapter contains spoilers so it's probably best to read the novels first and then see what Chesterton thought about them.