Book Riot recently posted an article titled Books We Read Too Soon. This reminded me of something I’ve often contended, that some of the books we read in high school were books for which we just did not have enough life experience. Four books came to mind as I reflected on what I would include in such a list.
The first was one mentioned by the Book Riot folks. The Great Gatsby just didn’t connect with its portrayal of rich decadence. As a working class kid, I just didn’t get what the problem was with these folks who had so much money. After the decadence of the Nineties, it might have made sense.
The second was A Tale of Two Cities. At the time, reading it was “the worst of times”. It seemed to go on forever, through all the turmoil of the French Revolution, the rivalry of Darnay and Carton, and various labyrinthine maneuverings. By the end, I don’t think I really cared who got guillotined.
The third book was Anna Karenina. I knew it was about her illicit love affairs but I was probably as occupied as anything with keeping all the names straight. And it was even longer than A Tale of Two Cities! It did awaken me to the double standard between men and women at a time women of my generation were talking of women’s liberation.
The last book was The Scarlet Letter. Again, there is a plot that explores the double standard of sexual dalliances. Hester Prynne bears her punishment in noble silence while Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale bears quite a different burden. I probably wondered at times in high school about all these books with messed up affections. Then I grew up and saw it in real life, and sadly saw numerous clergy scandals, and realized that Hawthorne knew what he was talking about.
Obviously I gained something from each of these books, yet I suspect far less than my English teachers were hoping for. What occurred to me as I considered this short list was that I’ve not re-read a single one of these books! I’ve read most of Dickens other works as well as much of Tolstoy. All of these I read after college, and most recently Tolstoy’s Resurrection. No one seems to write about sin and redemption like Tolstoy, and Dickens portrayals of the foibles and pretensions of human beings are a delight to explore.
I find myself wondering if I should go back and give my “books read too soon” a second chance. I suspect that it is those high school memories that cause me to hold back, and maybe all those comments of my peers who went through the same thing. The works like these that I discovered on my own did not let me down. Perhaps these won’t either.
Can you think of books you’ve read too soon? Have you gone back to them, and if so, what was your experience of re-reading?
[Note: These were the covers of the editions I read!]