Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Classics Come Back to Haunt

Classics seem to be hit and miss for everyone...especially when "everyone" is young. There are those exceptions I read about in the blogosphere who loved Jane Austen at 13 or fell madly for Dickens at 11, but I was not one of those students. Until the age of 15 I was all about L.J. Smith, Stephen King, and anything else horrory. Classics were an acquired taste, to put it nicely. Once I fell, I fell hard, but it took a while.

Right now I find myself in a position to re-read a classic that I first read as a teen and then later in my early 20s. I picked up The Scarlet Letter for Dr. Partin's English class as a junior or senior in high school, and I SO didn't read it. I looked at it sitting on my nighstand occasionally. I took good notes in class and made a 100 on the test (Sorry, Dr. P.). However, I decidedly did not read it.

As I college student, I found myself in Dr. Moseley's American Lit survey. When I wasn't counting her "ums" during her lectures (75 in 30 minutes one time), to my surprise and delight, I freakin' loved Hester Prynne and read the book in a day. I was also on a feminism kick, and I adored Hester as a hard-nosed heroine.

Now I'm 29, I'm teaching my own class in early American Literature, and I'm having the HARDEST TIME getting back into this novel! I have no idea what my problem is other than burnout from a busy work schedule and the discomforts of pregnancy roundness, but it's like pulling my fingernails out to devote any significant time to this book. I know if I could sink into it again, I would probably love it all over, but the only sinking I'm doing is into my bed.

Have you read any classics at various points in life? What was your reaction to the re-reading?


  1. When I was 12, I loved Austen AND King! hehe I suppose I've always been a bit eclectic. ;)

    Most of the classics that I've given a second chance, I still don't like much the second time around (Jane Eyre is the one jumping out at me...I think I've read it three times now, and each time I liked it less. So, you know, I've decided never to read it again! lol). But lately I've been reconsidering my high school prejudice against Willa Cather (had to read Death Comes for the Archbishop as a sophomore...was soooo bored), and I'm hoping that trying a different book by her, and being much older, will make me a fan.

    Emma is a book that's really changed for me! It used to be one of my least favourite Austens (which still means I loved it, lol). But then, when I was struggingly with depression in fall of 2008, I reread it, and I really, really connected with it. Emma screws up so much, without really meaning to, but in the end it all still works out. That was the kind of message that I needed to hear. And that you're not a bad person even if you're wrong about some things. So now it's much closer to my heart. :)

    I also just reread Phantom of the Opera in January. I read it when I was 11 and LOVED it, and I remember getting all caught up in the pathos of it. Rereading it, the overdramatic, ridiculous writing made me laugh so hard I was crying sometimes. Raoul and Eric were both whiny little twits, and Christine wasn't much better. So I probably should have left that one in the past.

    One thing that I think is neat about a lot of classics, including 'modern' ones, is how much they grown with you. :D That's why I can't imagine never rereading a's a completely different experience because I'm such a different reader.

  2. Now, THAT is a great question for conversation. It's always fun talking with folks who re-read classics to make themselves look smart and aren't honest about how much they liked it - they say they loved it because they know they're supposed to, but secretly hated it! ;)

    One classic I read in HS and re-read a few years ago is Catcher in the Rye - still loved it! Another is The Great Gatsby - absolutely loved that too! On the other side of the coin - any Hemingway. Couldn't stand Old Man and the Sea or For Whom the Bell Tolls upon a re-read. Borrr-ing.

  3. I remember not liking The Scarlet Letter back in high school enough that I really don't want to pick it back up and give it a reread. Sorry but I don't think I could be helpful with this one ;)

  4. I remember that I enjoyed The Scarlet Letter, and was surprised by that. Still have no desire to read the sequel that recently came out relating to it, though.

    I think people's reactions to books change a great deal over time. I was speaking about this to some friends last night. How I want to try to reread A Tale of Two Cities because I think I'd enjoy it far more now, as I love the French Revolution. But how nothing could make me want to reread The Lord of the Flies. I'd want to reread The Awakening and All Quiet on the Western Front, but I don't want to read The Great Gatsby once more.

    I think where you are in life, mood, etc., can really affect the way you read a book and what you get from it. So your reaction doesn't surprise me!

  5. I've read The Scarlett Letter twice and wasn't wowed by it either time. It is on my list to re-read since I always think your mood really affects your ability to enjoy certain books.

  6. I don't think I've gotten more or less into classics as I've gotten older, although I do think I'm more willing than I used to be to say I dislike a classic without feeling guilty. (I never liked The Scarlet Letter, for what it's worth, but part of that is because I can't stand Nathaniel Hawthorne as a person.)

  7. Re-read? Are you kidding me? I'm lucky if I make it through a classic once.

  8. It has definitely taken some doing for me to warm to the classics. I red quite a few of the before I graduated high school and I am pretty sure that in a lot of cases like The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Scarlett Letter, I didn't have enough life experience to understand what was going on. I have re-read several as an adult and I have enjoyed and understood them much better for the most part. Still don't like The Scarlett Letter.

  9. Like you, I was dragged through The Scarlet Letter in high school and thought never again. Until college where (to my everlasting surprise) I loved it! Guess there are some books one has to grow into. But I'll never touch Bartleby the Scrivener again.

  10. Oh boy, have I ever read classics! Read "The Scarlet Letter" in high school, but wasn't that impressed at the time. I got tired of the symbolism. On the other hand, I recently read "The House of Seven Gables" by Hawthorne for the R.I.P. challenge and LOOOOOVED it. I was inundated with classics in college and was most impressed with anything by Flannery O'Connor, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, William Dean Howells, Kate Chopin, and Henry James ("The Turn of the Screw" made me gasp! Always a good sign). And since then I have fallen hard for Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald - well, I loved "The Beautiful and the Damned" anyway. One author who I know I practically have a responsibility to love as an English major but can't stand is Faulkner. PLEH.

  11. Eva, you are an eclectic reader, which I love! It took me a long time to diversify, but I actually went through a lengthy reading dry spell from the age of 17 to about 21. Scary!

    If we're talking Cather, my favorite recommendation to give is one of her lesser-read books: The Professor's House. It was gorgeous and wonderful-fantastic. Definitely pick it up if you have an opportunity.

    And isn't it amazing how timing can be such an indicator of how much we love or hate a book? It's always fun to see if one resides on the same side of the fence the second (or third, or fourth) time around.

    Greg, I won't even attempt The Old Man and the Sea a second time. I wanted to poke my eyeballs out the first time I was forced to read it as a freshman in high school. Gatsby, on the other hand, I read as a senior, and it remains my most often re-read book of all time. I think I'm up to 5 or 6 readings of it now, and I still love it more every time.

    LOL, no problem, Samantha. I definitely have those books, too. I mentioned The Old Man and the Sea above. Ugg! It turned me off of Hemingway for YEARS...until I read A Moveable Feast.

    Aarti, I don't think I knew there was a sequel to Scarlet Letter! I don't know that I would read it, but I'd love to find out the title. And I agree with you on re-reading. I desperately want to re-read A Tale of Two Cities. I remember being terribly affected by it in high school, and I think I would love it (and appreciate it) even more now.

    Kathleen, good for you for re-reading it even though you weren't wowed! I don't know if I would do that!

    Jenny, I don't know that I'm more into classics now, but I'm not as intimidated by them as I used to be, and I'm not afraid to toss 'em aside if we aren't meshing well. I have Ethan Frome to start on my Nook soon. I've had a hit and miss relationship with Wharton, so we'll see how this one goes.

    LOL, Jill! Some of them I won't even attempt. Helloooo chunksters!

    Nicole, I've had much the same experience. It's amazing what a little life experience will do!

    ds, me neither! Bartleby and I do not get along. Melville can kiss my grits.

  12. Andi, I've been trying to comment for days, but had computer issues. I think so many classes are wasted in high school. I HATED Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, but loved them about 10-15 years later. Maybe I should give The Scarlett letter another time. (I loved King in Jr. High & High school.)

    I went through a big Hemingway phase in college, but agree that Old Man and the Sea is awful

  13. I was one of those teenagers who loved the classics. I haven't reread many of them though, I'm afraid. Jane Eyre I loved the two times I read it. And Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice just didn't do it for me the first time--but when I read it years later, it became one of my all time favorites. There are several I would like to revisit one of these days.

  14. KnittingReader, I'm always warmy befuzzed if I hear that another reader hated Old Man and the Sea. That novel was just horrible for me. I don't know how many times I almost fell asleep reading it aloud with peers in class. Classics are wasted on the young, sometimes, but I'm glad some of us come back to try again. :)

    Wendy, which classics would you especially like to revisit? On my list: A Moveable Feast and A Tale of Two Cities. Those feel the most necessary at the moment, anyway. :)

  15. I'd really like to reread Crime and Punishment again. It was one of my favorites. I'm also curious to see if I still like Catcher in the Rye as much as I did back in high school. I never could get through Brave New World the first time and wonder if I'd like it more now. There are a few others, like Faulkner and Hemingway that I would like to revisit as well.

    There are quite a few classics out there I haven't had a chance yet to read that I'm anxious to try as well. More Dickens, definitely.

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