As part of my Reading Challenge this year, I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
There was one line in particular that stuck with me, “The things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life.” While I had definitely experienced that phenomenon before, I wanted to test it again, so I reread two books that I’d thoroughly enjoyed in high school: My Antonia by Willa Cather and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
All I remembered about My Antonia from my high school reading was a child bearing scene (which I remembered very differently than how it appears in print) and that I liked it. It is a simple story of an immigrant family leading a pioneer life in America. It is told through the eyes of an orphan who arrives in the Midwestern town on the same train. It has a very non-Hollywood ending, which I’m sure added to my enjoyment back in the day. The version that I read this time was a larger print and had illustrations. I would have balked at reading that version in high school. I was way too grown up to read a little kid’s book.
There is that labeling issue of mine again. I’m glad there wasn’t the YA classification when I was younger because I would have avoided it like the plague, missing out on some great works in the process.
This was my fourth reading of Brave New World. The last time I read it, I was living in England. I loved the fact that I knew where the final scenes took place: I’d been there!
In this read, I was surprised at how its theme is very common in YA literature today: the misfit who wouldn’t or couldn’t adopt societal norms. When I first started in this time, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t previously related to the outsider – I always wanted to live in this Brave New World! About two-thirds of the way through the book it hit me: there was no way I was going to relate to the ugly, physically inferior character of Bernard (which this time I voiced in the British pronunciation and not the American). As soon as I grokked that, it all made sense.
What I hadn’t picked up on with any of my previous reads was the option of being themselves in an isolated community. That would be the best option for me now. Through a book discussion on GoodReads.com, I was thrilled to discover that Huxley was dissatisfied that he hadn’t given The Savage the island option. As a result, Huxley wrote another book, The Island. That is on my reading list. What a find!
Both of these books gave me a very different experience this go through. I’m glad I acted on the impulse to test AJ Fikry’s hypothesis.
Have you ever reread a book you were assigned in high school? or Would you rather find yourself in a pioneer town or a futuristic world full of conspicuous consumption and soma holidays?
6 thoughts on “Second Read”
My Antonia is a favorite of mine – as Willa Cather is a favorite. I love anything she’s written. There are few books I read a second time but any of hers would be candidates.
You are the only person I’ve met outside of my high school English class that has read that book! It is such a simple story, but a touching one.
As part of a book club a few years ago I reread The Grapes of Wrath and A Farewell To Arms. I enjoyed both much more as an adult than I did when they were assigned to me in English class.
My only exposure to Hemingway was in high school. It was not a pleasant experience. You are a braver soul than I am for being willing to tackle them again. Being in a book club environment must make it easier.
It’s funny that you mention Willa Cather. Her book, O Pioneers, is on my to-read list. Well, it’s actually on my re-read list since I read it sometime in college. I remember thinking it was ok, but I keep hearing others tell me how bad it was. I guess it’s pretty stupid to re-read something simply to see if it’s bad, but it’s pretty short so it won’t take too much out of my day.
I think I will add O Pioneers onto my reading list. Not many of my classmates liked My Antonia. Hopefully O Pioneers has the essence of what I like and it will be a good addition to my “I feel smart because I’ve read these books” list.