One interesting facet about reading books to me is that a book can be a completely different experience when you reread it years later. I remember I first realized this with the book Great Expectations. I distinctly remember reading it in the 9th grade, and identifying with Pip. Years later, when I read it in college, I remember thinking “Pip is a bit of an asshole,” and being far more fascinated by Magwitch and Joe, as an adult. I had a very similar experience with my favorite book in high school – Catcher in the Rye.
Because I taught high school, I had the opportunity to reread and revisit many novels, but this didn’t always guarantee insight. I still think Hawthorne spends way too much time on the rose bush in A Scarlet Letter. But there are two books I approached with dread when I was younger, that I now count among my favorites.
Frankenstein is an incredibly deep novel – every time I revisit it, I find a new meaning or insight. Of course, when I was younger I thought it was just about science gone wrong. When you consider Mary Shelley’s age at the time she wrote the novel, her genius is undeniable. I used to warn my students about her level of language, but always the discussions that we could generate from the book were so worth it. Unfortunately, her status as a wife and mother prevented her from being very prolific – I could only imagine what she would have to tell us if she had lived beyond her fifties. It really is an unfortunate loss. Frankenstein is a book that I still like to pick up, even though I don’t teach high school anymore. I count it among my favorites.
Moby Dick is another book that I did not appreciate until decades later. First of all, it is massive, and Melville goes off on more tangents than can be believed. You could create one hell of a drinking game off of this. But there are some gorgeous lines, and actually, he is quite funny in the beginning. Rereading it was a completely different experience in my 40’s and I am so glad I gave it another try.
Hemingway used to annoy me. I remember being assigned The Sun Also Rises, and skimming it my freshman year in college. I mistook the simplicity for ease, but now feel like a lot of what Hemingway wrote was between the lines, and not on the page. Now when I look at his simple lines, I see that the whole book’s structure indicates a desire for a simpler time – when we could drink some wine with a friend in the sunshine, or drop a line in the river for a fish. War, adulthood, and suffering fractured everything for his generation.
The Great Gatsby? The first time around, I dismissed this book as a morality tale of partying gone wrong because that’s how many people approach it. Now, I really admire Fitzgerald’s craft. Every single word was chosen with care – economical, even. You are left wanting to know more about Meyer Wolfsheim and Gatsby – this takes great skill, in my opinion. It is a truly beautiful book, and his Tender is the Night is equally gorgeous. I actually prefer it over Gatsby.
Sometimes another book can help illuminate another. For example, I used to love Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when I was in middle school, but as an adult I dismissed it as a kid’s book. When I read All the Light We Cannot See, which uses Twenty Thousand Leagues as a metaphor, I saw how beautiful and creative the original was. I found new appreciation and both books were the better for it.
Classics to Reread
If you are looking to analyze a story in a million different ways:
Frankenstein – make sure to look up different themes and interpretations as a companion.
Make sure to slow down and appreciate every sentence
- The Sun Also Rises – “I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.”
- For Whom the Bell Tolls – “There is no one thing that is true. It is all true.”
- Tender is the Night – “He was so terrible that he was no longer terrible, only dehumanized.”
- The Great Gatsby- “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Read These Together – You won’t regret it
All the Light You Cannot See & Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea