Re-reading High School English Class Novels
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Has anyone else gone back and re-read the classics we were required to read in high school? I recently re-read Jane Eyre and found it spoke so much more to me as an adult...I recall enjoying it in h.s., but I doubt that I understood much of the subtext back then. I've had a similar experience now re-reading Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities gets better with each reading), as well as To Kill a Mockingbird and Ethan Frome. I'm tempted to re-read such other high school standards as Moby Dick and Ivanhoe. Maybe someday I'll even attempt to re-read Joseph Conrad...or maybe not.
I cannot speak for myself but I can speak for my daughter. She hated reading in high school. I mean hated in every sense of the word. Now that she is older( pffft she just graduated in 2005), she has gone back and reread a few of the books and loved them. She does have a favorite and that is To Kill a Mockingbird. She came out of her reading shell thanks to J.K. Rowling's little series. Those books opened her eyes to reading and I am happy to say she is a book lover now. That's why the little quote in my profile is so sincere.
I re-read Ivanhoe a long time ago and really enjoyed it. It hated it when I read it in High School. I don't think I've re-read anything else though.
>4 drneutron:, I absolutely agree about Frankenstein...it's really quite a touching read. I've never read Dracula, I should try it. Hollywood's treatment of these classics make one think that they are a whole different kind of thing.
I don't remember reading very much in HS -- which is probably some girl's fault, not mine -- although Joseph Conrad rings a bell, and I think Mice and Men... read Frankenstein after college, and recommend it highly
I love reading classics, and I even enjoyed them in high school. The only book I couldn't stand was The Red Badge of Courage. I would like to re-read that someday to see if I would feel differently.
My school for some reason had a love affair with Ernest Hemingway and so no, I have no enthusiasm for going back and re-reading my high school books. :p I would have loved it if we got good authors to read - sorry. So not a fan of Hemingway.
Words cannot describe how much more I appreciated these the second time:
230 Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (read 20 Jan 1946 - re-read 29 Nov 1973)
231 Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte (read 23 Jan 1946 - re-read 8 Dec 1973)
298 The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy (read 24 Nov 1946 - re-read 16 Jan 1965)
I wonder if being introduced to some classic literature too early ruins it for later on when one would actually appreciate and enjoy it....or is it good to be exposed to serious literature early on with the hopes that it will spark "something"?
I know a number of people who believe that high school destroyed Shakespeare for them. I wouldn't go that far myself but I never read any of his plays after high school. My wife on the other hand loves him.
I was amusing myself wondering how we (as teens) would have reacted, and how my teenage kids would react if a teacher said "Listen, I've got some really great books to mention to you, but I'd rather you didn't read them now; wait until you are old enough to appreciate them". I can imagine that nothing would have driven me faster to a book.
ToReadToNap, I highly recommend giving "Heart of Darkness" another try. If you read it as just a straightforward adventure story, I think you'll find it very compelling. As for Melville, I think "Moby Dick," great though it is, is an acquired taste that some may never acquire--read "Bartleby the Scrivener," "Billy Budd," and "Benito Cereno" instead.
jannief, you mean there is NOTHING by Hemingway that you like? Not even some of the finest short stories ever written: "The Killers," and "Hills Like White Elephants"? I wonder if feminist politics are influencing your opinion.
>14 Django6924: That comment about feminist politics is rather insulting.
I just read my first Hemingway and really liked it. Does that make me a male chauvanist?
Feminist politics have nothing to do with my dislike of Hemingway. I determine for myself what I like and dislike. I do not enjoy Hemingway because I find his books boring and depressing - at least those that I had to read in school. Our English classes spent so much time on finding the meanings behind what was written, the symbolic language, the foreshadowing, the loss of innocence, etc. that I didn't particularly enjoy what I discovered when reading Hemingway. Now that I think about it, the only book I truly enjoyed from English class was Ayn Rand's Anthem. Everything else we read seemed to be dark and depressing. One book we read in my senior year was so bad, IMO, that I refused to finish it and willingly took a failing grade. I'll have to do some research as to the name and author. I think I erased it from my memory banks.
I enjoy reading books, not dissecting them.
I'm right there with you, jannief... all that vivisection of a books' symbols and meanings can ruin the story; I still remember starting my college courses thinking I was well-read and being amazed and intimidated by Profs and classmates quoting passages and spouting hidden themes (of course you know he meant he hates his father and wants to kill his mother...)
>15 Morphidae: That comment about feminist politics is rather insulting.
I just read my first Hemingway and really liked it. Does that make me a male chauvanist?
Not a chauvinist--just someone objective enough to admire excellent work. And I had no intention of insulting anyone--when someone can make a blanket statement about the entire output of a major artist, I am always interested in the reasons. I have read enough to know that many feminists dismiss Hemingway out of hand because of his macho persona. If that isn't the case with jannief, I just wanted to hear what books she found so "boring and depressing."
I have to say that I don't care for Wagner's music--mostly because, with some exceptions, it is orchestrally overwrought, but also because I despise the proto-fascist and anti-Semitic opinions of the artist. But I accept him as a major artist, and still enjoy hearing excerpts such as "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" and the "lied zum abendstern." I would never say "he isn't a good composer." I can accept "I don't like Hemingway." De gustibus non est disputandum, after all.
(By the way, I really like Barbara Pym--what does that make me? Effeminate? An Anglophile?
Interesting. I will refrain from commenting on the rest of your statement and just answer this: I had to read Old Man and the Sea as well as A Farewell to Arms. I did read some of his short stories. I can't recall the name as it has been over 25 years since I've read them but I know that they were a series revolving around the character, Nick.
Hemingway has a distinctive and self-important writing style that can be downright annoying. That's how one hates all of Hemingway.
I hated Hemingway, all of Hemingway, for the first thirty-some-odd years of my existence. I kept trying, but just couldn't do it. I could see movies made from Hemingway, and that worked, but those damn books, all written in that truncated style with those overemphasized dorsal consonants, just wouldn't work for me. After Garden of Eden, which is really a distinctive Hemingway work in a lot of ways, and which I enjoyed, I was able to go back and read him and take his damn voice with a bit more humor. And then I discovered that I liked most of him, so I can now read Hemingway. I still wouldn't put "Hills Like White Elephants" on par with, say, Faulkner's laundry list, but at least its not a bad read.
I've re-read a number of classics from High School and had a decidely different take on them. I loved Moby Dick in high school, and have revisited it and kept loving it, but missed SOOOO much on the first read. Several books that engaged me in high school just don't have as much there any more (perhaps most sadly, On the Road really is pretty much fluff, isn't it? I loved that at 16). My Hemingway experience I described above - I've come around on him, though it took a while.
On the Road was better when I was younger as well... I can still appreciate it and admire it, but I found myself talking back to it more at 40, instead of agreeing how cool it was...
Well, as I said above, there is no dispute when it comes to taste. I happen to prefer the lean quality of Hemingway's prose--and especially his dialogue--to Faulkner's. I just reread "Light in August" last month, and found I liked it even less this time than I did 30 years ago.
Granted, some of Hemingway's scenes make me fidget now--especially those of a romantic nature (some of the Catharine/Frederic love scenes are downright embarrassing, though the Caporetto rout, the scenes with Rinaldi, and the ordeal of Catharine's miscarriage and death are still powerful for this reader.)
Hemingway's at his best with his scenes of men under pressure, and even better in the scenes where men and women are desperately out of sync--as in "Hills Like White Elephants" where the woman going for an abortion calmly tells her callow and callous lover, who is assuring her how easy it will be, to "please please please please please please please stop talking."
(You'll have to give me an example of the writer's "overemphasized dorsal consonants." Since the dorsal consonants encompass the broadest range of consonants of normal English speech--as opposed to the coronal consonants with their emphasis on fricatives and plosives, and radical consonants which are as rare in English as the aveolar approximant "r" is in the speech of native Hawaiians.)
Oddly enough, we didn't read Hemingway in school. I sometimes wonder if, in the years before standardized curricula, regional tastes dictated what was read. Growing up in Massachusetts we read a lot of New England writers, for example.
I did enjoy The Sun Also Rises (if only for the pun) though. And yes, for me, a writers personal life does sometimes influence how likely I am to enjoy his or her output.
Regarding dissecting classics: I have recently been reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster and thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get more enjoyment from reading the classics. The author writes lightly and almost with a tongue-in-cheek manner. He cites numerous examples to show where he is going with a particular topic.
My Humanities teacher my senior year of high school gave us a list of books he said we should read at some point in our life time. I picked A Tale of Two Cities off of the list and gave it a try. I don't know how far I got, but I gave up. Many, many years later I tried again, having enjoyed other Dickens in the meantime, and enjoyed it.
Having said that, I'm not a classics lover. I prefer biography and non-fiction and have some real questions about why the works of alcoholics, bi-polar, and suicidal people are considered "classics."
I remember reading The Agony and the Ectasy and a book about Vincent VanGogh (I thought the former was the same book) and not enjoying them. I have always loved reading and have always had a book going for interest sake as long as I can remember, so it is really too bad how "having" to read things in school can make them chores instead of pleasures. My high schoolers are now taking AP Eng. Lit. and enjoying many of the books, but feeling pushed through them. Ah well, what can we do? School has to have deadlines.
11, ToReadToNap I think it would be a great idea for teachers to give out a list like mine did (alas now lost) and say something like that. Don't read these now...
touchestones not all working
Interesting viewpoint about "why the works of alcoholics, bi-polar, and suicidal people are considered 'classics.'" I suppose you meant Michelangelo and van Gogh when you were discussing why you didn't like The Agony and the Ecstasy and Lust for Life, because they were the bipolar, suicidal ones, and not the author of those works, Irving Stone, who had a long, happy life, successful marriage, and donated much of his wealth and time to support charitable causes.
I can't figure it out either why so many tortured people create great art that moves us (well, some of us) long after they are gone. All I can say is, better them than me--I'd hate to live without the beauty they created, but I wouldn't want to create it myself if I had to live their lives. Maybe that's the reason nobody will be interested in me and my works after I'm gone.
>27 Django6924:, Django6924 Actually, I was thinking of Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe.
Those alcoholic, bipolar and suicidal people just feel the emotions that we all have with more intensity and focus. The most recent theory I heard about Poe was that he possibly actually died of rabies. Dreadful way to go.
Django, don't be hard on yourself. You will probably leave a legacy that people will be talking about for generations. Me on the other hand, will leave my heirs scratching their heads.
Human beings pay a price for being "exceptional" in any way. It is very easy to underestimate the emotional, psychological, and social burden that comes with having a "gift" (By the way, I say this being being completely "gift-free", myself). The "gift" may come from a brain and soul that is not in balance to start (meaning, the person possesses some peak skills and talents to the detriment of other skills and talents) and the way "society" and people around them treat that person often leads to more troubles. I am thankful for the sacrifice the artists and geniuses have made. It is often a lonely, difficult path.
By the way, >26 skf:, I think that list is an awesome idea! There must be some list like that circulating LT.
My daughter read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness a couple of years ago for her Advanced Placement English course and thought it was fascinating. She couldn't believe that I had never read it. She highly recommends it every time I'm looking for something to read or bored with what I'm reading. She LOVED her HS reading/English classes. Sometimes I think it is the teacher that you are dealt.
I loved the classics that I read for some teachers. But there were others that you couldn't please no matter how hard you worked and what kind of papers your produced. It was always a bad experience. The things I read for them will always be tainted in a bad way...
I read so few of these in High School and College, so I am reading them for the first time. I bet I'm missing as much now as others have missed when they tried these books, in high school. I suppose I'll read them again when I'm 70!
I really enjoyed Heart of Darkness and All Quiet on the Western Front.
I could have cared less about Pride & Prejudice when we read it in 11th grade, but then I saw the BBC series in '95 and reread it (as well as all of Jane Austen's works) and became obsessed with P&P in particular! I must have read it at least a dozen times, just over and over in one big loop. Thankfully, I got out of the that neverending loop eventually and have branched off into other literary directions. Still, P&P is one of my favorite books ever!
Turning 40 this month, so I'm lurking and couldn't resist this topic. I re-read Wuthering Heights a couple of years ago and still didn't like it, although I could definitely appreciate the writing in a way that I didn't as a high-schooler. I too am not a Hemingway fan, but I haven't re-read him yet. He's on my list to try again, as well as Fitzgerald. Maybe it was the teacher, but I came out of my high school class highly disliking these two authors.
Happy Birthday! and wecome to the club... I don't think most of us think we're even middle-aged yet...
I'd like to send a Happy Birthday as well tjsjohanna. And Teacher Dad..I will never be middle-aged.
The world keeps changing things on us. You know...40 is the new 30. Heck, by the time i'm 60 it'll be the new 25. ;-)
One can hope anyway.
Yet some mornings 40 feels like the new 70... gotta stop those boys from growing, they're almost too big for me to take on all at once...
Re #35: As for not liking Wuthering Heights, I have to confess I still don't enjoy it; it's undoubtedly powerful and almost hypnotic in its hold on the reader, but I'd rather read and reread Pride and Prejudice or For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Perhaps the problem is late 19th century fiction in general. There is a current of morbidity in much of it--especially the most highly regarded novels--that frankly puts me off. Most of Hardy affects me the same way (nothing will get me to reread Jude the Obscure), and even my favorite novel of the period, Middlemarch, is more a tonic than an elixir.
I never read Slaughterhouse Five in high school (was it considered a classic in the late 70s--was it even around?) but I read it about 10 years ago because my brother is a Vonnegut fan and I wanted to try to have something in common with him. My kids just had to read it for school and I was studying up on Spark Notes to be able to intelligently help with the paper they had to write. Made me remember why I didn't like the book!
(The first three lines self-posted before I was done!)
Part of the difficulty is remembering which books were set texts in High School! When the book group I'm in was deciding what to read for our next book, I suggested Middlemarch by George Eliot, saying confidently that I'd read and enjoyed it in high school. Now we're reading it, I realise that it was Silas Marner we read in high school ... and Middlemarch is 780 pages of small type. But we've given ourselves six weeks to read it, so I'm sure we'll get there.
ToReadToNap (13) wrote: ""Listen, I've got some really great books to mention to you, but I'd rather you didn't read them now; wait until you are old enough to appreciate them". I can imagine that nothing would have driven me faster to a book."
My Mom figured that out--about books and other things--when I was about 16 and used it effectively until I was too old for it to be plausible. If that didn't work, she would tell me it wasn't suitable for girls; that worked every time.
Now I'm really reminiscing....
SKF mentioned A Tale of Two Cities. We were part-way through it when our senior year of high school ended. Our English teacher put a curse on us: If anyone didn't finish it, all her books would turn to Sanskrit.
Don't know about the others, but I finished it!
MDLady (37) wrote: "And Teacher Dad..I will never be middle-aged.
The world keeps changing things on us. You know...40 is the new 30. Heck, by the time i'm 60 it'll be the new 25. ;-)"
Shortly after I turned 40, I figured out that the 40s are "early middle age." The 60s are "late middle age." Senior doesn't start until at least 70 (now--it'll be 80 by the time I get there).
And 50 is the new 35!
In other words, I don't have a clue how old I am.
Belated Happy BD to tjsjohanna.
Oh I agree. Reading all the required high school reading is well worth the time. I have read all of Jane Austen and Where the Red Fern Grows. Also, I read Alice and through the looking glass again, that was fun.
I am reading alot of Faulkner, tolkien and C S Lewis these days. I am getting more out of these authors now than when I was younger.
My daughter, who is a junior in HS, has just finished reading The Great Gatsby and really enjoyed it. I last read it when I was a junior in high school so I'm thinking it's time to read it again.
I've a whole new appreciation for the classics after reading The Rhetoric of Fiction, something I picked up at a library sale and thought "hmm - might be interesting." Life-changing is more like it. Since then I've read and appreciated Madam Bovary, Emma, The Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre and a few others, with many many more to look forward to. I finally "get it".
Which is strange, because I always liked English class. I loved All Quiet on the Western Front and The Catcher in the Rye,when they were assigned. I read Moby Dick as an adventure story and ate it up, didn't even mind the endless whaling details. Anna Karenina was even okay ... I knew about the train scene at the end, so I had that to keep me going.
But I never saw classics as anything more than a sort of outdated modern novel - something meant purely to get whatever entertainment you could from it, and it if didn't entertain in one form or another then what good was it? So I wasn't impressed at all with Brothers Karamazov, and only liked portions of War and Peace. I was loving the admiring comments of my teachers for reading this stuff voluntarily, but failing miserably at having any sort of real appreciation for them.
Even in my twenties and thirties, I was reading Ivanhoe, Count of Monte Cristo and Nicholas Nickelby in the same way that I would your average pulp fiction. I could scarcely tell the difference in quality except for the "fancy language". Patted myself on the back for reading another classic title and moved on.
Now it's a different ballgame. I can finally tell good and bad fiction apart. I finally have some taste for quality in what I read. There's too many books I haven't read yet to go back right now (more Austen and Dickens, please!), but I wonder what would happen if I returned to Brothers Karamazov, which some people say is the best novel ever written - maybe I'd "get it" now? On the other hand, I'm afraid if I went back to Moby Dick I might find it drags along ...
... although even now I find an occasional one I can't absorb. I still don't comprehend the big deal about Gatsby, to be honest.
Last year I read 'The Pearl. I was supposed to read it in 9th grade, but didn't. One of these day's I'll read 'Who has Seen the Wind' which I read only half of in school. I wish I liked reading then as much as I do now.
48: What an inspiring story! I think I will try to read that book some time.
50: Apparently The Rhetoric of Fiction has been a literary criticism classic in university classrooms for decades, but I discovered it entirely by accident. It's a bit dry, but what sold me on its whole argument was this line from the introduction (paraphrasing), "I'm not going to tell you how good writers write, I'm just going to show you what has worked for good writers in the past." That was a different way of looking at things that allowed me to consider its arguments. Wayne Booth refuses to state specific rules for good writing, and through a ton of examples indicates why the art of writing is about choosing the right tools for the right story.
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