Earlier this week, I posted about my unfortunate first experience reading Wuthering Heights. I didn’t like it much on first read because I was expecting a love story, but I did find it interesting. It wasn’t until I read it a second time that I could enjoy it. That got me thinking about revisiting literary nemeses.
There are lots of books that have grown on me on repeated readings. I wrote earlier this year about Persuasion, as one example of a book that I thought was only pretty good on first read and grew to love later. But most of the books that fall into this category are ones that I liked at least a little the first time. Why, after all, would I go back and read something again if I didn’t like it?
Well, there are some books that I tried when I was too young for them. Jane Eyre went over my head when I tried reading it at age 12. I think I gave up before the halfway point. But I knew at the time that the problem wasn’t the story, but the language and the length. I picked it up again in high school and loved it.
Then there are that books that, as an English major, I was required to read more than once. Wuthering Heights is one example. Another is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I read it as a senior in high school and did not like it at all. The long sentences, the plot in which not much seemed to happen, the lack of a single likable character. There was nothing about it that I appreciated or enjoyed. It was a slog, pure and simple. However, when I had to read it as a senior in college, I liked it much more, even though it’s still not a favorite. (I prefer Conrad’s The Secret Agent.)
There are other books that were simply the wrong place to start with a new-to-me author. The Nice Tailors was the first Dorothy Sayers book I tried to read, and I gave up quickly. All that technical talk about bell-ringing! Soooo not my thing. But then after reading most of Sayers’s other mysteries and falling in love with Lord Peter, I found that when Lord Peter is involved, technical talk about bell ringing is indeed my thing.
So I wonder if there are other books I disliked when I read them but that I’d enjoy now. So many people whose taste is similar to mine love Mrs. Dalloway, but in college I found it tedious and pointless. Now that I’m older, would I see the point of it? Alias Grace is a favorite for many Margaret Atwood lovers, but the last half bored and frustrated me. I hadn’t read much Atwood when I read Alias Grace. Would I like it more now that I’m more used to her writing? It’s hard to say, and I’m not making it a priority to revisit either of these books when there are so many great books out there that I’ve never attempted to read at all, but I do wonder.
How about you? Have you ever gone back to a book you didn’t like and find that you liked it? Do you have any literary nemeses that you’re considering revisiting someday?
Notes from a Reading Life (October 24-November 8)
- Armadale by Wilkie Collins (review to come November 13)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (audio, reread)
- Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
- How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson.
- Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (audio).
- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (reread).
- The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Lessons in writing poetry. I’ve reached the chapter on ballads.
- The Regency by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.
- Out of a Clear Sky by Sally Hinchcliffe. Via Bookmooch.
- Sea of Poppies by Amitov Ghosh. Via LT Early Reviewers.
- North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. For Classics Circuit Gaskell tour in December.
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois. For Classic Circuit Harlem Renaissance tour in February.
Books to Remember
- Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott. Reviewed at Save Ophelia.
- Stoner by John Williams. Reviewed at Asylum.
- Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Reviewed at Gaskella.
- Come Closer by Sara Gran. Reviewed at Things Mean a Lot.
- The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins. Reviewed at A Work in Progress.