Conventional wisdom tells you that you should never judge a book by its cover, but what I’ve found to be true for me is that you should never judge a book on your first read. As I’ve grown up to the ripe old age of twentysomething, I’ve discovered that a lot of the books that I despised as a child ended up as being some of my favorites.
Surprisingly, a lot of the books that I did not want to read were the ones hoisted on me in high school. It’s not like I wasn’t up for a challenge — I got to about a quarter of “The Odyssey” before the end of summer vacation cut my reading short — but it was because some teachers just have a knack for taking the fun out of reading.
When before I could take my time with a book, savor the language and the world building and pretty much imagine myself in the story, I had to read these assigned books with a joyless focus, worrying about which character, utterance, or random detail would pop up in tests. If there was ever a time when I was thisclose to hating reading and books, it was during high school.
Back then, if we were given a choice to pick a book to read and be quizzed on, I would always consult with upperclassmen before making a decision. That was how I ended up picking J.D. Salinger over Edith Wharton — an overwhelming number of the seniors that I knew told me that it was the better read.
Of course I loved “The Catcher in the Rye”; I don’t think any teenager — at least of my generation — reading “The Catcher in the Rye” would not end up loving it.
What’s not to love, after all? There’s making out with jocks in the backseat of a car, a gay teacher, fetishists at the hotel across the street, and you get to read the word “fuck” in a book sanctioned by your Catholic high school. Thrilling stuff.
But what I do regret is that that early warning against Edith Wharton would result with me avoiding her for years. AND I LOVE HER NOW.
I think I first read “The Age of Innocence” my second year of college, which was a particularly emo time for me because I was pining for this guy who was incredibly flirty but you know is just doing it to toy with your emotions. It’s not an exact reflection, but I really felt like I was stuck in a sort of Newland Arhcer-Countess Oleska thing.
From then on I kept scouring neighborhood Booksales for Wharton books. In quick succession I managed to acquire copies of “Hudson River Bracketed”, “The House of Mirth”, and “Summer”. Perhaps it’s because I’m gay, but I loved how all the characters were always suffocating underneath society’s conventions. And then finding out that Wharton also dabbled in incest-tinged erotica? Sold!
There are still some books that I read during high school that I ended up hating. Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” bored me to death, and until now I avoid any of his work. I started out liking Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” but ended up not finishing it after we were quizzed on a chapter I hadn’t gotten to yet. And I have yet to crack open my copy of Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” after an English teacher asked us to read the whole book for a quiz the next day.
Maybe, some time in the near future, I’ll get back to these books and have a better appreciation for them. But as of right now, they’ll stay
on in my shelves plastic containers and not in my heart.
How about you guys? Any books that you hated before but love with a passion now?